A recent agreement between the Diocese of Niagara and three of the Niagara parishes that chose to leave the diocese and align with the Southern Cone, gives two of the ANiC parishes exclusive use of their buildings for up to two years and the diocese exclusive use of St. George’s for up to two years – or until the property dispute is legally settled.
After one gruesome Sunday when the diocese brought in faux-congregations to each parish, an interim court ruling in February 2008 gave the ANiC parishioners full use of their buildings. Since the parishioners had such a strong disagreement with the diocese, the judge ruled that it was unreasonable to expect the parishes to share the building.
A court ruling in May 2008 overturned the temporary ruling and gave the diocese use of the buildings between 7:00 am and 10:00 am on Sundays and ANiC the use of the buildings for the rest of the day. Taking into consideration the first disastrous attempt at sharing the buildings and the fact that service times overlapped with the diocese, the parishioners who voted to realign – a large majority for each parish – decided to find other accommodations for their Sunday morning worship. In effect, most of the parishioners were ejected from their buildings on Sunday morning.
The diocese quickly discovered that two of the parishes had non-viable congregations; the third, St. George’s had a small congregation. Whether it will be viable in the long run seems doubtful, since the Diocese of BC has concluded that it is not financially feasible to keep parishes with less than 150 people open. There is little reason to suppose Niagara will be different, but the diocese is determined to put on a show, and Rev. Susan Wells is part of that show. Here is her version of events:
Since February 2008, the parishioners of St. George’s, Lowville have felt like they have been in a state of chaos, much like the people of Israel did when they were wandering in the desert. In fact, after a service on February 24, 2008, presided over by our Bishop Michael, the parish was exiled.
We lost all access to our church. For the next several months, we held services first in an old school house with no running water and then, thanks to the generosity of the good people of Lowville United Church, were able to hold our services in their church.
Then, in May of 2008, a court ruling allowed us back into our church but only for 10 hours a week.
Although, it was great to be back, you can probably imagine how difficult it was to do the work of a parish and maintain the building in only ten hours a week. (The other people, who had chosen to leave the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), had control of the building the rest of the time but, for whatever reason, chose not to use the building.) It was discouraging and disheartening to watch this building, built to the glory of God and for the extension of God’s Kingdom here on earth, sit empty. We often felt like we were betraying our 152 year ancestry of serving Christ in our community. That being said, members of the parish continue to be actively involved in ministry in the prison, nursing homes, the hospital and helping with other projects, including the “Walk to Bethlehem”, sponsored by the Milton Area Christian Churches Working Together (MACCWT).
At several levels, our journey felt like we were wandering in the desert, trying to come to terms with what all this meant. Why did friends choose to leave the church (and us), rather than to continue to seek a place within it? Why were we exiled from the building our ancestors built? These past 2 years have given us a chance to deal with our sense of betrayal, desertion and confusion and have given us a chance to heal, to seek Christ in our new situation and to begin to discern what God’s mission is for us. We are “Striving to Service Christ.”
Finally at an arbitration meeting held on December 7, between the Wardens of those who chose to leave the ACC and the Diocese, an agreement was reached changing the way the time in the parishes was allocated and setting down criteria by which expenses would be shared. For St. George’s, this meant that we were granted, full use of our Church building for two years or until the ownership of the building is ultimately determined, whichever comes first and given the recent ruling in BC, there is a possibility that this will be a permanent situation.
It is worth noting the chronology of early events in the parishes that voted to join ANiC:
The vote occurred on Sunday February 17th, 2008
Monday was a holiday.
Tuesday, the diocesan representatives appeared on the doorstep of the parishes to collect the building keys. The parish’s bank accounts were frozen. Papers were delivered to the parishes demanding that the corporations appear in court the following Friday – clearly these had been prepared well in advance.
Wednesday. In order buy time to prepare for the legal onslaught, the ANiC parishes agreed to share the buildings on the following Sunday.
Friday February 29th was the first court appearance when the sharing arrangement was thrown out by the judge (to be re-instated in May).
The Diocese of Niagara acted in a planned, draconian and malicious way; I believe its true intent has always been to destroy the ANiC parishes.
The diocesan administrators have taken Christians to court to gain ownership of buildings for which they have absolutely no use; they have lied in their affidavits, not paid court mandated costs, attempted to seize the personal assets of wardens, tried to seize a rector’s home and lied to their own parishioners by telling them that ANiC instigated the court proceedings.
So Rev. Susan Wells, neither you nor the diocese that employs you is a victim: the panjandrums whose dirty work you carry out are unrepentantly aggressive, rancorous, vindictive and devious.