New Westminster property dispute: British Columbian court rules

by
03 December 2009

by Pat Ashworth

TO FREEZE doctrine at a point in history is inconsistent with the history of change and evolution in Anglicanism, a Supreme Court judge in British Columbia pronounced last week.

Justice Kelleher ruled that four congregations that left the Anglican Church of Canada in 2008 for the Anglican Network in Canada (AniC), which has now realigned with the province of the Southern Cone, were not entitled to take their property with them.

St Matthew’s, Abbotsford; St Matthias and St Luke’s, Vancouver; St John’s, Shaughnessy, Vancouver; and the Church of the Good Shepherd, Vancouver, had argued that Parish Corporations held property “in trust for their congregations for the purpose of ministry consistent with historical, orthodox Anglican doc­trine and practice”(News, 29 May).

They argued that the diocese of New Westminster had breached that trust by authorising same-sex blessings. The diocese argued that properties belonged to the national Church; that the congregations had not challenged the Bishop’s jurisdic­tion to authorise the blessings; and that they had not accepted the offer of shared episcopal ministry com­mended by the Anglican Com­munion. It submitted that the court action was “utterly groundless”.

Justice Kelleher issued his ruling in a 97-page document. He cited marriage after divorce, and women’s ordination and consecra­tion as developments that showed how Anglicanism had evolved, and declared terms such as “historic” and “orthodox” to be subjective ones that “cannot, in my view, form the basis of an enforceable trust”.

He concluded that the parish properties were “held on trust for Anglican ministry as defined by the [Anglican Church of Canada]”.

The properties remained with the diocese unless the executive commit­tee and Bishop agreed to “mortgage, sell, or otherwise dispose of them”. The judge ruled that a parish did not have the authority unilaterally to leave the diocese.

He made one ruling in favour of Good Shepherd, in respect of a $2.2- million bequest left to its building fund by Dr Daphne Wai-Chan Chun. She had “intended the pro­ceeds to be applied to the building needs of the parish that served the Chinese community”, and her charit­able intent would best be fulfilled by a scheme whereby the funds were held in trust for the ANiC congrega­tion, the judge said.

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He also ruled that Bishop Ingham had no right to dismiss the trustees at Abbotsford and Vancouver. The trustees had, however, to exercise their authority “in relation to the parish properties in accordance with the Act, as well as the Constitutions, Canons, Rules, and Regulations of the Diocese”.

Bishop Donald Harvey, Moderator of the ANiC, said of the ruling: “People will turn to what is true. So, as Archbishop Bob Duncan, our ACNA Primate, said last week, even if we have to leave our properties, ‘We’ll have the souls, and they’ll get the stuff. We’ll get the future, they’ll get the past. I’d rather have the souls and the future.’”

Bishop Ingham told his diocese in a pastoral letter issued on Sunday: “I intend to invite these congregations to remain in the buildings where they worship, and to move forward together with us in the diocese as one people under God. I intend to appoint new clergy who will respect and continue the worshipping style of the congregations, who will also work co-operatively with me and the diocese.

“My prayer is that we might all put this sad conflict behind us and get on with the mission of Jesus Christ. No good is served by bitter­ness or triumphalism. The decision of the court is clear. And the purpose of the Church is equally clear. We are here to serve the mission of God and the well-being of all God’s children.”

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