Responding to the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision on Monday-that the Anglican diocese of New Westminster should retain ownership of four church properties under dispute-the diocese has issued a written statement addressing some common misconceptions about the case. The statement includes a brief outline of the diocese’s plan to move forward.
Although the dispute began after the New Westminster synod voted for a third time in 2002 to bless committed, faithful same-sex relationships, such permission was deemed optional, not mandatory. “No one has ever been required to act against their conscience in this matter,” the statement emphasizes.
In fact, the statement continues, “The matter brought before the Court was not about sexuality nor the truth of the Gospel. Rather, litigants sought to take possession of diocesan buildings and assets after they had removed themselves from the Anglican Church of Canada.”
In refusing this request, both decisions–from the appeal court as well as from the B.C. Supreme Court -“have upheld the structures and governance of historic Anglicanism,” the statement says. “Each Court recognized that decisions in the Canadian Church have been reached in accordance with our own procedures and customs, and that the civil courts should not be used to determine church doctrine.”
The statement also reiterates that congregations are not being asked to leave their churches or to relocate. However, it points out, clergy who have now aligned with a different denomination will have to continue their ministry elsewhere.
Justice Stephen Kelleher’s 2009 decision stipulated that Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster did not have the authority to replace the congregations’ elected trustees. After the congregations voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada to join the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), Bishop Ingham moved to replace the trustees in two of the churches. The court decision stipulated, however, that the trustees were obliged to manage the church properties for the benefit of the diocese and the Anglican Church of Canada.
This part of the ruling was previously described as “unworkable” by ANiC, a more theologically conservative denomination. Nevertheless, Bishop Ingham said he plans to contact the trustees to discuss appointing interim clergy for the short-term and to work with them in the longer term to find replacements for the clergy who have left the Anglican Church of Canada. Bishop Ingham plans to issue a pastoral letter to churches throughout the diocese this Sunday.