New West bishop warns off interlopers

By on April 1, 2003

After reconciliation talks broke down, the bishop of New Westminster tried to head off dissenting parishes’ efforts to find themselves a new bishop and asked other bishops in Canada — and one in particular — to keep their noses out of the fray.

In separate moves, Bishop Michael Ingham tried to assert his authority as diocesan bishop and stave off the arrival of an outsider, or “flying bishop,” to administer to eight unhappy parishes, called the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACiNW).

Bishop Ingham wrote to Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon, warning him not to interfere in the affairs of the diocese of New Westminster and imposed inhibition, forbidding him to exercise any ministry in the diocese.

In the letter, dated Feb. 24 and released to all clergy in the diocese, Bishop Ingham accused Bishop Buckle of issuing “ultimatums and threats against the bishop and the synod of the diocese of New Westminster.”

He referred to two letters written by Bishop Buckle, one of them co-signed by Bishop William Anderson, of the diocese of Caledonia, and addressed to the metropolitan (senior bishop) of the church province of British Columbia and Yukon, Archbishop David Crawley, on Feb. 11 and on Feb. 17.

“Taken together, it is clear from both these letters that you intend to commit an ecclesiastical offence by asserting ‘pastoral responsibility’ and ‘episcopal jurisdiction’ with the diocese of New Westminster without my permission,” Bishop Ingham wrote.

Failure to abide by the inhibition, the letter added, would result in referral to Archbishop Crawley for disciplinary action. The archbishop declined comment until after a regularly scheduled provincial house of bishops meeting in late March.

Bishop Buckle said, “I remain firm in my offer of episcopal oversight with jurisdiction to the parishes that form the ACiNW and those parishes in the diocese … that may wish to join that coalition. Parishes are on the brink of leaving the Anglican Church of Canada and that should not have to happen.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Anthony Burton, of the diocese of Saskatchewan, wrote a letter to clergy in his diocese supporting Bishop Buckle’s offer. In the letter, released Ash Wednesday, Bishop Burton acknowledges that he was among the conservative bishops contacted by the ACiNW for support.

“It is difficult in the circumstances not to feel a debt of gratitude to Bishop Buckle,” wrote Bishop Burton.

Facilitated talks between the eight parishes, Bishop Ingham and diocesan representatives broke down in early February after three meetings. Even throughout the reconciliation process, the ACiNW worked hard to find another bishop either from within the Canadian house of bishops or from outside the country.

The ACiNW formed after the diocesan synod’s vote last June to allow same-sex blessings.

However, cracks have formed recently within the coalition. Rev. Felix Orji, associate priest at St. John’s, Shaughnessy, (an ACiNW parish) and a member of the faith, worship and ministry committee task group charged with presenting the same-sex issue to General Synod in 2004, said St. John’s would not leave the ACC if Bishop Ingham holds off from same-sex blessings until General Synod.

“If he doesn’t hold off there will be chaos,” Mr. Orji said. “People are angry on both sides.” Mr. Orji said he thought the ACiNW could accept whatever General Synod decided on same-sex blessings and hoped that synod would also allow alternative episcopal oversight if it allowed the blessings.

Earlier, a so-called “flying bishop,” Bishop Chuck Murphy, of the breakaway Anglican Mission in America, a group considered as a source for an alternate bishop, visited the diocese to preach at a Pentecostal church.

Meanwhile, Bishop Ingham wrote to the church’s 40 bishops asking them not to interfere in the diocese’s attempts at reconciliation and, at a February meeting, warned all New Westminster clergy not to look for a bishop “who will agree to take them under his or her wing — while still remaining geographically in this diocese,” according to a news release. If they did so, they would face disciplinary measures, the bishop said. Bishop Ingham cautioned that an unauthorized “flying bishop” would change the way the church has operated for centuries.

“No bishop may exercise, or be invited to exercise, any ministry in the diocese of New Westminster without my express permission,” he said. Bishop Ingham has offered an “episcopal visitor” — or a visiting bishop without authority — to provide pastoral care to protesting parishes.

Announcing the break-off of talks earlier this month, he said the ACiNW representatives only wanted to talk about separation. He said he was still willing to talk to anyone who wanted to come to the table. Rev. Paul Carter, executive director of the ACiNW said, “we’re very clear that the simple reconciliation the bishop has been talking about is not enough for us,” and the group had fulfilled its obligation to the house of bishops to attempt reconciliation.

To date there have been no blessings of homosexual couples in the diocese, although several priests and parishes have asked the bishop for permission to perform the ceremony.

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