Parishioners prepare to move from St. Matthew’s Church in Abbotsford

About 250 members of an Abbotsford church are preparing to leave their location, following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last week.

Rector Mike Stewart and the 250 members of his St. Matthew’s congregation will now share space with the Grace Evangelical Bible Church.

Rector Mike Stewart and the 250 members of his St. Matthew’s congregation will now share space with the Grace Evangelical Bible Church.

About 250 members of an Abbotsford church are preparing to leave their location, following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last week.

Much of the congregation and clergy of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, located at 2010 Guilford Drive, will now share space with the members of Grace Evangelical Bible Church, located at 2087 McMillan Rd.

Rector Mike Stewart said the move should be completed about mid-July.

St. Matthew’s was among four churches involved in a legal battle with the Diocese of New Westminster that stemmed from the issue of same-sex blessings. That battle ended last Thursday (June 16), when the nation’s highest court dismissed an application for an appeal.

The churches, which believe same-sex blessings are contrary to core Anglican doctrine, broke away from the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) – to which the diocese belongs and which permits the blessings – in February 2008 to join the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC).

The two sides have clashed ever since over who has rights to the church properties and buildings.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in November 2009 that the trustees were using the church properties “outside the jurisdiction of the diocese.”

They appealed the decision, but the B.C. Court of Appeal sided with the earlier ruling. This then led to the churches filing an appeal application with the Supreme Court of Canada.

Following the dismissal in Canada’s highest court, Michael Ingham, bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster, said any clergy who have left ACC must now “leave their pulpits.”

“I will work with these congregations to find suitable and mutually acceptable leaders, so that the mission of the church may continue in these places,” he said.

Stewart said the court decision has been devastating for the St. Matthew’s congregation, many of whom were involved in raising funds for the construction of the church when it moved from Montvue Avenue in 1977. An expansion to the building took place in the 1990s.

“It’s very difficult for us to leave … We realize a church is not just a building, but it’s what it represents to us,” Stewart said.

He said a final “exodus service” will be held at St. Matthew’s in mid-July, after which the congregation will walk to its new home at Grace Church.

It’s too soon to think about whether the parish will find its own location in the future, Stewart added.

The four churches involved in the legal battle have also been ordered to pay the diocese’s legal costs, estimated to be more than $175,000.

Stewart said he did not yet know what the share will be for the St. Matthew’s group, but it was important for them to pursue the matter to its conclusion.

“We always said all along … if it was an issue of choosing our faith over our buildings, we’d choose our faith every time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rev. Allen Doerksen has been appointed by the diocese to take over pastoral duties for the ACC congregation remaining at St. Matthew’s. The diocese hopes to draw members from other areas of the Fraser Valley, including Aldergrove and Chilliwack.

The other three churches involved in the litigation were all based in Vancouver. They are St. John’s, Good Shepherd, and St. Matthias and St. Luke’s.