Ingham picks mediator for same-sex dispute

By on January 1, 2003

Fulfilling his commitment to go ahead with a reconciliation process to bring eight dissident parishes back into the diocesan fold, Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster has chosen a facilitator from among three names submitted by leaders of the revolt.

The recommendation for reconciliation was made by the October meeting of the Canadian house of bishops. The bishops were concerned about a widening rift over Bishop Ingham’s decision to proceed with same-sex blessings following a synod vote supporting them last June.

The eight parishes have been engaged in a well-publicized lobbying effort among overseas bishops to condemn Bishop Ingham, and are withholding diocesan contributions at a cost of 18 per cent of diocesan revenue of $1.5 million annually. They have asked for alternative episcopal oversight, or another bishop to report to, complaining that their consciences do not allow them to obey Bishop Ingham.

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The house of bishops meeting was largely dedicated to the issue of same-sex blessings, and the bishops ended by declaring themselves unable to agree on the issue. At that time, Bishop Ingham had said he would go ahead with the blessings, since three parishes had already requested them. However, he later appeared to reconsider and said that he would delay “to take the pressure off” the reconciliation process. To date, he has not issued a rite, the first step before any blessing might proceed.

The facilitator, Gordon B. Sloan of ADR Education of Salt Spring Island, B.C., is a lawyer with experience in conflict resolution. His academic background is in law and religion.

In an interview, he said his religious background is a “smorgasbord – I am formerly a native of the United church, but I worshipped as an Anglican for a few years.”

Mr. Sloan said his first step would be getting all the parties to define the issue and its scope.

“Everyone is looking to an outsider to tell them what is going on and to lay down a format,” he said. “But they will have to do the work of identifying what is the problem and the scope of the problem.”

For example, he said, “Some regard it as a dispute between some clergy and a bishop. Others see it as among 80 parishes, eight of whom are pulling the plug. So the parties have to decide who the people are who are in conflict.”

Mr. Sloan said in early December that a meeting before January would be difficult to arrange because of clergy schedules over Christmas. The number of meetings will depend on the number of people involved.

“If it involves 50 people going back and forth to their parishes, it could take a few sessions. If it’s a handful of people who are authorized to represent others, it could take less time.”

The diocese will hold a special synod on Jan. 18 to deal with financial difficulties created by the boycott.

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