TORONTO (RNS) A Canadian court has ruled in favor of two conservative congregations that broke away from the Anglican Church of Canada, stating they have exclusive use of their church buildings -- at least for now.
A judge in Hamilton, Ontario, granted the interim order on Friday (Feb. 29) that allows the two breakaway churches to hold Sunday services without having to share the facilities with members who wish to remain with the national church.
The decision means that at least until next Sunday (March 9), services at St. George's church in Lowville and St. Hilda's in Oakville are under the auspices of the Anglican Network in Canada, a traditionalist group.
The breakaway group opposes the decision last November by the Niagara diocese to adopt the so-called local option that allows clergy "whose conscience permits" to bless gay marriages.
To date, 10 Canadian parishes have voted to join the Anglican Network, and an additional 15 have placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America.
Soon after the two Ontario churches voted on Feb. 17 to join the network, the Diocese of Niagara threatened legal action to retain the property, and demanded that the rebel congregations share the buildings with those congregants who sided with the national church. The diocese envisioned separate services.
"It seems to us only fair and equitable that the diocese be able to have access," diocese lawyer John Page told the court. "Can't Christians and Anglicans share? We're prepared to share. We're not asserting any entitlements."
But Judge James Ramsay likened the idea of sharing a church to a divorcing couple being forced to share the matrimonial home. The two sides return to court on March 20 to sort out a longer-term arrangement, but it's expected to be some time before the matter is resolved.
-- Ron Csillag