St. Aidan’s, Windsor loses court battle

This is the first court case in Ontario between ANiC and an Anglican Church of Canada diocese to settle building ownership. As such, its outcome does not bode well for the other ANiC parishes in Ontario in building disputes with their former dioceses.

Here is an article from the Windsor Star which, although it appears to have been dictated by a diocese of Huron PR man, gives some of the details.

A breakaway Anglican group in Windsor has lost a bid to take control of St. Aidan’s church and a parish financial trust.

Ontario Superior Court Justice T.D. Little ruled that the property must remain with the Anglican diocese of Huron. A large majority of parishioners at the east-end church voted in 2008 to break away from the Anglican Church of Canada and join the more conservative Anglican Network in Canada.

A battle over scriptural interpretation, including disagreements about same-sex marriage, was at the heart of the rift.

[……]

Little noted in his ruling that the parish was established as part of the diocese in 1923 and the membership has changed over the years.

He said the 109 members who voted to leave the diocese in 2008 also voted to leave the parish.

“Members can come and go in a parish at any time, but the parish itself remains,” he said in his ruling.

“The parish could not sever itself from the diocese.”

The diocese will move to take sole possession of the building, Nethery said.

“The reaction from our standpoint is the rules were interpreted by Justice Little as they were meant,” he said.

He expects theological disagreements to remain, but hopes the ruling is a big step in ending bids by breakaway groups to take over church properties. St. Aidan’s was the first church in the diocese of Huron to break away, but the seventh in Ontario to join ANIC and the 11th nationally.

Toronto lawyer Peter Jervis who represents parishioners from the breakaway group, did not respond Tuesday to a message left by The Star. A message left with the church also was not returned.

A healing mass to be conducted by Rev. Robert Bennett, the bishop of Huron, will take place at St. Aidan’s on Sunday, Aug. 28.

“The diocese and ministry will continue with what it’s called to do – and that’s to bring people to faith and help people in their lives,” Nethery said. “That’s our focus.”

The Diocese of Huron has a media release and bishop’s letter which you can read here. It contains the, by now, routine invitation for the laity to desert their clergy:

I want to make it clear that no one is being asked to leave the building, except the clergy whose ministry was abandoned with the Anglican Church of Canada. Let us pray that we can all move forward with hope and in faith.

Also of note in the media release is this:

Justice T. D. Little also ruled that a Charitable Foundation set up by the congregation many years ago, also remains with the Diocese of Huron Parish of St. Aidan’s.

[….]

“In my view, all Foundation funds presently held in various bank or financial institution accounts to which they were transferred . . .should be consolidated and returned to the Churchwardens of St. Aidan’s Parish of the Diocese of Huron to be held by them in trust for the purposes of the Foundation.”

Another gem from the bishop (my emphasis):

“My first reaction was to call the diocese to prayer for both those faithful Anglicans who continued as members of St. Aidan’s, Diocese of Huron; and also for those who found they could no longer stay within the diocesan family.

How does the bishop view the 109 parishioners who left the diocese? As faithless Anglicans? Faithful non-Anglicans? Or perhaps faithless non-Anglicans? It seems to me that they have placed their faith above their building: they are faithful Christians and faithful Anglicans.

Update (Aug 18): There is a follow-up Windsor Star article here with comments from a parishioner:

“We are not going back (to St. Aidan’s) and we’re not losing any of our people,” Knight said. “They’ve stuck through this for three years and they are not leaving now.”

[….]

“We have not made any decisions on a response,” Knight said. “We will rely heavily on what our attorney advises. We have 90 days to file an appeal. We may do that, but we are not sure yet.”

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24 Responses to St. Aidan’s, Windsor loses court battle

  1. Joy says:

    Interesting that the bishop says his first reaction was to call the ANiC parishioners to prayer… I wonder where he planned for them to meet to pray as the diocese changed the locks on the church building within hours of the decision being released – effectively locking them out.

  2. Apricot says:

    The reason the Windsor Star wasn’t able to contact the AniC parish at the Church’s phone number was because the Diocese went in and changed the locks on the Church – before anyone at the AniC parish was aware that the judgment had come down.

    The Diocese went into the building that same day (Monday) to take an ”inventory”, and try to download everything off the hard drives of the computers in the Church. They advised the AniC parish that the AniC representatives were to immediately hand over the internal office keys, and were to remove their possessions over the next two days. When the AniC representatives contacted the Diocesan representatives to clarify how this might be done, they were offered the opportunity to go into the Church for 45 minutes the next evening (Tuesday) to remove “personal “ possessions,

    Three Diocesan ministers shadowed the AniC representatives, as they began to assemble AniC possessions. One Diocesan representative went through a box of documents already cleared for removal – document by document – and removed some of the documents, without explanation. When the AniC representatives said they would be removing computers, they were told that the Diocese believed all the computers were theirs. It was pointed out to them that the AniC parish had purchased all the main computers after the vote to transfer to AniC – and they had the receipts to prove it, the Diocese grudgingly backed off the argument.

    After two difficult hours, a mere dent was made in the removal of AniC assets, and all parties agreed that that was enough for one night.

    All of this took place in the first thirty-six hours of the decision coming down.

    A local Christian Church (not Anglican) came forward with an offer of worship space for immediate use. A local businessman offered office space for the AniC staff.

    Our God is an awesome God. He has, and will continue to provide!

  3. Lorie Begin says:

    So said, that within hours of the court decision, ministers from other Anglican churches were at St. Aidans, like vultures, making sure nothing left the building. They changed the locks, made it virtually impossible for the members to retreive, their own personal property. Nice Christian attitude. I am sure it was done at the Bishops bidding, also.

    The Bishop needs to watch what he says in closed door meetings, as it gets around. He needs to tone it down, as not all ministers in his diocese agree with him, and his tirades.

    I am a firm believer, that you get back what you put out tenfold.
    Some ppl play nicely and some are bullies. May God pray for you Dear Bishop, you obviously need it.

  4. Peter says:

    Seems like a bit of a disconnect between the public face and what is happening behind the scenes.

  5. James Dugan says:

    They lost. They also misappropriate funds. Why would the diocese not be concerned about the other assets? Of course, assets not not a concern for ANiC ; except when they lose. Get over it!

  6. Kate says:

    They also misappropriate funds

    Careful, James. That’s slander. Can you prove it? Then again, ANiC people aren’t in the habit of personally sueing folks they have problems with, unlike some in the ACoC I can think of, so you are probably pretty safe to be as slanderous as you want. Fill your boots, although if you get too nasty the mods will probably do something about it.

  7. James Dugan says:

    Look at paragraph 64 in the judgement – the judge calls it a breach of trust. Why do you call it slander?

  8. James Dugan says:

    Kate, So it is not slander as you stated? What a relief! The sleasy behavior of ANiC leadership at St Aidan’s has led the diocese not to trust the unchristian like behavior of the clergy and former disgraced wardens. That is most likely why the locks were changed.

  9. David says:

    James [#5],

    They also misappropriate funds.

    Misappropriate means:

    1. a. To appropriate wrongly: misappropriating the theories of social science.
    b. To appropriate dishonestly for one’s own use; embezzle.
    2. To use illegally.

    Which meaning did you have in mind? Are you suggesting ANiC has been embezzling funds? Using funds illegally? Or that ANiC has just been dishonest?

    Incidentally, you might try concentrating on your grammar when you respond.

  10. James Dugan says:

    David, the judge stated that they used funds to support the ANiC legal defense fund which breached the trust arrangement. That the meaning which the judge had in mind.

  11. Kate says:

    To St. Aiden’s wardens and pastor, if you are reading this thread:

    Matthew 5:

    11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Ignore him. He’s not worth your time.

  12. Kate says:

    #10 Said judgment, conviently for you, isn’t online anywhere yet. (Yes I am ignoring my own advice).

  13. Apricot says:

    The statement in Judge Little’s decision, that the trustees of St. Aidan’s “Foundation” (after the parishioners’ September 2008 vote to join ANiC) transferred $30,000 to the ANiC Legal Defense Fund is an error in fact.

    No such transfer was made.

    Both the Judge and Rev. Dugan are mistaken in this matter.

  14. James Dugan says:

    Apricot, are you saying thar$30,000 was not transferred to the ANiC Legal Defense Fund?

  15. Apricot says:

    Yes – that’s exactly what I am saying.

    A donation of $25,000.00 was made to the ANiC Legal Defense Fund by the Trustees of the Foundation prior to the September 2008 vote by the parishioners of St. Aidan’s, Windsor.

    From the time of the vote, any contributions to the ANiC Legal Defense Fund (and there have been many) were made by individuals.

  16. Apricot says:

    The issue with regards the accumulated trust funds of St. Aidan’s, commonly known as The Foundation, Windsor, is very complex. Several versions of the terms and purposes of the Foundation were proposed before the one finally accepted by the Canada Revenue Agency was determined.

    The final wording, accepted by CRA included, as a legitimate purpose of the Foundation,”providing funds to St. Aidan’s Church, and other qualified donees.”

    In his ruling Judge Little stated he considered the “C.C.R.A amendment to be invalid.”

    We need to remeber that this ruling was made ten years after The Foundation was established as a registered charity, and at no time in the intervening decade had the Diocese of Huron challenged the wording accepted by the CRA.

    Judge Little also stated that local parishioners did not donate funds to The Foundation. That is also factually incorrect, as a sworn affidavit from one contributor, who was, and remains, a member of the parish, was presented in evidence.

    Acting in good faith, over the years, the Trustees of The Foundation made donations to registered charities in Canada, which they genuinely believed were “qualified donees”.

    To the best of my knowledge, no Trustee of the Foundation, ever claimed to be omniscient. They could not have known that a judge would challenge the wording accepted by the CRA, the parish, and the Diocese of Huron, so many years after it was approved and accepted.

  17. Peter says:

    Not that I know a whole lot about it, but it does sound like the judge moved the goalposts on the foundation and then claimed the goal was missed.

  18. Lorie says:

    HMMM, seems like James shut his mouth about the moving of money. Guess he needs to verify his facts, before he goes shooting off his mouth. Another one of the Bishop’s bullies?

  19. Peter says:

    Though to be fair he was right about the order of lawsuits.

    I ask for charity please, even where we might not be thinking too highly of another.

  20. Betsy says:

    The locksmith is the only winner here. First, when the ANIC pastor changed the locks, locking the people faithful to the diocese out. That seems to have been forgotten! These people had to meet at St. Michael’s and All Angels for 14 weeks. When allowed back into the St. Aidan’s building they had to surrender many special religious holidays and events. They were reprimanded for every extra minute they spent inside, were blamed for every malfunction of the building and for this the diocese paid 1/3 of the weekly maintenance. People in glass houses…………

  21. Kate says:

    Really Betsy? Since the vote at St. Aidan’s to join ANiC was 100% in favour (see http://www.anglicanessentials.ca/wordpress/index.php/2008/11/14/anic-synod-2008-afternoon-session-141108/), I really have to wonder just who exactly these “loyal to the diocese” people were. They obviously didn’t care enough about the issue to turn up to vote on whether or not to join ANiC. Oh well, you have the building now, what are you complaining about? You won. In the short term, anyway.

  22. Betsy says:

    Yep!!
    Not ALL members were notified there was to be a vote. Oh well!
    Your 165 church members (as reported in the Star last week) should be able to buy and sustain a building all of your very own with no question of ownership. Good luck and God bless……..

  23. Kate says:

    Not ALL members were notified there was to be a vote. Oh well

    I thought you’d say that. At St. Alban’s, there was an announcement every Sunday morning for weeks prior to the vote. Anybody from St. Aiden’s want to confirm what happened in your specific case? In any event, order to hold a special vestry, (which a vote like this would require),an announcement has to be made every Sunday for a certain number of Sundays before the meeting. I am sure that all the members who actually go to church regularly were very well informed. The “Christmas and Easter” members might not have known about it….

  24. Apricot says:

    Under Canon Law of the Diocese of Huron, people who are eligible to participate and vote at any Vestry meeting in the Diocese must be baptized, at least 16 years of age, and currently participating members of the parish. Canon Law defines that as participation through attendance at service, participation in fellowship within the church family, and through givings. This participation must have occurred within the three months prior to the Vestry Meeting

    Canon 18

    18.—Vestries and Churchwardens
    MEMBERS OF VESTRY
    1. In every congregation within the Diocese there shall be a Vestry composed of all
    the baptized members of such congregation who have reached 16 years of age and
    who for at least three months preceding the date of the relevant Vestry meeting
    have been identifiably involved with such congregation with regular worship,
    fellowship and financial support to that congregation, subject to the certification
    procedure hereinafter set forth. No person shall be considered to be a member of
    the Vestry of more than one congregation in the Diocese of Huron at one time,
    except that a person may be a member of the Vestry of a congregation and also of
    a Summer Church as hereinafter defined. Each person who wishes to be
    considered a member of the Vestry of the congregation shall sign a statement of
    compliance with the provisions of this paragraph at such Vestry meeting.

    These limitations ensure that only people committed to the ongoing work and worship of the parish participate and vote at Vestry. It is not an open meeting. While it may well be believed by people who have had a prior or limited attachment to the parish that they are entitled to participate and vote at Vestry, the Canons preclude this.

    Any person who could be identified as meeting the criteria of Canon 18.1 was identified by the Wardens (who went out of their way to be generous in that assessment), and was notified of the upcoming Vestry Meeting in September 2008.

    Surely no one from the Diocese of Huron seriously suggests that the meeting and vote should have been held in violation of Canon Law.

    Can you imagine the backlash against the Wardens had they done that?

    I certainly can.

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