To avoid a drawn-out and costly legal battle, the priests and parishioners of two parishes in the diocese of New Westminster who left the Anglican Church of Canada in 2002 following disagreements over same-sex blessings have announced that they will vacate the church buildings they currently occupy and turn them over to the diocese by May 31.
In early March, George Cadman, diocesan chief legal officer, had served legal notices to the parishes through their lawyer, Bob Kuhn, asking them to “deliver up possession” of the buildings by April 1 or be faced with court proceedings. The diocese has maintained that the church buildings “historically” belong to the Canadian Anglican church for its ministry in New Westminster.
“It’s not what we imagined or what we would have wanted but we just want to be gracious and we believe God will bless us,” said Rev. Ed Hird, former rector of St. Simon’s, Deep Cove, in North Vancouver, who left the diocese and later formed the Anglican Communion in Canada (ACiC) along with Rev. Barclay Mayo, former rector of St. Andrew’s, Pender Harbour.
The eviction notice had “upped the stakes,” said Mr. Hird. “Our lawyer carefully laid out the options and even if we have a strong legal case for retention because we have the title deed and beneficial ownership, the reality is that a legal battle would have been costly.”
He said parishioners voted during Holy Week to turn over the properties. “The diocese has deep pockets and we’re just an ordinary congregation. It’s totally unjust but it’s not worth it,” he said. “We want to go on with our ministry. We forgive (diocesan bishop) Michael Ingham for usurping our property. But the church is the people; he hasn’t taken the church away from us, it’s only the property.”
Still, he added, parishioners “have an emotional attachment” to St. Simon’s, which was built by a youth group in 1949. “It’s an old shack, it’s not worth hundreds of thousands of dollars but it has sentimental value.”
Reacting to the parishes’ decision, Mr. Cadman said, “I’m just pleased to see that there won’t be any legal proceedings.” Diocesan spokesperson Neale Adams said, “It’s a positive thing. We’ve always hoped it could be settled without unnecessary expense on anyone’s part.”
Mr. Cadman said he would consult with Bishop Ingham and other diocesan leaders about the two churches’ decision to vacate the buildings not on April 1, as requested, but May 31. “Some time ago we said that if additional time was required to arrange alternative worship space we will be prepared to consider moving the deadline,” he said. “What I’ve read is that they’ve arranged a worship space so I don’t know what the delay is for.”
Mr. Hird said the two congregations felt that May 31 was “a reasonable time for transition.” He said all worship at his church would be at Lions Gate Christian Academy beginning June 5. He said they started using that facility for one of their services last December. “We’re a growing church,” he said.
Former parishioners of St. Andrew’s, who now call their parish Christ the Redeemer Church, Pender Harbour, will also move June 5 to the Pender Harbour School of Music, Madeira Park.
In a letter to all diocesan clergy and members of the diocesan council, Bishop Ingham explained that the two priests had already “abandoned” their ministry and had formed “privately incorporated societies.”
Bishop Ingham added that, “There will no doubt be accusations of persecution and victimization leveled against the diocese for these actions.” But he urged members of his diocese to remember that, “No priest or lay person has been asked to act against their conscience in matters of faith, that all attempts at reconciliation by the diocese have been repudiated, and that the clergy and laity involved have voluntarily withdrawn themselves from the Anglican Church of Canada.”
Mr. Hird and Mr. Mayo and members of their parishes were among those who walked out of a diocesan synod after it voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002. Though the diocese had voted in favour of the blessings two times earlier, it was only in 2002 that Bishop Ingham gave his consent to the vote. He said they would only be authorized by priests who in conscience could perform them and that they would be performed only in parishes where a majority of the membership had voted to be a place of blessings.
Meanwhile, the diocesan synod will meet this month, from May 13-14, to discuss, among other business, the request made by primates of the Anglican Communion and the recommendation made by the Lambeth Commission on Communion for a moratorium on same-sex blessings.