Dancer sees possibilities in St. Saviours church

As Anglican Diocese properties sell, tenants search for new homes

With a baby on the way, David Beales and his wife were property hunting when a unique opportunity arose.

“I was looking for just a house, and my wife stumbled upon the Anglican Diocese’s (property ads),” said Beales.

St. Saviour’s stood out. The quaint chapel in Vic West includes a house, which once served as a rectory. There’s also a hall, occupied until recently by Rainbow Kitchen. The soup kitchen is moving to Esquimalt.

Beales, a professional ballet dancer, plans to convert the hall into a studio both for practise and possibly some private lessons.

“It turned out to be an amazing opportunity, so we jumped on it,” he said.

His purchase was set to close Feb. 6, marking the second property sold on a list of seven for sale by the Anglican Diocese of B.C.

When news first broke of the Diocese’s plan to sell its assets in 2010, the media’s initial focus was on uprooting parishioners and the larger struggles of Christian churches to retain people.

As the properties begin to change hands, however, the impact to the wider community is being felt.

Cindy Ralph has taken charge of finding a new home for the Lansdowne Cooperative Preschool. It has operated out of St. Albans Anglican hall in Oaklands for 50 years.

“We’re the last fully co-operative preschool on the Island,” she said.

The mother of two is among 60 families that share responsibility for running the preschool, from management meetings to “duty days” in the playroom, alongside paid early childhood educators.

“It develops a community for the children and for the parents,” Ralph said. “I’ll have lifelong friends through some of the parents I’ve met.”

It’s also affordable, due in part to the required volunteer hours and in part to the low rent the preschool pays to the Anglican Diocese.

“We make a donation of a really reasonable amount,” she said. “We’re completely realistic knowing that wherever we end up, that fee is going to go up.”

The Salvation Army is also among the groups in limbo.

It operates Hope House, a 90-day residential program for teenage boys aimed at getting their lives back on track. It is located inside St. Saviour’s rectory and the lease is up in October.

“We don’t know what’s gong to happen,” said Kyla Ferns, spokesperson for the Salvation Army.

Neither does Beales, its new owner.

The property offers many possibilities and Beales is open to maintaining several community uses.

Beales hopes to get permission from the city to rent out the chapel for special occasions. “A lot of people who went to that church are still alive and would like to have things there,” he said.

The chapel also boasts a beautiful pipe organ. “I’ve spoken to some of the Council of Canadian Organists … If they would like to play and maintain it, I don’t mind,” he said. “One of them has played that organ for 60 years and they were very happy to hear that.”

The rectory, however, poses a dilemma.

“I appreciate what Hope House is; I fully respect it,” he said. “The original goal was to move in (to the house) … because at the moment I am renting.”

His soft spot for the organization, however, means he’s open to the idea of living elsewhere, so it can continue.

While it’s a possibility, it’s also way more than can be expected of a private purchaser.

Rental income is “never sufficient to make it a viable undertaking,” said Chris Pease, asset manager for the Anglican Diocese. Because tenants are mostly non-profits or small organizations, he said, “we’re lucky if we recover our costs.”

Pease admits the quick sale of St. Saviour’s suprised him.

While a “lovely old structure,” its heritage designation limits any development opportunity, he explained.

“The reason why halls were generally attached to churches is that prior to the creation of municipal recreation complexes, there weren’t any other community centres,” he said.

“The church really has done a lot in creating the societies we have today,” Pease said. “If you look at the church now, it’s into assisting a lot of the poor and those that are marginalized.”

But that’s changing too, as attendance dwindles.

“We see the government being pushed more and more to take over that responsibility,” he said.

At a glance: Anglican properties for sale in the Capital Regional District, with listing price. All but St. Albans were first listed in June, 2010.

• St. Saviour’s chapel, hall and rectory, Victoria, $0.85 million, sale expected to close Feb. 6

• St. Albans chapel and hall, Victoria, $1.2 million, sale pending

• All Saints, View Royal, listing price: $1.4 million

• Brentwood Memorial hall, Central Saanich, listing price: $0.38 million, sale pending

• Church of the Holy Spirit, Saanich., sale pending by church group

• St. Columba, View Royal, $0.9 million

• St. Martin in the Fields, Saanich, listing price: $1.15 million, sold to religious organization