Osborne Village church opposes heritage status on basis of religious freedom

An Osborne Village-area church is using the separation of religion and state as an argument against a city plan to confer heritage status on the building.

Baptist congregation fears placement of church on historical list creates potential for state interference

108-year-old Trinity Baptist Church in Osborne Village is opposing historical status on the grounds that it could compromise the separation of church and state. (City of Winnipeg)

An Osborne Village-area church is using the separation of religion and state as an argument against a city plan to confer heritage status on the building.

On Friday, city council's property and development committee voted to place Trinity Baptist Church on Gertrude Avenue on the City of Winnipeg's list of historical resources.

The 80-member congregation opposed the heritage designation for its 108-year-old building on the basis it could hamper the church's religious freedom, in the event it wished to make changes to its interior.​

Pastor Brad Warkentin said while the church has every intention of preserving the building, it's concerned about the future potential for the city imposing onerous conditions on renovations to the worship space.

"We want to be long-sighted and understand that future generations need to be free to make decisions about that worship space that prioritizes our beliefs over esthetics," Warkentin said at city hall.

"We do value the history of our building and our church is passionate about maintaining the historicity of the building."

Warkentin said while he believes city hall and city council have nothing but the best intentions toward the church right now, he fears the potential for future administrations behaving less amicably decades down the road.

Deep interest in avoiding 'state influence'

Beyond that practical concern, the church also has a philosophical reason to oppose the designation, he added.

"The separation of church and state is one of the bedrocks of what makes Baptists, Baptists," Warkentin said. "In our congregation, there's a deep interest in remaining independent from state influence."

Trinity Baptist was originally built as Nassau Street Baptist Church in 1910. A city heritage assessment describes the interior as remaining in "remarkably original condition."

​Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who sits on council's property committee, said she had never heard the separation of church and state used as an argument against heritage designation.

An Osborne Village-area church is using the separation of religion and state as an argument against a city plan to confer heritage status on the building. 2:00

She called the argument fascinating but said it could not dissuade her or her colleagues from granting heritage protection to the church.

Heritage Winnipeg director Cindy Tugwell said she too was dumbfounded by the argument.

"We don't want to open Pandora's box," she said, adding she fears novel arguments against heritage preservation. 

"The whole premise of designation all over the world in historic cities is that the government does have the right to protect a heritage property for the benefit of the public, for people, for future generations."​

The heritage designation of Trinity Baptist Church still faces approval from city council's executive policy committee and council as a whole.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.


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