St. Mark's to stop services at month's end

Anglican church has small membership

Pam Martin married at St. Mark's Anglican Church. She was baptized and confirmed there, as were her children. But at month's end, the 52-year-old and the rest of St. Mark's congregation won't be allowed to use the church building at 1805 Larch St. anymore.

The Diocese of New Westminster owns the property, and Bishop Michael Ingham told St. Mark's it couldn't hold services after Feb. 28, although the building isn't being closed.

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Membership at St. Mark's is stable but small - about 35 show up for Sunday worship. It's been able to support only a quarter-time priest for years. Martin is upset about not being able to use the building, which she considers her spiritual home.

"Part of me doesn't want to believe it's true. Part of me is in denial. [I'm] very sad because I've been part of the building management team, so I have personal relationships with a lot of the groups we share space with," she said. "It's been my church home for my entire life."

Trinity United shares the building, but its small congregation of about 25 is leaving at the end of February in a decision made last spring. Trinity will hold services on Main Street beginning in March.

Martin said Trinity has roughly 20 years left on a pre-paid lease. It's unclear if or how that will be paid out. Negotiations are underway.

The two congregations' histories are intertwined. St. Mark's parish incorporated 105 years ago and was originally based around Second and Vine. In the 1920s, the parish moved to a building kitty corner from its current Larch Street location. The Larch Street church was built in the early 1960s.

Trinity United is an amalgamation of two Kitsilano parishes - Kitsilano United and St. James United. They merged in 1989 or 1990 and Trinity settled into Kitsilano United's building across the street from 1805 Larch St.

Soon afterwards, St. Mark's and Trinity agreed to share a property.

They moved into the United Church's building (which has since been sold and turned into condos), while the Anglican building was renovated.

The renovation, paid for by Trinity United in exchange for the pre-paid lease, was finished the mid-1990s and the two churches moved in. Now, almost 20 years later they're both moving out.

Randy Murray, Diocese of New Westminster spokesman, said the building isn't being closed and is not for sale and there are no plans to redevelop the property.

"Can the diocese sell churches? Yes. The bishop and the diocese can sell churches. It's a fairly protracted process, but it's not for sale at this time," he said.

The minimum standard, according to Murray, "for sustainable and viable ministry is being able to afford a priest."

He said the bishop met with St. Mark's leadership and suggested options, including finding an alternative location, merging with another church or having members disperse to other parishes.

"The parish is always self-determining and they could find the financial resources to pay at a minimum a half-time priest," Murray added.

Community groups use space in the building, including a Montessori school, a Scouts group and Buddhist meditation groups. Murray said there are "absolutely" no plans at this time to change any arrangements.

Despite assurances the property isn't for sale, the land is assessed at $5.8 million, which is why St. Mark's parishioner Irene Sobkin is worried it might be sold in the future.

She said the diocese should have followed a church closure process, allowing St. Mark's to speak before the diocesan council.

Sobkin said it's difficult for St. Mark's to amalgamate with another Anglican parish because its services are unique - there are no pews and they worship in a circle, among other differences.

Martin said St. Mark's hasn't been told about plans for the building, but added, "the diocese has certainly said, and this is in casual conversation, that they have no interest in managing real estate that's not a worship space. They're in the church business, not in the community centre business."

St. Anselm's Anglican congregation at UBC has invited St. Mark's to join them while members figure out their future.

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