The Anglican Diocese of Toronto says its ministers may not conduct services in a quaint former church which has been turned into a non-denominational centre

By Richard J. Brennan
National Affairs Writer
October 12, 2012

The Anglican Diocese of Toronto has forbidden its ministers and even laypersons from conducting services in a quaint non-denominational church in the historic hamlet of Irondale in the Haliburton Highlands.

The building used to belong to the diocese. After a two-year legal challenge, the Bark Lake Aboriginal Tribe this past summer purchased the church from the Anglican diocese for $70,000. The frame church, built by pioneer Charles Pusey in 1887, was sold to the diocese in 1901 for $50.

When the building reopened a month ago as the Irondale Community Church, the first service was Anglican, the second Lutheran. But when retired Anglican minister Arnold Hancock wanted to conduct the Thanksgiving Day weekend service, Archbishop Colin Johnson of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto sent out a cease-and-desist order far and wide.

The folks in Irondale, about 100 kilometres north of Peterborough, are now preparing for a fight. Even devout Anglicans are accusing the church of being unchristian.

“This has set everybody back,” George Simmons, whose family’s involvement in the church goes back generations, told the Toronto Star.

“I think the majority of Anglicans would be disgraced that they wouldn’t allow an Anglican minister (to conduct a service) for people who have attended that church for 50 years,” he said.

“He covered the whole area here. He notified every Anglican layperson and minister that they weren’t allowed to lead a service in the church,” Simmons added.

Johnson could not be reached directly by the Toronto Star but the Diocese of Toronto issued a statement.

“Due to dwindling numbers, the former Anglican church of St. John’s, Irondale, was closed and deconsecrated in 2010 and sold to private citizens for community use in 2012,” stated Stuart Mann, its director of communications. “The purchasers continue to hold services in the church, which is entirely appropriate. However, Anglican clergy are not permitted to conduct services at St. John’s as it is no longer under Anglican authority. Anglican clergy are only permitted to function in Anglican ministries.”

When asked how it could possibly hurt to have an Anglican minister conduct a service on occasion, the Star was met with stony silence.

“They have really come down hard on us. It’s vengeance at its height,” Simmons said.

From the 1920s into the late 1940s the United and Anglican churches each had a large enough congregation to hold separate services. But even so, since it was the only church for miles around, all were welcome: Catholic, Baptist, Anglican and United.

Anglican minister the Reverent Edwin Heaven, 79, who has conducted services at the Irondale church, said he was stunned by the Diocese’s position.

“I am very taken aback by it. . . it seems to me they are acting in a vengeful manner, which is, of course, very unchristian to say the least,” he told the Star.

Heaven, who lives in Port Hope but has a Haliburton cottage, also took umbrage with the Diocese of Toronto in a letter to the editor of the Minden Times.

“I am thoroughly disgusted with the bureaucratic greed of the Diocese of Toronto, seeking to make a huge profit from the sale of a historic building and property, totally ignoring the local community’s desire to preserve their heritage,” he wrote.

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