This church has unresolved issues related to congregation property.
The perspective held of property affects the way the church makes decisions. The church has made several decisions that were not representative of congregations, leaving question whether both the process and the decisions might have been different if congregations could leave with their property if pushed too far. That is not to say that certain issues would not have been considered, but that the way they were considered might have been less divisive.
Identity is an increasing question as many congregations in response to church decisions distance themselves from the denomination but are disconnected from their past. Identity is further confused when church legislation displaces congregation rights as the denomination moves to a more hierarchical form of government. The more the church feels it owns congregation properties the more decisions are made which change the identity of the congregation as provided by union. Without a stable, defined identity the congregation is forced to fend for itself, sometimes with negative consequences for the church.
The legal identity of congregations related to property, trusts, and specific rights has been functionally eroded.
A petition requesting the last General Council make a clear statement about property ownership was rejected as the Manual of the church [section 266] has a clear statement, and the sections dealing with property title in the Congregational Board of Trustees Handbook mailed to every pastoral charge make similar statement. While the national church references competent legal opinion for this interpretation of property, our history presents some unresolved issues.
By entering union a congregation "effected a change in its name but not of its identity" [Lamont J., Ferguson v. MacLean 1930 S.C.R. 662].
The church interpretation of property deviates from history:
- the denomination does not recognize that church union gave congregations "the right to unite with one another without loss of their identity", which included trusts and properties brought into the union;
- the denomination deliberately ignores trusts which limit the church, specifically trusts attached to properties of former Methodist congregations "provided always, that no person or persons whomsoever shall at any time hereafter be permitted to preach...who shall maintain, promulgate, or teach any doctrine or practice contrary to what is contained in certain notes on the New Testament, commonly reputed to be the notes of John Wesley, and in the first four volumes of sermons commonly reputed to be written and published by him" and "to permit Sunday schools...subject always to the proviso hereinbefore contained respecting doctrines", and the trust "to permit, in conformity with the doctrines, discipline, by-laws, rules and regulations of The United Church of Canada and not otherwise" [Manual, Appendix ii, Trusts of Model Deed, article 4];
- the denomination assumes ownership of most properties of former Presbyterian congregations without the consent of the congregations and contrary to the majority opinion in the Supreme Court of Canada decision Ferguson v. MacLean 1930 S.C.R. 630, that properties of former Presbyterian congregations continue to belong to those congregations and not to the denomination.
The church interpretation of property peaked when with a lower court decision, The United Church of Canada v. Anderson, Provincial Court [General Division] 1991 2 O.R. (3rd) 304, it seized the properties of congregations which could no longer find their historical identity in the United Church of Canada and requested if they could purchase congregation properties for a nominal consideration and leave the union.
The church has isolated voices which regret the above, but without reconsideration of "without loss of identity", trusts, and significant legal opinion not referenced in the above decision there remains intimidation, complicity, and the possibility that it will happen with other congregations.
The union of 1925 was a covenant between the congregations and the denomination.
The covenant has been broken.
The last General Council pointed the church towards reconciliation. In our faith, reconciliation starts with conviction and repentance followed by doing whatever it takes to restore the relationship.
For me, whatever it takes includes restoring covenanted identity and a willingness to forgive the past.