Congregation property within the United Church of Canada
The United Church of Canada Act preamble gave congregations "the right to unite with one another without loss of their identity" and permitted congregations "to continue the organization and practices...enjoyed by them at the time of the union". For most congregations the only thing that was changing was the name on their church. The matter of property rights within the union depends upon whether your church came from Congregational, Methodist, Presbyterian, or other roots, or was formed after 1925.
There were changes, most notably in the Model Deed attached to some properties.
The legislation which formed the United Church of Canada also changed the trusts attached to properties of the negotiating congregations. Properties for which the negotiating body had interest were now "held by the trustees for the congregation, but subject to the control indicated in the above provisions of the Model Deed and subject to The United Church becoming the owner of the property in the event of the congregation ceasing to be an organized congregation". These provisions apply to congregation properties of former Methodist churches where property had previously been held by the denomination, properties of congregations formed after 1925, and twenty years after uniting with the United Church of Canada to congregation properties of the Evangelical United Brethren Churches, together comprising about half of all congregation properties. Properties for which the negotiating body had no interest "shall not be affected by the legislation giving effect to the union or by any legislation of The United Church without the consent of the church, charge, circuit or congregation for which such property is held in trust". These provisions apply to congregation properties of the former Presbyterian Church in Canada which became the subject of constitutional court litigation for the first years of the union, congregation properties of former Congregational churches, and most other congregation properties which existed before becoming part of the United Church of Canada.
The legislation also provided "in the event of failure or partial failure of any of the said trusts, the said property, in the absence of any express provision for such event, may be held, used, administered or disposed of as may be provided by any by-law, rule or regulation made from time to time by The United Church" for properties where the trusts made no provision should the congregation cease to exist.
The constitutional court litigation affecting congregation properties of the former Presbyterian Church in Canada ended respectively in the Supreme Courts of Ontario and of Canada, both affirming the constitutionality of The United Church of Canada Act but both interpreting the respective legislation of the province and of the dominion. Their interpretation was best summed up by Lamont in Ferguson v. MacLean 1930 S.C.R. 662, "the congregation, as it is constituted at the present time, is alone, in my opinion, beneficially interested in the property and entitled thereto". The effect of the interpretation was making congregation properties of the former Presbyterian Church in Canada not subject to an interest by the denomination and therefore not "affected by the legislation giving effect to the union or by any legislation of The United Church without the consent of the church, charge, circuit or congregation for which such property is held in trust".
The United Church of Canada Act also has safeguards which form the only immutable characteristic of what the union might be or become, what might be more readily understood as checks and balances by which the powers of General Council are limited by certain principles and by the majority consent of those affected by such powers. One of the safeguards is "to legislate on all matters respecting property, subject to the limitations elsewhere provided in this Basis of Union, and subject also to the approval of the Conference in which the property is situated". The minutes and archived records of the United Church fail to give any indication conference(s) were ever requested, considered, or approved legislation respecting any matter of property.
There is sufficient evidence to revisit the vesting of congregation properties.
The United Church recently formally refused hearing the evidence citing the appellant was not directly affected by a matter of property, the appellant being settled order of ministry with "the right to preside as Chairman at all meetings of the Trustees" as defined by the Model Deed.