Calgary congregation divides over gay issue

By on September 1, 1998

An Anglican congregation in Calgary has split in two, with the former rector leaving with half his parishioners to form the Church of the Messiah.

The break at St. Luke’s, characterized by an angry public meeting, frozen bank accounts and changed locks, ended up on the city’s front pages and local radio shows.

Yet, by all accounts, there is no animosity between the parishioners who stayed and those who left, nor between the departing rector and the one who has been called upon to temporarily take his place.

The break, according to Chris Jukes, former rector of St. Luke’s, came after he and many of his parishioners became fed up with the Anglican Church’s lack of action on such issues as homosexuality and “the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.”

After the spring vote at New Westminster’s synod urging bishops to permit clergy to bless same-sex unions if they so wish (a vote which won narrowly and has yet to be endorsed by Bishop Michael Ingham), Mr. Jukes said he waited for the church or the House of Bishops to clearly reject that idea.

He also believes Bishop Ingham should be drummed out of his position for his liberal views of Christianity. Mr. Jukes said when Archbishop Barry Curtis of Calgary was unable to give him the response he was looking for, he could see no alternative but to leave the church.

“I didn’t feel I could represent an institution that wouldn’t take a stand on these fundamental issues,” he said.

But, according to Archdeacon Barry Foster, the writing had been on the wall for some time. (Archbishop Curtis was in Lambeth and could not be reached for comment.)

“Chris Jukes has been moving in that direction virtually since the day he was ordained,” Archdeacon Foster said. “Principally he thinks we’re moving in the direction of apostasy and heresy.”

The nature of the Anglican ethos is to find ways to work out differences and to allow for different voices, he said, noting that Bishop Ingham’s liberal voice is just one of many in the church.

Mr. Jukes informed Archbishop Curtis during the first week of June that he was giving three months’ notice as required under the diocesan canon and would leave to start his own church in September. Mr. Jukes was surprised when the archbishop called that Saturday at 10 p.m. and told him he was finished the next day.

“I wanted a smooth transition,” Mr. Jukes said. “I didn’t want to go out with anger and bitterness.”

After being with St. Luke’s in various capacities for 12 years, Mr. Jukes was told he had to break all ties with the congregation.

But Archdeacon Foster said there were good reasons for asking Mr. Jukes to leave so quickly. The canon specifies three months’ notice for people moving from one parish to another, not for people resigning their ministry, he said.

“We did that in this case because we knew he had been using his position there to actively encourage people to consider leaving the Anglican Church.”

Mr. Jukes was given three months’ severance pay, something the church was not obligated to do, Archdeacon Foster said.

Church of the Messiah is the first Canadian church associated with the U.S.-based Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches.

The church is under the authority of Bishop Robert Wise of Oklahoma.

Mr. Jukes said he had met Mr. Wise before and invited him to attend an annual general meeting at the church as a keynote speaker.

But Mr. Jukes denies he was planning to leave the Anglican Church until very recently.

“I was hoping the direction of the church would change,” he said. “I had hoped to stay in the church for the rest of my ministry.”

On the Monday following Mr. Jukes’ resignation, the archbishop and archdeacon attended a meeting at St. Luke’s with about 175 church members in order to answer questions about the sudden loss of their pastor.

Some members of the congregation were outraged to see a locksmith changing the locks to the church during the meeting. The archdeacon has also photographed church equipment and the church’s bank accounts were frozen. An audit is under way.

St. Luke’s had not paid its diocesan apportionment since December 1997, a decision it took because of the church’s stand on some issues, Mr. Jukes said. It decided to spend its money on the local area, including a food bank, before putting aside money for the diocese and, by extension, the national church.

The church changed the locks and took other such measures for its own security and to protect itself in case any equipment it owned went missing, Archdeacon Foster said. New keys were made and given to the church secretary and new rector.

Bob Reed, rector of the church from 1980 to 1991, has been called out of retirement to minister to St. Luke’s while a search for a new rector is undertaken. The archdeacon notes that Mr. Reed’s and Mr. Jukes’ views of the church do not differ much.

“The difference is (Mr. Reed) feels the best way to address these concerns is to work for reform positively on the inside,” Archdeacon Foster said. “It is quite clear he’s an Anglican though he disagrees with some of the directions the church is going in.”

Mr. Reed said the congregation has “been having a great time … It’s a great spirit.”

About 95 people have been attending. That’s a little less than half the former average attendance.

“We don’t spend much time grieving,” he said. “We’re moving on. We think God has good plans for us.”

That doesn’t mean he or the rest of the congregation disagree with Mr. Jukes on his stand on liberalism. “It’s just that we believe God wants us to work within the framework of the Anglican church … God has made it clear that I’m to stay and so I stay.”

Meanwhile, the Church of the Messiah has been meeting in a Seventh Day Adventist building with an average attendance of 150.

Mr. Jukes remains in close contact with Mr. Reed and the two are planning a joint worship service in the fall.

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