Bishop Michael Ingham is being advised by his diocesan council to ignore a national House of Bishops resolution urging him to delay making a decision on whether to allow priests to bless same-sex unions.
“The House of Bishops wants me to delay the decision and the diocesan council wants me to publish it as soon as I can,” the Bishop of New Westminster said in an interview. “I’m in an awkward position.”
The bishop says he will make no announcement until he meets again with his council of advice on Dec. 11, a group set up to advise him on the thorny issue. The diocese’s annual synod in May narrowly approved a motion asking the bishop to authorize clergy to bless same-sex unions if they so wish.
Bishop Ingham was unable to attend the House of Bishops week-long meeting near Toronto in early November because of a scheduling conflict with his annual clergy conference. The lodge that hosts the annual New Westminster conference had mistakenly booked them in the wrong week.
The bishop thus sent a letter to the House of Bishops advising them that he planned to meet with his council of advice – which includes Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton and Archbishop Percy O’Driscoll of Huron – for a second time on Dec. 11.
Bishop Ingham wrote that if the council was able to make a recommendation to him after that meeting, he hoped to announce his decision early in January.
Since the House of Bishops would not meet again until May, he said he would fax a statement to all the bishops’ offices the same day he made it public in Vancouver.
That idea was not well received by some of the bishops during their meeting. Bishop Tom Morgan of Saskatoon warned that, “We are standing in potentially the gravest of dangers.” He said he was concerned about taking the last eight years’ discussions over homosexuality and placing a decision in the hands of a single diocese.
Bishop Malcolm Harding of Brandon said he was unhappy about the idea of simply getting a fax informing him of the decision. He said it is critical for the House to continue to have dialogue on the issue. “If we need to wait till May, then wait till May,” he said.
Bishop Peter Mason of Ontario contended that if the guidelines on homosexuality are to be set aside, they should be set aside as a House, not by a single bishop. “Please let us deal with this as a House out of fairness to ourselves and out of fairness to New Westminster,” he said. “Otherwise, any notion of collegiality disappears.”
Bishop John Baycroft of Ottawa suggested that if Bishop Ingham decides not to grant his approval to the motion his synod passed in May, that should be done publicly as soon as possible. “But if he has the notion to try to move unilaterally as the Diocese of New Westminster, he has the right to expect at least it would come back to the House first,” he said.
The resolution passed on Nov. 6 by the bishops states that: “In light of the time and energy spent in prayer, study and work to develop our 1997 Guidelines on Human Sexuality, we believe it would be inappropriate for any one of us to take unilateral action that goes beyond the guidelines. “We want to consult further with you before you publish your final decision, and we have directed the agenda committee to set aside a block of time at our May 1999 meeting for this purpose.”
But Bishop Ingham met with his diocesan council on Nov. 10 and they urged him to push forward with a decision. “They expressed the need for the diocese to hear from its bishop at the earliest opportunity,” Bishop Ingham said.
The bishop was pleased that as part of its resolution, the bishops requested Primate Michael Peers “to convey our prayerful concern to Michael Ingham for his personal, spiritual and emotional well-being at this time.”
“I welcome that very much,” Bishop Ingham said. “There have been some people in the church who have taken this opportunity to attack me personally. I’ve received lots of hate mail from people who proclaim to be Christian.”
He said the worst example was from a writer who accused him of being no bishop but a Mexican pinata who ought to be hung up and beaten with a stick until his insides fall out.
Some bishops at the meeting expressed concern for Bishop Ingham.
Archbishop David Crawley, metropolitan for British Columbia and Yukon, said Bishop Ingham received a good deal of support at the last meeting of the regional house of bishops. “There is a lot of stress in it for him, a lot of pressure,” he said.
Also, “there has been a concerted attempt from people in the gay and lesbian community not to pressure him on this,” Archbishop Crawley said.
Bishop Gordon Beardy of Keewatin said he was worried about the letters Bishop Ingham has received. “If that’s the kind of Christianity we are representing, it’s a very cruel way of reflecting Christ,” he said.