New Westminster Synod and Bishop approve same-sex blessings

At its meeting on 17 June 2002 the diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada voted 63 per cent in favour of proposals brought by Bishop Michael Ingham for blessing the unions of gay and lesbian couples.

Bishop Michael Ingham’s plan

Bishop Ingham’s plan provides for:

An episcopal visitor, a bishop who will offer pastoral care to those parishes and clergy who desire it. The visiting bishop would hold no other authority in the diocese

A conscience clause guaranteeing no discrimination against any member of synod based on their feelings on same-sex unions

An approved rite of blessing. Parishes would first need to vote on whether to perform blessings and then ask permission of the bishop.

In introducing his proposal, Bishop Ingham gave a background to the dialogue on the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church and in the diocese in recent decades. He said churches of different denominations in Holland, Germany, the United States and Canada have been blessing same-sex relationships for several years. In the Episcopal Church in the USA, many dioceses openly accept gay unions. Even the Anglican bishop ordinary of the Canadian armed forces, Montreal Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, has “not withheld consent” on same-sex unions

Emotional reactions to the debate

The dramatic step following 25 years of discussion on greater inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Church of Canada brought some synod members to tears – both out of jubilation for gay and lesbian members and sadness at the departure of fellow Anglicans.

Following the early morning announcement of the vote, Revd Trevor Walters, from St Matthew’s, Abbotsford, declared a state of “pastoral emergency” and walked out of synod, along with some members from nine other congregations.

Integrity Vancouver’s reaction

Steve Schuh, the head of the Vancouver chapter of the gay and lesbian Anglican group Integrity, said he was joyful that the church was now saying “welcome”, yet the walkout “says to me that they have a great deal of contempt for gay and lesbian people. It says to me they can’t be in a church which accepts me.”

Lesbian and gay reactions

Maureen Ashfield, who together with her partner, Laura-Lynn McBain, hopes to have one of the first sanctioned same-sex blessings at their parish, St Margaret’s, Cedar Cottage, said that she hoped the vote would go through so that synod could move along with the work of the church. Following the vote, Ms Ashfield said she was disappointed that even though the result was in her favour, “we haven’t actually resolved it.” Now, she said, there will be messy legal issues around diocesan and parish properties. “We’re into another era of ongoing battle.”

Archbishop Michael Peers’ reaction

Archbishop Michael Peers, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he was not surprised by synod’s vote to move ahead with the blessings. He believed the bishop and the diocese had acted responsibly in reaching a decision on same-sex blessings, and he fully expected the matter would be on the agenda of the next meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops and quite possibly at the meeting of General Synod in 2004. “Michael hasn’t been anything but candid with the House about his plans to give consent to a rite for same-sex blessings,” said Archbishop Peers. Because the House of Bishops is not a constitutional body, he added, it would not be in a position to overrule Bishop Ingham. As for General Synod, he said, “There will certainly be people who will want to test the authority of a diocesan synod to make that kind of decision.”

Seven Primates express disapproval

The nine parishes that walked out and members of at least six other parishes said they were in touch with primates from other Anglican provinces. The nine churches are some of the largest in the diocese and contribute 24 per cent of its budget. Those walking out are generally represented by the Essentials group, a network of traditional, conservative-minded Anglicans.

The Revd Ed Hird, rector of St Simon’s and a spokesperson for many of the Essentials clergy, read from a letter signed by five current and two retired primates of the Anglican Communion. They said a positive vote by New Westminster “would be viewed not only as a grave affront but will also set in motion deliberations on breaking communion” with their dioceses. The letter was signed by David Gitari, Archbishop of Kenya, Bernard Malango, Archbishop of Central Africa, K J Samuel, Moderator and Primate of South India, Yong Ping Chung, Archbishop of South East Asia, Revd Drexel Wellington Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies, plus retired primates Harry Goodhew, former Archbishop of Sydney, and Maurice Sinclair, former Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone.

Bishop Ingham, however, assured synod that the bishops in US dioceses which have allowed same-sex blessings – many of them for years – have continued to receive invitations from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Lambeth meeting of bishops every 10 years. That, he said, is the true test of whether a diocese and a bishop are still in communion with the Anglican Church world-wide. “The Anglican Communion consists of those in communion with Canterbury and with its bishop,” said Bishop Ingham. “There is an episcopal link which binds them together.” Furthermore, he said, “many of the primates who wrote come from very different contexts” from the diocese of New Westminster.

Bishop Michael Ingham writes to the clergy who walked out

The bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, last week sent a letter to a dozen clergy who walked out of synod on June 15 asking whether they wished to remain licensed in the diocese of New Westminster “under my jurisdiction and authority as your diocesan bishop.” In his letter, Bishop Ingham appealed to the clergy to “stay within the diocesan family and continue to exercise your ministry among us.” The deadline for responding is 2 July 2002. In an interview, Bishop Ingham denied that the letter was a threat, but rather, it was a letter for clarification.

“I want to know whether the walkout was a protest or had they resigned,” said the bishop. If the clergy had resigned from the diocese, Bishop Ingham said, he would need to declare vacancies in those parishes affected. Clergy and members of parishes are free to leave the church at any time, he said, but the land and buildings are property of the diocese.

Revd Ed Hird, incumbent of St Simon’s, North Vancouver, and a spokesperson for the dissident clergy, said his group had sent a response to Bishop Ingham. Mr Hird said his group had not left the diocese, but rather, it is the diocese which is acting in isolation of the church worldwide. “We withdrew from synod because we think synod acted schismatically,” said Mr Hird. The group, which now calls itself the Anglican Communion in New Westminster, was asking even before the diocesan synod for the appointment of another bishop to minister to them.

Prior to Archbishop Kolini’s offer, Mr Hird was confident that a Canadian bishop would step in and offer his oversight. Thirteen Canadian bishops (just under one-third of the country’s bishops) issued a statement two days after the New Westminster synod, decrying its decision. They called on the diocese to withhold implementation of same-sex blessings. Mr Hird called the 13 bishops “very supportive” but said it would be difficult for a Canadian bishop to offer episcopal oversight, since, he suggested, the bishop might be disciplined by the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers. Bishops may not exercise jurisdiction outside their dioceses, unless another bishop requests it. Meanwhile, the dissident clergy continued to explore their options, which could include closer ties with a continuing or parallel church in the United States.

That church, the Anglican Mission in America is led by the bishops consecrated in June 2001 in Denver by Archbishop Kolini and Archbishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung of South East Asia. The AMiA – about 40 congregations which parted with the Episcopal Church in the United States – is considered a splinter group by many in the Anglican Communion. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called the consecrations of the missionary bishops – who serve within the territorial boundaries of the Episcopal Church – “at best irregular and at worst schismatic.” AMiA members, however, continue to consider themselves part of the Anglican Communion through their connections with the Anglican provinces of Rwanda and South East Asia.

Archbishop of Canterbury calls for Anglican Unity

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, appealed to Anglicans in the diocese of New Westminster to continue to work together over the dispute involving the blessing of same-sex unions. Dr Carey said that, while his own position on same-sex relations is known, he acknowledged the pain and distress involved – but counselled against breaking away, urging them to stay involved in the debate. He said he was “sorry to learn that some walked out of the Synod debate” and “alarmed by the statements of those who appear to be determined to look elsewhere for episcopal oversight in place of the extended episcopal support which Bishop Ingham has offered.”

Dr Carey said that Bishop Ingham’s proposals for same-sex blessings and for pastoral care still needed to be worked out. “There is a need for certainty about what these proposals amount to, both constitutionally and liturgically.” He also stated his intention of raising the matter with the Anglican Consultative Council in September and with the Primates’ standing committee. Dr Carey wrote: “It saddens me deeply that any diocese should be following a course at odds with the Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10 (e) [advising against blessing same sex unions] and I fully understand the dismay this causes to those in the diocese who disapprove of this departure from the Anglican moral tradition and the views of the majority of their fellow believers throughout the Anglican Communion.” Dr Carey said that he himself had been accused of homophobia for his stand on homosexuality: “I am not. But I do not accept that homosexual relationships can be treated as being on a par with the man-woman ideal portrayed in Holy Scripture.”

Primate of Canada welcomes statement by Archbishop of Canterbury

Archbishop Michael Peers, welcomed the letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He said that, “while Archbishop Carey’s views on same-sex relationships are well-known, what is not so often acknowledged is his deep commitment to the unity of the church.” He praised the Archbishop as a model who “even in the face of strong disagreements, including his own convictions on the issue of homosexuality, has acted to uphold the church’s order.”

The Primate stated that he has decided not to call an emergency meeting of the House of Bishops at this time, given practical and financial considerations, “but even more importantly, given the need for us to be patient and to come well prepared to the discussion of this issue at our meeting in October. Both in our own times and through the centuries, Anglicans have best discerned the will of God, the mind of Christ and the leading of the Spirit by taking time rather than by making haste.”

Rwandan Archbishop supports New Westminster dissidents

At the beginning of July the dissident clergy announced that they had an offer of “ecclesiastical protection” from Emmanuel M Kolini, Archbishop of Rwanda and Bishop of Kigali. In 2001 he was one of two Archbishops who consecrated four ‘missionary’ bishops in the Episcopal Church in the United States to minister to traditional Episcopalians who objected to women priests and other moves toward a more liberal church.

In his letter, Archbishop Kolini wrote that communion, or the relationship of the diocese of New Westminster with the Anglican Church worldwide, “has been jeopardised by the schismatic acts” of the synod. He extended “the welcoming hand of Christian fellowship, shared concern, ready support and tangible assistance” to the eight New Westminster parishes and sympathised with the clergy, saying he “deeply regrets the threats toward you and numerous others concerning your clerical licenses,” and assured them “we will not recognise any such efforts.” The Archbishop added “We are also willing to share with others the possibility of ecclesiastical protection.”

Bishop Ingham called the offer of episcopal protection “meaningless” since the archbishop has no jurisdiction in Canada. “He has never been in contact with me or tried to ascertain the facts of the situation,” said Bishop Ingham. “He is clearly being manipulated by this dissident group which is feeding him partial information.”

Rwandan archbishop backs away from offer to conservative clergy

Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini said later that he had sent the conservative clergy of New Westminster a follow-up letter to clarify that while he supports them and will continue to examine the matter, he was not offering to become their bishop.

The Revd Ed Hird, however, said the letter of clarification only complained about a headline added to his message which suggested he had promised ecclesiastical protection. Mr Hird said the archbishop clarified that he was only offering the possibility of ecclesiastical protection, a responsibility which he would share with others.

Neither Archbishop Kolini nor Mr Hird would provide a copy of the archbishop’s second letter, an unusual refusal for the conservative clergy, who have made public an enormous amount of correspondence regarding their standing in the diocese.

The Rwandan archbishop now says the offer of ecclesiastical protection was taken out of context. “I wrote it as a word of encouragement, not as an offer of Episcopal oversight,” said Archbishop Kolini. “That doesn’t mean we keep quiet.” The archbishop said he would continue to “look into the matter” and discuss with other primates “any counsel we can give.” While he has not yet spoken with any other primates about the matter, Archbishop Kolini said he expected it was being widely discussed at the meeting of the Future of Anglicanism, which took place in Oxford from June 30 to July 5.

Archbishop calls for restraint and reflection over Canadian decision

On 8 July the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, called for restraint and a period of reflection from Anglicans following the Canadian decision. Writing to fellow Anglican Primates, Dr Carey said that the decision had major implications for the whole of the Anglican Communion and urged that individual dioceses should not ‘go it alone’ in respect of such matters. “Precisely because there are strong views on all sides of this issue, I believe that departure from the main thrust of Anglican moral tradition is sufficiently significant for individual dioceses not to act alone in relation to it.”

Dr Carey has also written to the diocesan Bishop, Michael Ingham, seeking clarification on five points:

The precise status of the decision, the consent and ratification required and the process which now ensues

The extent and limitation of the pastoral oversight delegated to any Episcopal Visitor scheme

Safeguards for clergy and others dissenting from the move

The contribution so far and possible future role of the Canadian House of Bishops

The extent to which wider factors, including the implications for the Province and the Anglican Communion were a part of the debate

The Archbishop called on his fellow primates to resist invitations to intervene in the matter and thereby avoid aggravating an already volatile situation. He asked for their prayers and for support for the dialogue he has initiated with the diocese of New Westminster and the Church of Canada.

Australian bishops react

On the 8 July, 17 Australian bishops issued a statement about the New Westminster decision:

We understand that the Bishop and Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster have approved the blessing of same-sex unions. This is a significant and historic break in the teaching of the Anglican Church on marriage and human sexuality. It stands in contradiction to the tradition of the Church, the overwhelming consensus of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and the 1997 Statement from the Canadian House of Bishops. The innovation threatens the fabric of the worldwide Communion and puts in question the nature of our on-going communion with this Diocese.

We call upon the Bishop to not act upon the decision. If he does, it effectively creates a state of impaired communion. In the event of such an unprecedented move, we call on the Canadian House of Bishops to provide alternative episcopal oversight to those members of the Anglican Communion in New Westminster who, through their faithful adherence to the teaching of our Church, are now in a state of impaired communion with the Bishop and the Diocese.

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