The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an application for an appeal involving four Anglican churches, including St. Matthew’s in Abbotsford.
The churches have also been ordered to pay legal costs, estimated to be more than $175,000, to the Diocese of New Westminster.
The application to appeal a previous B.C. Court of Appeal decision was dismissed Thursday, ending a long battle between the diocese and the four churches over the issue of same-sex blessings.
The churches, which believe the 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.”
Ingham said the diocese is grateful that the litigation has ended, and he asked for mutual respect from both sides in moving forward.
“I pray that, in time, these sad divisions may be healed,” he said.
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, located at 2010 Guildford Drive in Abbotsford, is now considering its next course of action. Rector Mike Stewart was not yet available for comment, but has previously said that if the courts did not rule in favour of the ANiC side, another location would have to be considered in Abbotsford.
The majority of the St. Matthew’s congregation has supported the ANiC side.
Cheryl Chan, a former trustee of one of the churches involved and special counsel to ANiC, said the parishes stand by their convictions.
“… we always said that, given a choice, we would choose our faith over our properties, and we have been willing to make that sacrifice if called upon by the courts to do so.”
The other three churches involved in the litigation are all based in Vancouver. They are St. John’s, Good Shepherd, and St. Matthias and St. Luke’s.