Our Diocese has a very rich history, and thanks to the vision of Bishop Medley we have an abundance of church buildings. As times have changed, both with technology and a decrease in church attendance in our increasingly secular society, we now have too many buildings which parishes are no longer able to maintain due to financial constraints and a lack of volunteer help. The decision to close and perhaps demolish buildings along with amalgamating or dissolving parishes is a very difficult and emotional one. No matter what processes have taken place in parishes, hurt, anger and despair seem to prevail and as a result many Anglicans have turned to other denominations or they have stopped attending church altogether. This document is an attempt to pull resources together to assist parishes who are trying to make difficult decisions regarding the future of their buildings and/or parish and to try to reduce the level of hurt.
Beginning the Process
Certainly, the first step is for a parish vestry to prayerfully have a frank discussion about the future of a building in the parish or of the parish itself. Once the vestry has come to a decision, a parish meeting should be called, with the territorial archdeacon as chair. If the territorial archdeacon is the incumbent of the parish, then a neighbouring archdeacon will chair the meeting at the request of the incumbent. At this meeting, the parish wardens will explain to those gathered what decision has been reached by the corporation and why. Each and every person present is to be given the opportunity to respectfully share their thoughts and opinions. The Vestry Clerk is to keep minutes of the meeting. If viable options to closure or amalgamation/dissolution are proposed, then these will go back to vestry for further discussion. If vestry decides to proceed with closure and/or amalgamation/ dissolution, the bishop is to be informed of the request, this done through a motion of vestry, and, when given the bishop’s approval, the congregation is then informed at Sunday service(s).
Remembering and Moving On
There is no question that people will grieve. It must be understood that grief has no timeline. The past and decisions made will always be part of reality and we must practice the fruit of gentleness and kindness with all as we allow feelings and opinions to be voiced, understood, and told again. Hurt will continue and we must show caring, compassion and understanding.
- An opportunity must be given to call church members together to share their story. What is crucial is that each person who wishes to do so is given time to express the meaning of the church building, the place, and the significance it has played and continues to play in their faith formation. What are the concerns or worries that come with a significant part of their story being taken away? They must be allowed to express this meaning individually and in groups; recognizing that the size of groups is important as some people are uncomfortable expressing their thoughts and hearts publicly. The expression of these thoughts must be received without defense by leaders and others that participate in the process, for the acknowledging of meaning holds the key to understanding and understanding brings healing and at least a sense of being listened to - a very important part of care. With permission, these stories should be recorded and a copy of the recording (including a video, if possible) given to the Archives as this is a vital piece of our history as a diocese.
- There must also be a clear vision of “What happens next?” Ecclesiastes 3 tells us “For everything there is a season.” Church buildings are temporal things; the Church is the people of God. While a building or parish may cease to exist, the Church continues. It must be determined how the Church will continue before the building is closed or the parish dissolved. With the assistance of the archdeacon, options need to be explored. What are the nearest churches? What is their ministry? How can the ministry of the congregation or parish continue? Where will the people best fit in? We must do our best to ensure an easy transition into another congregation so that they do not stop being members of the Church. People must find a way to continue to use their gifts for the glory of God.
- It is recommended that the incumbent continue the pastoral visitation process for those of the faithful affected by this action for as long as reasonably needed.
- As people find new worship homes within the same parish or in other Anglican parishes, the incumbent and/or territorial archdeacon should do what they can to ensure that these are made very welcome and integrated into the life of their new church family.
- Closure of a Church Building / Deconsecration:
Once the congregation is informed that the bishop has approved the closing of a church building, the following steps take place.
- The vestry shall determine and provide the bishop a plan for the building once secularized. Options are to sell to a third party, possibly including removal from the site; or demolish and dispose of the debris, leave the site clean and landscaped, and possibly erect an appropriate marker.
- The Diocesan Archivist and the Provincial Archivist are to be notified before anything is disposed of or removed from the building so that a complete pictorial and/or video record of the building can be made.
- Liturgical furniture and stained glass (altar, pulpit, font, lectern and bell, memorial windows, memorial plaques, Eucharistic vessels) are to be removed and gifted to another congregation or parish, if possible; or stored where practical for future use.
- Other furniture and movables (pews, organ, multi-media equipment, chairs, kitchen equipment, heating system, etc.) must be offered for use in other worship spaces or church halls where practical or sold/given for charitable purposes.
- Prayer books and hymnals, if in usable condition, can be continued to be used by the parish in another location or given to another parish or chapel for continued use.
- Vestry record books must be given to the Chair of the Archives Committee or the Bishop’s Office for deposit in the Archives. The archivists are to be permitted to go through all other parish documents so that they may determine what should be stored in the Archives.
- Contact the bishop’s office to schedule a date and time for a service of deconsecration. The service is to be advertised parish wide and congregation members invited and urged to attend. This is an opportunity for the congregation to gather to pray, sing, and share remembrances and stories. During the service, the bishop, or a designate, reads the consecration revocation sentence and all gathered are dismissed with a final blessing. A time of fellowship following is most appropriate.
- Dissolution of a Parish:
If the parish is to be dissolved, the parish corporation, while it can still meet, needs to:
- Determine who actually owns the various bits of parish land (i.e., the parish or the bishop).
- Discover from the deeds whether any of the land is held in trust and the conditions of the trust.
- Pass a resolution to convey all parish-owned real property to the Synod and then hire a lawyer to do so.
- Canon Six – Parish Governance
- Consecration Revocation Statement
- Liturgy for Deconsecration and Secularizing of a Building
- Policy A-3 Disposition of Real Property and Demolition of Buildings
Print (PDF) version of these guidelines