The vote clearly reflected the bitterness of the debate. Last September, Rev. Thomas Mercer and his United Church congregation in the Greater Vancouver community of Port Kells voted 46 to 3 to secede from the national church. The reason: the decision by the United Church’s general council the month before to allow the ordination of homosexuals. That policy has led 35 of Canada’s 4,200 United Church congregations to secede. Mercer’s congregation, along with about a dozen others, has joined the Congregational Christian Church of Canada—itself a remnant of one of the founding churches of the United Church in 1925. But it has gone even further than the others in expressing its opposition to the decision. It has refused to hand over the keys of the small, white church building to the United Church of Canada—which claims ownership of the property. And now, the courts may have to settle the dispute. Declared Mercer: “In the interest of fairness and justice, we are the owners. Our people have put their time and talents into the church.”
Indeed, members of the Port Kells congregation appear to be united in their resolve to oppose the council action. Said Mercer: “It was contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures.” Added 77-year-old Daniel Mclvor, a United Church member since he was 12: “If you take time to read up on homosexuality, it is plain unadulterated filth.” And said 35-year-old John Mulder: “We all agree that they can come into the church and ask for forgiveness like an alcoholic does. But they must try and change their ways.” In fact, the decision by the Port Kells church appears to have attracted new members: since breaking with the national church, Mercer says that his congregation has grown to more than 120 people from 80.
Spokesmen for the United Church maintain that they have legal title to the church and a neighboring house. And they add that they have subsidized the Port Kells church for years. Meanwhile, the two sides have been examining options such as allowing the Port Kells congregation to buy or lease the property. Said Jon Jessiman, the Vancouver-based lawyer who represents the United Church: “Christians should be able to sit down together to resolve this issue.” But because the dispute reflects the profound national split in the church over homosexuality, that may be more difficult than appearances indicate.
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