FOR THE first time, Canadian Anglican bishops have discussed the possibility of “alternate episcopal oversight” or allowing a bishop to minister to a congregation in another diocese when that congregation seriously disagrees with its own diocesan bishop.
The issue was raised by Bishop Michael Ingham, of the diocese of New Westminster, at an informal lunch held before an evening presentation on his diocese’s recent vote favoring the blessing of homosexual relationships.
Although he supports such blessings, Bishop Ingham declined to approve the diocesan action, saying that more time and approval by a larger majority are needed.
At the bishops’ lunch, he noted, “This majority is going to be achieved quite soon in New Westminster. People want to discuss the question of alternative episcopal oversight, should I give my consent. Is this something that we want to do in Canada, or do we not want to go there?”
He suggested that it might be discussed at the fall session of the bishops’ twice-yearly meetings.
However, it was taken up immediately, with Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon commenting, “I don’t want to see happen what’s happening in the United States.” In the U.S. Episcopal Church, congregations may ask for an alternate bishop to perform such acts as confirmation, with the approval of the diocesan bishop, said Jan Nunley, deputy director of the Episcopal News Service in New York.
Bishop Ron Ferris, of Algoma also cited the U.S. experience, noting that “we just need to look south of the border to see the consequences of extremism.” He added that the question of same-sex blessings is “a matter of doctrine and discipline and beyond the jurisdiction of a diocesan bishop and a diocesan synod.”
Bishop Chris Williams, of the Arctic, called Bishop Ingham’s question “a bit of a red herring,” saying that “you as a bishop are prepared to go ahead against the collegiality of this house; you have been given permission by your synod to go ahead with an action against this house.”
Other bishops, including Ralph Spence of Niagara, Terence Finlay of Toronto and Robert Townshend of Huron, praised Bishop Ingham’s efforts to keep bishops informed.
“If it was the diocese of Cariboo (deciding on same-sex blessings), it would pass with a huge majority,” said Bishop Jim Cruickshank of Cariboo. “I think, folks, your dioceses are going to do it too. Gay and lesbian people want to love. We moralize instead of theologize and find a God small enough to back us up.”