Breakaway congregations vote to take property dispute to Supreme Court

Published December 15, 2010

St John’s (Shaughnessy) in Vancouver is one of the properties in question. Photo: Courtesy of the diocese of New Westminster

In November, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a 2009 Supreme Court of B.C. decision that ruled the Anglican diocese of New Westminster should retain possession of four Vancouver-area church properties.

But this week, the congregations that filed the original lawsuit have announced they intend to file an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The dispute arose after four congregations voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada to affiliate with the more theologically conservative Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC). One of the primary disagreements was over the blessing of same-sex relationships, which the diocese has permitted in some parishes for several years. The ANiC congregations objected to this practice. After separating from the diocese and Anglican Church of Canada, the congregations argued that the church properties belonged to them, not to the diocese.

In his 2009 decision, Justice Stephen Kelleher of the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled that the diocese of New Westminster should retain possession of all four properties. He also decided that a $2.2 million bequest from a parishioner in the Good Shepherd parish in Vancouver should be held in trust for the building fund of that ANiC congregation. The other three congregations involved are St John’s (Shaughnessy), St Matthews (Abbotsford), and St Matthias & St Luke’s (Vancouver).

As churches, we believe that we are being called to stand firm for our faith, seeking to be faithful to scripture and follow Jesus as this historic trial continues, even if it ultimately means we lose our church properties,” said Cheryl Chang, special legal counsel to the ANiC congregations.

In a written response, the diocese of New Westminster, under the leadership of Bishop Michael Ingham, said it “is satisfied with the decisions of the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal.” It notes that “both courts have upheld and supported the statutes, canons and regulations of the diocese of New Westminster and the Anglican Church of Canada.”

The communique also said that while Bishop Ingham has offered to meet with the leaders of the four congregations, there has been no response to date. (In previous statements, the diocese has emphasized that congregations are not being asked to leave their churches or to relocate. However, clergy who have now aligned with a different denomination will have to continue their ministry elsewhere.)

“Bishop Ingham and diocesan leadership do not believe that there is any need to take any further court challenges, which will incur more expense and anxiety,” the statement from the diocese of New Westminster said. The deadline to file an appeal is Jan. 14, and the diocese said it will respond to all the actions initiated by the plaintiffs (ANiC trustees and clergy). Until a request is filed, however, “the diocese can not make further comment on the legal aspects of the dispute,” the statement concluded.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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