Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, has written to five members of the clergy who resigned from the Anglican Church of Canada that they may not exercise ministry at their churches, are considered to be trespassing if they are on the property and may not remove anything, including books.
The annual diocesan synod, meeting from May 30 to 31, discussed the actions of several parishes that voted in February to leave the Canadian church, join a Canadian breakaway group and affiliate with a South American Anglican province over theological disagreements, including the blessing of same-sex unions.
After the parishes voted to leave, clergy in April sent Bishop Ingham letters declaring that they had relinquished their licences from him, however the clergy, supported by their congregations, remained in their church buildings.
Bishop Ingham told synod, in remarks also posted on the diocesan Web site (www.vancouver.anglican.ca), that “we must first act to separate the departed leadership from their claims upon the church’s property and then to provide new leadership for these congregations and for future generations in each of these places.”
In 2002, New West voted to allow clergy to perform blessing ceremonies for gay couples.
Bishop Ingham told synod that “we do not seek litigation, but if all appeals to reason and responsibility fail, we may need to seek relief from the civil courts in order to re-build and restore these parishes after the departure of their leaders and some members of their congregations.”
He said the diocese intends to “act legally to retain all property and assets belonging to these parishes and to the diocese” since schism, which is the “setting up of unlawful authority” cannot be allowed to stand.
Cheryl Chang, legal advisor to the breakaway Anglican Network in Canada, wrote on the network’s Web site that “with respect to the issue of ‘trespass,’ it is difficult to see how the diocese can claim to be an ‘owner’ or ‘landlord’ when they are not on the title to the property, do not control the corporation that holds the title and never … used the property except with permission of the parish corporation.”
Clergy named in the letter did not return phone calls seeking comment, however a posting on the network’s Web site said parish lawyers and trustees are deciding how to respond.
Courts have ruled in the civil provinces of British Columbia and Ontario that dioceses must have access to the church properties, but no court has yet ruled on the question of ownership.
Bishop Ingham said that plans are “now in place” for “the restoration of the parishes after the litigation is successful,” however, no litigation has yet begun. He said the diocese would ensure that “parish buildings and other assets are preserved for present and future generations of Christians who wish to worship in the Anglican Church of Canada.”
According to coverage of the synod on the diocesan Web site, Geoffrey Burgess of St. Stephen, West Vancouver, said that members of the dissident parishes “must still be regarded as Anglicans” and should not be “turfed out of their parishes.”
Bishop Ingham responded that no members of congregations were affected and that the diocese’s complaint was with clergy who have rejected their bishop and synod’s authority.
Lois Godfrey of St. Margaret’s, Cedar Cottage, said that one of the dissident parishes, St. John’s, Shaughnessy, had given much to the diocese, especially a fine music ministry. Bishop Ingham agreed that St. John’s had excellent music and said he intends to keep it as a parish within the diocese for people who wish to worship in the Anglican Church of Canada.
John Smith of St. Michael’s said it was regretful that people choose to withdraw from the diocese, but it is their choice to leave and they were not being forced out. Dr. Emmanuel Oyesiku of St. Michael’s thanked the bishop and chancellor for noting the distinction between parishes, which are integral parts of the diocese, and congregations, groups of people, who may leave. He also urged the bishop to “use your good offices and serious restraint.”