Seven out of eight dissident parishes in New Westminster have voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting an offer from Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon to be their bishop until General Synod in 2004, but the diocese calls both the bishop’s offer and the parishes’ votes “null and void.”
The vote by the parishes spurred a letter from Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, who wrote 11 clergy from the seven parishes asking if they are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of his diocese and jurisdiction. This marks the third time he has asked since the diocese voted last June to move ahead with blessing unions of same-sex couples.
The seven parishes held special vestry meetings March 23 to vote on Bishop Buckle’s offer, made in both a video and in a letter earlier that month. An eighth parish, St. Martin’s, North Vancouver, will wait until a full-time priest is appointed before holding a vote.
The vestry votes were at least 95 per cent in favour, said Rev. Paul Carter, head of the group of parishes, which call themselves the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACiNW).
Bishop Ingham, though, dismissed the results. In a statement on the diocesan Web site, he said, “Both the actions of the Bishop of Yukon and of these parishes are contrary to the canon law of the Anglican Church, and are therefore null and void. They are also unnecessary because the diocese of New Westminster honours and respects diversity of opinion, and has taken no steps to force any priest or parish to act against their conscience.” The bishop first wrote to the 12 priests — one has since left his post — last June asking if their walkout from the diocesan synod over the acceptance of same-sex blessings was an act of protest or resignation, and last July diocesan chancellor George Cadman wrote asking them to clarify if they remained under the bishop’s jurisdiction. The clergy replied only that they wanted to remain as part of the diocese but did not address the bishop’s questions on acceptance of his authority. The eight parishes have been campaigning for another bishop to minister to them, an arrangement called alternate episcopal oversight.
In Bishop Ingham’s latest letter, dated March 24, he asked if they would act on Bishop Buckle’s offer and again sought confirmation of their obedience. The bishop added that repudiation “will leave me no alternative but to act under General Synod Canon 18,” which could mean the priests could have their licences revoked. Canon 18 governs discipline among clergy.
On April 1, the eleven, along with six others priests from their parishes, replied to Bishop Ingham, saying that he had ‘no jurisdiction to proceed’ with same-sex blessings.
Mr. Cadman called the priests’ letter a ‘non-response.’ However, he added, “there will be no rushing out to lock church doors and no rushing out to lift licences.”
Through a spokesperson Bishop Ingham said he planned to ask each of the clergy in person to answer the question of obedience.
Meanwhile, the parishes were proceeding as though the alternate episcopal oversight were a done deal. Mr. Carter said that the seven parishes “now do everything under Bishop Terry’s jurisdiction. We now look to Bishop Terry as our overseer and guardian in a pastoral sense.”
When word of the parish votes became public, Mr. Cadman wrote to the senior bishop of the province of British Columbia, Archbishop David Crawley, asking that Bishop Buckle be disciplined under church law. Possible disciplinary measures range from admonition (a reprimand) to deposition, which is tantamount to being de-frocked.
When Bishop Buckle was not able to attend the provincial house of bishops meeting in late March due to illness, Archbishop Crawley said he would discuss the matter with Bishop Buckle by telephone.
In February, Bishop Ingham barred Bishop Buckle from ministering within the diocese of New Westminster because of his offer.
The parishes had engaged in widely-publicized efforts to find themselves a visiting bishop with full episcopal authority. Bishop Ingham had offered them an ‘episcopal visitor,’ who could offer pastoral care but would have no jurisdiction. Attempts at reconciliation between the diocese and the parishes failed in early February.
Bishop Buckle said in an interview that he was convinced that the crisis in New Westminster “is not one that will go away on its own. I am equally convinced that we as Canadian Anglicans have the resources to address this crisis within our own church.”
Mr. Cadman insisted that the situation was not a pastoral emergency as Bishop Buckle was characterizing it.