‘These churches belong to all the generations that built them up and not just a particular group of individuals,” said bishop Michael Bird. Photo: Anglican Journal
After four years of court challenges, a negotiated settlement has returned full ownership of three dissident churches to the diocese of Niagara: St. George’s, Burlington; St. Hilda’s, Oakville; and the Church of the Good Shepherd, St. Catharines. For theological reasons, all three had voted overwhelmingly in February 2008 to part ways with the Anglican Church of Canada and to join the orthodox Anglican Network in Canada (AniC).
“I am very pleased with this outcome,” said Bishop Michael Bird. “It affirms that these churches belong to all the generations that built them up and not just a particular group of individuals.”
The diocese took the position that the church buildings are the property of the diocese and are used only temporarily by any given congregation. The dissident parishes argued that the buildings belonged to the seceding congregations that had recently maintained them.
“This outcome has been achieved by negotiation, prayer and a spirit of cooperation between ANiC representatives and the diocese,” said the Ven. Michael Patterson, diocesan executive officer. “We are very pleased to have our parish buildings back and will be discussing how best to use these assets for the benefit of the whole church.”
The negotiated settlement, which took effect June 1, entails the following conditions:
- All three congregations turned over the keys to the properties to the diocese on June 1.
- Both parties guaranteed that neither will initiate legal action against the other.
- Each party agreed to cover all its own legal fees.
- Each parish will retain specified worship, liturgical and memorial items that have been donated by members for parish ministry or are considered important to a parish’s ongoing ministry.
- Under a financial agreement, the diocese of Niagara will repay one parish for the cost of specific property improvements, and the proceeds of the sale of one of the rectories will be divided among the parties.
“We are deeply grateful to God for this settlement, which frees us from the threat of further litigation,” said Patricia Decker, people’s warden at Good Shepherd. “We also are particularly thankful for the wholehearted support of parishioners throughout this difficult period.”
Similar proprietary disputes have occurred in the dioceses of New Westminster, British Columbia, Huron and Ottawa.