ST. STEPHEN, N.B. — A New Brunswick church says it is being disowned by its Canadian denomination because it refuses to stop performing same-sex marriages.
Peter Fitch, pastor of St. Croix Vineyard Church in St. Stephen, says Vineyard Canada has asked his congregation to leave the group — which has 45 churches across the country — and stop using the Vineyard name.
"Our church was one of the founding members of the Vineyard denomination of Canada in 1995. We are very invested in this group. We love this group," Fitch said Monday.
He said his church has performed same-sex marriages even though the association asked in 2014 that pastors not conduct them.
"When we were asked to do a same-sex marriage by people locally, we said to the denomination that we were going to do it, in spite of the requirement that Vineland pastors not do it," he said. "We've done two others over the years as well."
Fitch said national leaders of the conservative evangelical organization felt challenged by that, but they took the time to take a thorough look at the issue.
"But in the end they thought they couldn't have churches like ours as part of the group. They asked any church that couldn't comply with their requirements to leave and not use the name Vineyard any more," he said.
Fitch said he understands the association's position because it is hard for people to change. He said that with religious groups there's a desire to be faithful and obedient to what they understand.
Fitch said he has a brother who is gay, and he never felt at peace with the position of Vineyard Canada.
In an emailed statement, the national directors of Vineyard Canada, David and Anita Ruis, described the New Brunswick congregation as "stepping away" from the national group.
"We recognize the St. Croix community has come to a different perspective than our movement of churches," they said. "We respect and appreciate the need for them to follow their conscience as they find a way forward apart from Vineyard Canada."
In a Feb. 5, 2020 letter to Vineyard Canada churches, the Ruises said the organization would not be changing its position on same-sex marriage.
"Vineyard Canada remains committed to an understanding of Christian marriage as an exclusive, covenantal relationship between one man and one woman, consistent with traditional understanding of the Biblical witness and the historical church," they wrote.
Vineyard has about 2,400 associated churches around the world.
Fitch said congregation members have been supportive of his stand, and he doesn't think parting with Vineyard will impact their numbers.
"Almost a decade ago we started to lose people who wanted to keep a traditional perspective, but our church grew up again with people that might not have thought they would be churchgoers," he said. "Young people and people of different sexualities, and people who are atheists and lots of different people come to our church."
A service will be held March 15 to rename the church. Fitch said it will take the form of a New Orleans jazz funeral with lots of music and stories.
"We've been working in this community since 1992 and we have lots of things we do here. We'll keep doing them. We'll just have a new name," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2020.
— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton
The Canadian Press