Church plans to use chair windfall to help others

He didn't even say thank heaven. At least, not in an interview with the Times Colonist.

Rev. Bob Arril, minister of an impoverished Victoria church suddenly $630,000 US richer thanks to a pair of 17th-century Chinese chairs, would say only that the parish was "surprised and delighted" by the sale price.

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Tuesday's auction by Sotheby's of New York brought "scores of messages and phone calls from the media as well as members of the parish," but the minister of St. Matthias Anglican Church kept to pastoral commitments.

Arril didn't find out how much heat the five-minute auction had generated until a couple of hours later. "This does mean a great deal to us," he said. The chairs were conservatively estimated to sell at no more than $250,000 but with the buyer's premium - an amount paid by the buyer to the auction house - the auction reached $758,500 US.

The 1950s-era church at Richmond and Richardson streets is paid for, but has only 30 parishioners after 250 left in 2009 for the more conservative Anglican Network in Canada.

"We really rely on financial contributions," Arril said.

What will be done with the 63 million pennies from heaven?

"I can assure you in the church there is always a process and it is collegial," he said. Experts in the church and the wider diocese will deliberate the issue.

Arril couldn't say when Sotheby's would be forwarding the windfall - worth about $615,000 Cdn - and the auction house declined to give any details.

The parishioner who suggested the chairs might be Ming masterpieces is "very, very pleased," Arril said. Like many of the church's members, he said, she likes to get things done efficiently behind the scenes.

The congregation works hard around Victoria, volunteering their time at the Rainbow Kitchen, the Mustard Seed Food Bank, Our Place, Project Upgrade at Camosun College and the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund. The church also runs a 24-unit housing facility for low-income seniors.

Arril anticipates the injection of cash will allow the parish to "think very creatively" about how to continue and expand its community work.

The Huanghuali Yokeback armchairs were sold to a Hong Kong dealer bidding on behalf of a private collector from China, according to Harold Yeo, Chinese art specialist with Sotheby's.

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