A decision of the Supreme Court of Canada has ended a long period of litigation in the diocese of New Westminster. Doors of three parishes are now open for worship conducted by clergy licensed by the bishop of the diocese.
The Supreme Court’s decision of June 16, 2011, dismissed an appeal launched by dissident clergy and some lay leaders of four parishes. The appeal expressed their dissatisfaction with the B.C. Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of B.C. ruling that parish buildings are held in trust by the diocese for the worship of the Anglican Church of Canada. This decision upholds the integrity of the structures of the Anglican Church of Canada, so that the work of God can be exercised faithfully and effectively: it has profound implications for the life of the church across Canada.
These unanimous court decisions clarify the relationship, within the structures of the Anglican Church of Canada, between parishes and the diocese. They uphold the traditions of the church catholic that understand a fundamental connection between Christians across a diocese, holding together members of the Body of Christ even though liturgical practices and theological understandings may differ. They affirm General Synod 2007’s determination that the blessing of same-sex unions is not a matter of core doctrine.
This period of litigation has been difficult for all concerned. At the installation of the Rev. Allen Doerksen as bishop’s missioner for the Central Fraser Valley and priest-in-charge of St. Matthew’s Abbotsford on September 7, 2011, Bishop Michael Ingham said: “This has been a painful and agonizing experience for people on all sides, and it is appropriate tonight that we express our thanks to God that a new era of mission and ministry in the service of Jesus Christ has begun. It is also important that we express our sorrow and repentance. On the last night of his earthly life, Jesus prayed that the church might be one. He prayed for unity so that the world might believe.
“Our public divisions and disputes these last 10 years have damaged the mission of God. Words have been exchanged, and words have been written, by people on both sides, that should never have been said. Tonight we repent, and ask God’s forgiveness. We extend the hand of friendship to those who have left this place and ask for mutual forgiveness. And as we move forward from these sad years into a new and better future, we ask that God’s grace and love be showered on this place, on all its people, on all who have worshipped here, all who have felt it necessary to leave, all who have felt welcomed to return, and all who might once again find the inclusive, welcoming love of God here in the years to come.”
Over the coming months and years, as with all relationships that are broken, people will need time to heal: we continue to believe in God’s grace to bring about healing where there has been division. While some parishioners have followed clergy away from the buildings they sought legal means to control, others, disenchanted by the controversy, are returning to the life and worship of the Anglican Church of Canada.
The history of our church is one that values theological breadth and generous hospitality. The decisions of the courts affirm those Anglican values, enabling the gospel to be proclaimed faithfully and generously to a world hungry for the good news of God in Jesus Christ.
Randy Murray is editor of the diocesan newspaper, Topic and communications officer for the diocese of New Westminister.