What is the purpose of the church?

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Rainham Mennonite Church negotiates with Canada Revenue Agency

February 25, 2015 | God at work in the Church
Dave Rogalsky, Eastern Canada Correspondent
Pictured from left to right: members of Rainham Mennonite Church—Dave Dick, congregational chair Charlie Roth, Mary Makey and Mary Roth. (Photo courtesy of Susan Kennel Harrison)

When Rainham Mennonite Church, near Selkirk, Ont., was audited by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in the summer of 2014, the auditor wanted to see the congregation’s constitution. When it couldn’t find one, the church quickly developed a new one with four statements in the Purpose section of the document, two of which caught the CRA’s attention:

2. To receive and maintain a fund or funds, and to apply all or part of the principal and income therefrom, from time to time, to charitable organizations that are also registered charities under the Income Tax Act (Canada).

4. To minister to the needs of a hurting world. The example and teachings of Jesus Christ make it abundantly clear that Christians are to work for all that is just and merciful. This purpose is fulfilled as the followers of Christ act justly and exercise love in all that they do, and as they minister to hurts and injustices existing everywhere in the world, including aiding with material needs to any extent possible.

The CRA rejected these statements, finding the organizations Rainham would support painted too broadly. While Purpose No. 2 does state that the congregation would give money to organizations “registered under the Income Tax Act (Canada),” Purpose No. 4 seemed to broaden that to give beyond—into the “hurting world” and “everywhere in the world.”

The auditor was clear that Rainham’s charitable status under Canadian law meant that only other organizations also under Canadian law were appropriate destinations for monies for which Rainham issued tax-deductible receipts. Rainham could give monies elsewhere, but not receipt those monies at tax time.

Working with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, Charlie Roth, the congregational chair, developed a Purpose statement that was acceptable to the CRA. The new Purpose section includes the following:

2. To receive and maintain a fund or funds, and to apply all or part of the principal and income therefrom, from time to time, to charitable organizations that are also registered charities under the Income Tax Act (Canada).

3. To engage in the relief of poverty by following the example and teachings of Jesus to work for all that is just and merciful and, to the extent possible, love one’s neighbour by providing ministry and aid to those experiencing poverty.

David Martin, executive minister of MC Eastern Canada, says, “The intent is to mirror the wording of the tax law and to not use the Purposes as statements of faith, which are better framed in other church documents.”

Roth says that when he brought the revised Purpose list to the congregation, there was a fair amount of discussion, with some of the mostly elderly members willing to do what they thought was right, regardless of the CRA. With 16 active elderly members, Roth says that he and the congregation ultimately did not think that fighting the wording was “a sword to fall on,” and that they would instead practise their faith as a congregation and deal with problems if and when they arose.

But Roth also believes, and is supported in this by Martin, that Rainham was not targeted. Instead, he says the auditors at CRA are given very specific and narrow guidelines on what is acceptable in these areas. With the addition of Purpose No. 3 in the latest constitution, the congregation can make decisions to use its monies to directly fund local projects, like a family that lost its home to a fire recently.

Pictured from left to right: members of Rainham Mennonite Church—Dave Dick, congregational chair Charlie Roth, Mary Makey and Mary Roth. (Photo courtesy of Susan Kennel Harrison)

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