British Columbia mulls fate of parishes, congregations

Published May 1, 2006

As a growing mission parish, St. Saviour’s, Victoria West, was identified in a recent report as one of 11 parishes in the diocese of British Columbia that would continue but would need support.

The synod of the diocese of British Columbia will decide this month whether to accept recommendations made by a diocesan task force to close five parishes, amalgamate 10 others into four new congregations, create seven new congregations on Vancouver Island, and to reorder the diocese into six new regions with more autonomy.

(The diocese covers Vancouver Island and B.C.’s Gulf Islands.)

The Diocesan Ministry Resource Team (DMRT), created by synod in 2004, cited shrinking church attendance, declining revenue and the need to respond to new demographics as reasons for the proposed restructuring.

There have been emotional reactions to the recommendations, particularly those which called for the disestablishment and amalgamation of parishes, some of them among the oldest in the region. The recommendations were contained in a report completed by the DMRT, which had been mandated to gather information about “resources and projected needs for the future, and to make recommendations regarding the future ministry and mission of the diocese.”

James Cowan, diocesan bishop, has acknowledged that the report, Conversations On Our Shared Future, “is not an easy report; it contains a great deal which is challenging.” However, he also called it “a document of hope.”

He urged parishioners to give their reactions to the report saying it was not one “which has ‘come down from on high’ nor is it a report which is ‘carved in stone.'” He said that the report merely reflected “what we said to one another and to them (DMRT members) in the various congregational and committee meetings in which we took part.”

Parishes were given until March 31 to submit their responses to the DMRT.

Dean Logan McMenamie, chair of the DMRT, said the recommendations “to reorganize where ministry is based will ultimately result in the growth of the church.”

“This type of restructuring is usually a last resort in moments of desperation due to financial strains forcing quick decisions,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Victoria Times Colonist. “However, by looking to the future at synod in 2004 as our bishop did, the diocese is now making these recommendations from a place of strength which has allowed for two years of open-minded, shared conversation which is continuing for those willing to participate.”

He also urged parishioners “to approach these challenges with grace … The language we choose to use in any situation is very important. Words like ‘up for the fight,’ ‘the battle is not over,’ and ‘fight tooth and nail’ are often used when facing challenges. However, as a faith community it’s important that our language speak in non-violent ways.” Society, he added, “is tired of hearing about faith communities fighting throughout the world.”

Dean McMenamie’s piece was in reaction to stories published in the Times Colonist, which quoted some parishioners as saying they were “shocked” at the recommendations and they would oppose plans to close their churches.

The report has recommended the closure by the end of 2006 of All Saints, Croton; Brentwood Memorial Anglican Chapel, Brentwood Bay; St. Alban, Victoria; St. Christopher/St. Aidan, Lake Cowichan; and St. Michael and All Angels, Chemainus. These churches “are financially unsustainable, have no outreach, are in the wrong location” and “mission has disappeared,” the report said.

Parishes cited for amalgamation or relocation within three to five years are All Saints, View Royal, with St. Martin in the Fields and St. Paul, Esquimalt; St. David, Cordova Bay with St. Peter, Lakehill; St. James Nanaimo to Nanaimo West; St. Mary, Saanichton with St. Stephen, Saanichton; and St. Mary, Oak Bay with St. Philip, Oak Bay. These parishes had little or no growth in recent years, have no growth potential, have declining church attendance, are in the wrong location, are not financially sustainable, have offerings below the diocesan average and are not the best use of diocesan resources, said the report.

The report recommended the creation of new ministries in Black Creek, Bowser/Fanny Bay, Broadmead, Victoria, Esquimalt (with the amalgamation and relocation of three existing churches); Highlands, Victoria; and Nanaimo West (with a relocated St. James, Nanaimo).

The report also identified 14 “healthy” parishes and 11 that would continue but need support, including St. Saviour’s in Victoria West (which was profiled in an April Anglican Journal story on multi-cultural churches). It recommended more support for parishes in the area of congregational development, as well as ministries for children and families.

The DMRT said that aside from consultations held with clergy and laity, its report drew upon its own studies as well as from other dioceses within the Anglican Church of Canada and other churches. It also analyzed data from Statistics Canada and the Vancouver Health Authority and demographic and financial data from its parishes dating back to 1993.

The report noted that in some areas of the diocese “the supply of Anglican churches may exceed today’s demand.” Not only are there fewer Anglicans, the Anglican population in the diocese is “older than the average population by about 10 years and is getting older,” it said. However, in-migration also continues “with variable effects upon different areas and regions.”

If the current trends continue, “the number of people attending church in the capital region will continue to fall” from the present total of 3,200 to 2,400 by 2023, the report said. On the other hand, the total in-migration of 85,000 in the East Island coastal strip “could produce 650 new regular members,” the report said, adding that, “This in-migration could more than offset the decline in Anglican attendance for an increase from the present 1,200 to around 1,400 regular attendees.”


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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