Grace Seniors House proprietor broke ties with church after property dispute

Mennonite Church of B.C. chief recollects stepping in to mediate ‘uncommon’ dispute in Chinatown congregation eight years in the past.

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Learn State of Grace, Half 1: A reverend and his actual property, and the way he fills gaps in seniors’ care

Even after retiring because the Vancouver Chinese language Mennonite Church’s pastor in 2001, Rev. Stephen Sai Fung Lee remained an influential determine on the Chinatown congregation over the following decade. He continued to function a pastor there, and his spouse led the church choir.

However, by 2012, a dispute over Lee’s dealing with of a church-owned seniors residence led to inner controversy, an eventual rift within the church, and his departure from it.

Lee discovered himself within the information in April of this yr when Postmedia Information reported that plans to promote Grace Seniors House, the Chinatown seniors residence he operated, have been producing worry amongst seniors seemingly going through eviction. B.C. Housing stepped in to purchase the constructing to protect it as reasonably priced housing for Chinese language seniors.

Lee had a posh and generally contentious historical past of property dealings lengthy earlier than this yr.


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A property at 485 Dunlevy St., adjoining to the Vancouver Chinese language Mennonite Church, was developed within the mid-Nineties into Chinese language seniors’ housing.

When Janice Abbott, CEO of non-profit housing supplier Atira, first met Lee in 2012, the constructing was vacant, she recalled not too long ago. The 2 started discussing Atira presumably leasing the property.

These talks have been abruptly halted, although, by Vancouver Chinese language Mennonite Church management, who instructed her Lee didn’t personal the constructing nor had the authority to lease it out.

Finally, Atira ended up leasing and later buying 485 Dunlevy from its proprietor, the Mennonite Church of B.C., and the constructing is now social housing for senior girls. Immediately, Abbott stated, Atira enjoys a wonderful relationship with the present management of the church, now often known as Chinatown Peace Church.

Abbott’s story is corroborated by inner correspondence from 2012 and 2013, between the Vancouver Chinese language Mennonite Church management council and the Mennonite Church of B.C., the provincial group of the denomination.

In December 2012, the chief minister of the church in B.C., Garry Janzen, wrote a letter to the Vancouver church’s deacon board.

A particular common assembly had been known as for the next month, Janzen wrote, to replace the congregation on what occurred “from the time that Stephen Lee started appearing on altering the seniors residence to one thing else.”

The letter went on to explain the historical past of Lee “evicting the seniors, saying he would change it to a world youth hostel, then initiating a dialog to lease it to Atira for senior girls, and (church management) leaping in and saying he has no authority to do any of this since he doesn’t personal the property.”


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The Mennonite Church of B.C., or MCBC, had carried out an “intensive” evaluate of issues associated to the Dunlevy seniors residence, Janzen wrote, which produced “some anomalies within the story which have stored MCBC on our toes always, made lots of further work for us, and triggered us to query … a few of Stephen Lee’s actions.”

The primary anomaly, Janzen wrote, was “a failure to respect that MCBC holds title, and Stephen Lee working as if he has the liberty to do as he needs, particularly after making an settlement to work collectively.”

A letter from Lee’s lawyer to the MCBC on the time acknowledged that Lee and his charity House Mutual Support Society had organized to lease the premises to Atira, however on the final minute, the MCBC instructed Lee “he had no authority to signal the lease and that (the MCBC) didn’t conform to the proposed lease. The explanation to your rejection is unknown to our consumer.”

Lee initially declined to be interviewed for this story, saying he had been unfairly portrayed in earlier stories. However he later answered a number of questions by electronic mail and cellphone.

Lee disputed MCBC management’s assertion that individuals have been “evicted” in 2012, saying the seniors there have been all moved from the church-owned Dunlevy facility right into a property down the block, owned by Lee’s firm and operated by his charity.

“There was no ‘eviction’ from the church senior residence when it was closed down a while in 2012,” Lee stated. “All of the residents have been moved to Grace Seniors House at 333 East Pender St. the place they received to remain on the similar charges they paid for the previous residence and never the upper charges that different residents have been paying.”


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Reached by cellphone not too long ago, Janzen stated the dispute between Lee and the Vancouver Chinese language Mennonite Church in 2012 and 2013 was “uncommon” in his 14 years operating the denomination group that represents dozens of church buildings in B.C.

Following Lee’s departure from the Vancouver Chinese language Mennonite Church and his falling out with the provincial denomination — which included the termination of his standing as an ordained Mennonite reverend — he began a brand new church in North Burnaby.

Property information present his charity, Grace Christian Chapel, bought the Burnaby church property in 2013 for $2.4 million. It’s now listed on the market at $6.95 million.

Property information present that along with 333 East Pender and the Burnaby church, Lee, his firms and societies additionally personal a seniors residence in Richmond, a six-bedroom home close to Burnaby Mountain Park, and a pair of condos in a brand new constructing in South Vancouver.

The mixed assessed worth of those properties, plus the publicly introduced buy worth of Grace, is greater than $30 million. Lee declined to reply whether or not he owned some other properties by means of different firms or societies. However property information and courtroom information present different properties he and his organizations have purchased and offered in Vancouver and Burnaby.

After acquiring and reviewing the 2012 and 2013 correspondence, Postmedia approached Janzen, the Mennonite Church of B.C. government minister.

It isn’t frequent for a Mennonite reverend to be so energetic in the actual property market, he stated.


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“Mennonites are recognized to be sort of humble folks,” Janzen stated. “This type of dwelling doesn’t slot in that. So, alongside of what our wage usually can be for pastors, clearly, Stephen Lee was doing enterprise. … We don’t have some other pastors — not that I’m conscious of, at the very least — which are doing enterprise of that sort of measurement, alongside of pastoring.”

Lee requested Postmedia to report a press release he despatched, together with a bible verse, “as one thing from my coronary heart of hearts.”

“The extra I give it some thought the extra I wish to thanks for having jogged my memory of how a lot our Lord has blessed our church ministry,” Lee wrote, including “as Christians, we consider in and follow tithing,” the follow of church members paying common contributions.

He cited a bible passage about tithing, from Malachi, 3:10: “Carry ye all of the tithes into the storehouse, that there could also be meat in mine home, and show me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I cannot open you the home windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room sufficient to obtain it.’”

When requested to clarify why the verse was necessary to him, Lee declined, stating: “Sufficient is claimed.”

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