Bishop James Cowan

The neighbouring Diocese of British Columbia last month was stirred up by a report recommending a complete reorganization of their diocese that would directly affect over a quarter of its parishes.

Five congregations would be disestablished, and ten would be amalgamated into four new congregations, if Diocesan Synod adopts the recommendations of the seven person Diocesan Ministry Resource Review Team (DMRT) which produced the report after two years of study and consultations.

The report also calls for the creation of seven new congregations in growing areas of Vancouver Island.

In the Diocese of New Westminster, the chair of a task force just beginning a study of this diocese’s parishes was quick to say that his group had no intention of bringing down such sweeping recommendations - certainly not the closure or merging of parishes.

“The Diocese of BC recommendations will be of real interest to us. They are at this point only recommendations, not a done deal,” said Mike Burpee of St. Laurence, Coquitlam, chair of the New Westminster Task Force of Physical Resources. “They also go a lot further than our present mandate in this diocese,” Burpee added.

For historic reasons, the Diocese of British Columbia covers only Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. It includes 56 parishes, with about 11,400 Anglicans on membership rolls.

“The report [has not] come down from on high, nor is it a report which is ‘carved in stone,” wrote Bishop James Cowan in an accompanying pastoral letter. He said the review team was “reflecting back to us what we said to one another and to them in the various congregational and committee meetings in which we took part.” Parishes have been asked to the report in March, and it will come before the Diocese of BC’s Synod in May.

Parishes recommended for closing are All Saints, Crofton; Brentwood Memorial Anglican Chapel, Brentwood Bay; St. Alban, Victoria; St. Christopher/St. Aidan, Lake Cowichan: and St. Michael & All Angels, Chemainus.

The review team found that in 1993, some 43 congregations had active Sunday schools for children or youth, while nine were principally made up of seniors. A decade later, only 28 congregations had significant numbers of young people, and 25 were almost exclusively made up of older people.

During the decade, almost half the parishes suffered membership declines of ten per cent or more – and 23 of them dropped by more than 20 per cent.

The review team found that a viable parish needs revenue of at least $130,000 a year, but 57 per cent of the diocese’s parishes collect less than $100,000.

The Diocese of BC team also recommended reorganizing into six new regions with greater autonomy “to allow more creativity in ministry and mission.”

Cowan said the report was “a document of hope, even as it asks us hard questions and makes recommendations which are difficult for us to hear.” He added that the BC Synod had decided that “no report or recommendation will be received by the Synod which has not first received approval within the parishes reviewed.”