Two congregations, which left the diocese of New Westminster following disagreements over same-sex blessings in 2002, have vacated the church buildings they used to occupy to avoid a long and costly litigation.
Diocesan officials took possession of St. Simon’s, Deep Cove, in North Vancouver, and St. Andrew’s, Pender Harbour, on May 31.
“The premises were delivered in good, clean condition,” said Neale Adams, diocesan spokesperson.
Last March, George Cadman, diocesan chief legal officer, had served legal notices to the parishes through their lawyer, Bob Kuhn, asking them to “deliver up possession” of the buildings by April 1 or be faced with court proceedings. The diocese has maintained that the church buildings “historically” belong to the Anglican Church of Canada for its ministry in New Westminster.
The congregations said, however, that not only do they hold the title deed to the properties but they also have “beneficial ownership” of them since they had bought, paid for, and maintained the buildings.
“It was like walking through the grief of Good Friday, being unjustly mistreated and abused,” said Rev. Ed Hird, former rector of St. Simon’s, in a statement. Members of his congregation decided during Holy Week to evacuate the 55-year-old building by May 31, and move subsequent services to Lions Gate Christian Academy, in Maple Wood. “But the miracle is that when we voted in unity to move forward, there was a tremendous sense of joy and freedom released.”
The congregation was not prepared for a drawn-out legal battle because of the prohibitive cost, said Mr. Hird. “Our former diocese has very deep pockets. With the B.C. Supreme Court cost being $10,000 a day, we decided that this would not be a good use of our resources,” he said. “We would rather focus on telling people about the love of Jesus.”
Diocesan bishop Michael Ingham said earlier that Mr. Hird and Mr. Mayo had already “abandoned” their ministry and had formed “privately incorporated societies.” The two priests and members of their parishes were among those who walked out of a diocesan synod after it voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002. They later formed a group called the Anglican Communion in Canada (ACiC), and sought oversight from other primates (senior bishops) of the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Ingham added that, “There will no doubt be accusations of persecution and victimization leveled against the diocese for these actions.” But he urged members of his diocese to remember that, “No priest or lay person has been asked to act against their conscience in matters of faith, that all attempts at reconciliation by the diocese have been repudiated, and that the clergy and laity involved have voluntarily withdrawn themselves from the Anglican Church of Canada.”
New services are now scheduled at St. Andrew’s and officiants include Rev. Mark Lemon, regional dean for Capilano-Kingcome and Archdeacon Dennis Popple, said Mr. Adams. Rev. Sarah Tweedale, regional dean for North Vancouver, is priest-in-charge of St. Simon’s.