David Virtue reports on the latest Anglican crisis

VANCOUVER, BC—It had all the makings of a cliffhanger. Would the Diocese of New Westminster go for the gold ring and do what no diocese had ever done in ecclesiastical history and vote for same-sex blessings?

By midday Saturday it was all too clear, despite appeals from a number of Primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and concerted appeals from clergy and laity of the Evangelical ESSENTIALS group representing some 30 percent of the dioceses parishioners in twelve parishes.

New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham spoke for more than two hours appealing and cajoling, bullying and twisting arms. He accused those who would not go with him on the issue as schismatic, out of the Book of Corinthians and painted himself as one who stood like the Apostle Paul, said the Reverend Ed Hird, chair of the Anglican ESSENTIALS group of Evangelical clergy and laity.

As the hour approached it became all too clear despite appeals from his own clergy, how the vote would go. Motion 7 was put on the table. Votes were cast. Ingham said he would approve with a 51 percent majority, down from his earlier requirement of 60 percent. Of the 371 eligible voters, 344 votes were actually cast with 215 for and 129 against. In percentage terms it was 63 percent for, 37 percent against. The bishop immediately gave his episcopal assent.

‘The middle of the road wanted to hold the diocese together, they didn’t vote for same-sex blessings. They were incredibly naive. They thought conservatives would be placated by a token flying bishop with no authority or canonical jurisdiction,’ said Hird in a phone call to VIRTUOSITY.

‘The liberals would be just doing a couple of blessings in a corner. In short no big deal. The mantra was we needed to get on with it and move forward. The truth is they jumped off the cliff,’ said Hird.

Following the vote there was a brief address by Reverend Trevor Walters, rector of St Matthews in Abbotsford and chair of the Vancouver ESSENTIALS group. Then he and some twelve parishes announced they would withdraw from the synod and walked out of the convention.

Speaking of the remainder of the diocese, Hird said, ‘They left the Anglican Church of Canada, not us. They have broken communion with the Anglican Faith … with the Anglican Communion.’

‘We have asked Dr. George Carey to speak to the situation, but as of now he has said nothing.’

Asked what Canadian Primate Michael Peers had to say, Hird replied, ‘nothing.’ Ingham is claiming Peers supports him, but we have had no official word. ‘We have heard nothing from him.’

‘We want to know: did you [Peers] support Ingham or is that a lie?’

The decision by the twelve parishes to leave the Diocese of New Westminster does not mean they have left the Anglican Church of Canada. ‘We have withdrawn from the diocese in order to remain in the Anglican Church of Canada and in the worldwide Anglican Communion,’ said Hird.

Questioned on whether they would now be in danger of losing their parishes and licenses if Ingham pressed ecclesiastical charges against them, Hird said that most of the parishes were incorporated. ‘We own the properties. We are legally incorporated. Our lawyers tell us that that is legally significant. It would be difficult for the diocese to steal our properties. One has only to look at what happened to the Diocese of the Cariboo.’

By their action the twelve parishes, who represent as much as 30 percent of the diocese and a significant proportion of Chinese Anglicans, are now no longer under the authority of the Bishop New Westminster.

In a statement from the Anglican ESSENTIALS parishes, which Hird described as merely the ‘first wave’ of those who would leave, the group affirmed the following:

‘In accordance with our obedience to the authority of Scripture, the moral tradition of the Catholic Church, the teaching of the Anglican Communion, and the dictates of our conscience, we, the Synod delegates of the undersigned parishes, dissent from the resolution of the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster in its authorization of the blessing of same sex unions. We cannot support the synod and its bishop in their defiance of those values of the Church we uphold.’

‘We abhor the disunity which this schismatic act of synod has created. We regret the severing of pastoral relationship which it entails. We have, therefore, appealed to the leaders of the Anglican Communion to provide us with alternative episcopal oversight so that we might abide in the Church which we love.’

‘We appeal to the faithful in our diocese to support us, “in contending for the faith once delivered to the saints”. We believe that under a new pattern of leadership, God will use this current diocesan crisis to enable us to minister more effectively, and to continue faithfully to lift high the cross of Jesus Christ the Lord.’

There was no word as to whether these parishes will align themselves with the Anglican Mission in America.

‘We need to hear from the Archbishop of Canterbury,’ said Hird.

Media contact with Anglican ESSENTIALS can be obtained from the Reverend Ed Hird at the parish of St Simon’s Anglican Church in New Westminster, BC, Canada.

David Virtue is a freelance commentator whose regular newsletter is to be found at Dvirtue236@aol.com

Excerpts from a letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Reverend Dr Trevor Walters, a priest on the Anglican diocese of New Westminster
Dear Trevor,

Thank you for your letter, sent to me ahead of the Synod meeting at the weekend. I did not judge it right that I should comment on it prior to the debate.

As I understand it, the Synod’s decision has been to introduce a liturgical form for blessing same-sex unions for use in those parishes where this forms an important part of their ministry; and a system of extended episcopal oversight to provide for those clergy who in all conscience fundamentally reject this development in the life of the diocese.

My own position in relation to same-sex relationships is well known. I stand firmly by the resolution passed at the Lambeth Conference. For this, I have been criticised as homophobic. 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.

It saddens me deeply that any diocese should be following a course at odds with the Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10(e); 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.

At the same time, I am sorry to learn that some walked out of the Synod debate following the result and I am 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.

As you indicate in your letter, this matter has implications far beyond the boundaries of the Diocese of New Westminster. I have no doubt that the unity of the Communion is threatened by your Synod’s decision. You ask me to intervene, in accordance with Resolution 3.6(b) of the Lambeth Conference 1998. Although I have my doubts as to whether that resolution is directly relevant to the problems you face, I shall seek to ensure that the matter is brought up at the forthcoming Anglican Consultative Council meeting and the Primates’ Standing Committee.

With prayers and best wishes at this time,

Yours in Christ