Rev. Chris Parsons sits in the pews of St. Peter's Anglican church

Rev. Chris Parsons sits in the pews of St. Peter's Anglican church

Few buyers for church lands

Anglican churches survive by grace of tepid Victoria real estate market

Nearly four years ago, the Anglican Diocese of B.C. recommended closing 11 churches across Greater Victoria, and selling the property in a bid to reduce debt and reinvigorate itself in the face of shrinking congregations.

Out of the 11, three have sold and two are leased by other organizations. The remainder are open for business as Anglican churches, and no longer face imminent closure, largely by strokes of luck.

“They were put all on the market at once, the ones people wanted to buy immediately are the only reason (others remain),” said Rev. Chris Parsons, speaking for the diocese. “We only wanted to sell a certain amount and re-evaluate what was needed.”

Properties like St. Saviour in Vic West and St. Martin in the Fields in Saanich sold, the former to a dance company and the latter to an evangelical denomination.

St. Columba in Saanich’s Strawberry Vale and All Saints in View Royal have closed as Anglican churches and the space is leased out (St. Alban’s had sold in 2009, prior to the mass sale).

Others once on the block – St. David by the Sea in Cordova Bay, St. Peter’s in Lakehill, St. Philip and St. Mary in Oak Bay and St. Mary in Metchosin – survived by the grace of not being attractive to other organizations or property developers.

“Lower Vancouver Island was over-churched, which came from our history of opening a church on every corner,” Parsons observed. “I feel selling properties is the nuts and bolts. The real change has to do with the ministry, it’s a longer process of change.”

Parsons, the reverend for both St. Peter’s and St. David, said the churches are no longer being marketed for sale, and the individual parishes themselves have a much more rigorous process of reviewing finances. There’s also better resource sharing among churches to keep a lid on costs.

“With the assistance of diocese personnel, we’re a lot better at looking at (financial) red flags before it becomes too serious,” he said. “We don’t say everyone can relax. We’ll always be reviewing … there’s a diligent review process for personnel and the viability of ministries.”

“In the case of St. David and St. Peter’s, both help each other financially. When St. Peters needed a new roof, St. David paid the deposit. But they are unique communities. Cordova Bay is very different from St. Peters (in Lakehill). But we see opportunities … to share services and be more collaborative.”

A steadily declining congregational base, the basis for church closures and sales, and internal debates on issues such as same sex marriage still remain a problems for the Anglican Church.

A report from the diocese estimated that in 2009 barely one per cent of B.C. residents identify as Anglican. St. David sees about 40 parishioners on Saturdays and Sundays, and St. Peter’s sees about 60 people between two Sunday services.

Parsons said the individual parishes have much wider latitude to try new programs and innovations to stay relevant in the community. St. David, for one, has a “Messy Church” service on Saturdays with activities and games for kids.

“Now we are doing some children ministry stuff, some is really successful,” he said. “We’ve given (the parishes) the freedom to try new things and not to be afraid of failure.”