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Open letter to the Congregational Council of St. Peter’s Church

Re: Letter dated March 10, 2023, “Invitation to a Special Meeting” of St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Our most active members and supporters are seniors. In today’s news, seniors were again cautioned to be aware of people who want to take advantage of them. The standard practice is to develop in you an apprehension that something bad will happen to you if you do not immediately react and transfer your money to their account.

“If you do not pay these taxes owed to the CRA immediately the police will be at your door and take you off to jail”. The pattern is the same… Extreme urgency, you need to react immediately, no time to consult with anybody, do it right away or bad things will happen to you.

We assume that the leaders of a Christian congregation, which you are, would never do this to their members. And yet here we are…

You have pre-emptively called a special meeting to seek approval to sell our church without full disclosure in advance, nor given the congregation the opportunity to understand the rationale and examine the financial implications.

You have said “your vote is required. If this is not achieved the property cannot be sold and we will become insolvent in the near future”. You know that this is not true. We established that with our business plan presentation in November of 2022. The positive picture we presented is further enhanced by the extension of the Salvation Army lease till February 2024.

Your assumptions regarding the closing of the columbarium are presumptive and premature. The general public and the interment rights holders have 45 days from February 25 to raise their objections with the registrar. To date your process has been deficient. You have not communicated with all the interment rights holders, as you are required to do by law.

Why have you not been forthright with the closure application? You know that the application requires you to detail your rationale. Why have you not shared this with the congregation? Why are you seeking the closure? What alternatives to the closure were considered? What would happen if the closure application is unsuccessful? What impact is there on the community if the columbarium is closed? Does the columbarium have historical and cultural significance? How will the negative impacts on the community be managed?

In your letter for the special meeting you have made it clear that the closing of the columbarium is a prerequisite to selling the church as a development property. You have not acknowledged that the petition to “save St. Peter’s Church” has close to 1500 signatures. Nor have you acknowledged the architectural merits of the church and how it is a community resource.

Your letter to the interment rights holder is deceptive. You state that “the congregation voted to sell the church property on September 2020”. For the special meeting, however, you state “in Sept. 2020 the congregation voted to seek purchasers of our property”. There is a big difference between testing the market and an agreement to sell the property.

In your invitation letter you state “the cost of closing the columbarium is approximately $700,000 not to mention the cost of re-interment”. Yet we have established that the cost of closing the columbarium and re-interment will exceed $3.0 million. This is a debt obligation that encumbers our future and makes us beholden to whoever choses to underwrite this for us.

You have stated that three developers have expressed interest in the property and will make presentations at the meeting. You will recommend one of them. If you already have the proposals, why would you not share them in advance with the membership?

You have undertaken a “pressure sales technique” which is totally reprehensible. You chose not to leave it at that but undertake further pressure on the congregation by saying “if the proposal is rejected we will not have enough time to go through the process again.” You then proceed with the additional threat, “If the congregation does not go along with your recommendation, council will have no other option but to resign.”

Many of us no longer view this as a threat. Your leadership, or lack thereof, has seen our membership dwindle from an audited total of 1466 members in 2020 to 439. Some executive members have been on the council for 14 years.

To restore some faith in the integrity of the current executive council, it might be best to cancel the Special Meeting and withdraw the application to close the columbarium.


Friends of St. Peter’s Church

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