St. George's-St. Jude's Anglican Church, which is about 191 years old, says complying with the city's heritage bylaws makes repairs too expensive. (CBC)

The oldest continually operating church in Canada must keep its heritage designation, Saint John city council has ruled.

St. George's-St. Jude's Anglican Church had hoped to drop its heritage status because it makes renovations too expensive for the dwindling congregation.

The 191-year-old church, which falls within the King Street West Heritage Conservation Zone, was previously denied the request by the city's heritage board.

"Though the board is always sympathetic to an economic argument, finances can't be a sole motivator here," board chair Leona Laracey had said in August.

The final decision rested with council.

The board was also worried that without the heritage designation, the church could be torn down.

Rev. Rob Salloum says that is not the intent.

But selling the building to conserve the congregation's waning resources is still on the table, he said.

"We have some ideas of some possibilities because we are concerned with serving our community first," said Salloum.

"I know it's important to maintain buildings, but our first priority is the people and serving Jesus on the west side here."

If the church were to move, it would displace the estimated congregation of about 100, he said.

The church contains much of its original paraphernalia, including an old organ, and priceless stained glass windows.

Earlier this year, the church was denied a building permit to replace peeling cedar shingles on the east wall with vinyl siding.

Heritage bylaws restrict the use of any new materials and the church was instructed to repair the shingles at more than double the estimated $2,800 cost.

The heritage board later ruled the church could use vinyl on the east wall, but any future exterior renovations would have to be done in cedar.