Diocese of New Westminster moves to evict breakaway clergy

Published September 3, 2008

The Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, invoking a provision in its bylaws, announced on Aug. 26 the removal of clergy who have left the Anglican Church of Canada over theological differences over same-sex blessings but who continue to use diocesan parishes.
“Following the failure of the clergy in question to leave church premises in response to a late May request to do so, and an indication that the parish wardens supported such actions by these clergy, the diocese has invoked a provision that returns control of the parishes to the diocese,” said a press statement issued by the diocese. “The action has been approved by the Diocesan Council.”
It identified the clergy involved as Trevor Walters, Michael Stewart, and Don Gardner of St. Matthew’s Abbotsford, and Simon Chin of St. Matthias and St. Luke in Vancouver.
On May 11, “each of them declared they had voluntarily left the ordained ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada. They claimed to have come under jurisdiction of a bishop reporting the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, which is based in six South American countries,” the statement said. “Such foreign jurisdiction is not recognized by the Anglican Church of Canada.”
Both parishes had voted in February to realign with the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) and said they were under the Episcopal authority of Bishop Donald Harvey, a retired bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, who has left the Anglican Church of Canada and joined the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. They joined eight other conservative parishes that have left the Anglican Church of Canada following deep divisions over the place of gays and lesbians in the church.
The diocese said that on May 29, it had subsequently asked these clergy to cease using the property of their former parishes. “St. Matthew’s former clergy were given a month and a half to leave, and the St. Matthias and St. Luke’s former priest was given two months. No one else was asked to leave.”
Dean and Commissary (Acting Bishop) Peter Elliot said in a memorandum to clergy that no action has yet been taken at two other parishes – Good Shepherd and St. John’s Shaughnessy – whose clergy have also left the Anglican Church of Canada. “Implementing this canon is a time-consuming process,” he said.
The imposition of Canon 15 “comes with regret after many years of dispute with the clergy and lay leadership of these two parishes,” said Dean Elliott. “The clergy in both parishes have relinquished their licenses as priests of the diocese and their orders within the Anglican Church of Canada. In our polity, a parish is a creation of the diocese.”
He added that parish properties “are entrusted to clergy, licensed by the diocesan bishop, to offer the ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada.” Therefore, he added, “loyalty to the bishop is a key part of the oaths that clergy make at ordinations and inductions.” Since he said clergy no longer hold the bishop’s licence, the diocese is “legally required to ensure that the authorized ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada continues in those places,” added Dean Elliott.
ANiC Chancellor Cheryl Chang, however, insisted that “whether the diocese of New Westminster has the right to unilaterally replace these duly elected trustees and move to seize control of the parishes’ assets is in dispute.”
In a press statement, she said that “the elected trustees of the parish believe the parish properties are held in trust for the benefit of the current congregation who have paid for and maintained these properties, and who are upholding traditional Anglican ministry in accordance with the founding principles of the Anglican Church of Canada (contained in the Solemn Declaration 1893), and the current doctrine of the global Anglican Communion.”
She said that the trustees of the affected churches are currently meeting and seeking legal advice regarding their response to the diocese.
Dean Elliott said that the diocese is seeking to find “a mutually agreeable date” to be set for clergy and members of the congregation who choose to join them to vacate the properties.
The diocese appointed Monte Worthington and Carole Keighley as new wardens for St. Matthew’s, and Hales Jones and Norma Stephenson for St. Matthias and St. Luke. New priests will be appointed once the former clergy have left the properties, said Dean Elliott.
The diocesan chancellor (chief legal officer), George Cadman, expressed hope that the former clergy “will now decide to leave voluntarily” and not resort to legal action.
In recent months, the courts in Ontario and British Columbia issued interim findings on similar cases involving the dioceses of Niagara and British Columbia, which were not favourable to the dissident parishes.
On May 28, a B.C. Supreme Court justice ruled that a group of dissident parishioners at at Victoria’s St. Mary of the Incarnation, Metchosin, diocese of British Columbia, may not have exclusive use of the church building while the question of ownership is being decided.In early May, an Ontario judge ruled that the diocese of Niagara must be allowed to share three church buildings where congregations have voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada. Judge Jane Milanetti of the Ontario Superior Court wrote in her decision that “there will be joint possession and administration of the three church properties.” She ordered that the churches – St. George in Lowville, St. Hilda in Oakville and Good Shepherd in St. Catharines, all in southern Ontario – will each be managed by one representative of the congregation and one diocesan administrator.


Keep on reading

Skip to content