Same-sex decision proves costly

By on September 1, 2002

Vancouver Seven parishes have withdrawn financial support from the diocese of New Westminster in the aftermath of its decision this summer to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. An eighth parish might follow , said diocesan financial administrator Mike Wellwood. The withdrawals are expected to put a financial strain on the diocese, since the eight parishes represent about 18 per cent of its $1.5 million annual income from parish assessments, Mr. Wellwood said. He said he expected that “administrative staff will do up a revised budget.” He said it is possible that New Westminster’s contribution to General Synod, now at $656,000 per year, will be cut. Last year, the diocese, which has 79 parishes, had total income of about $2.3 million from parish assessments, fundraising campaigns and investments, Mr. Wellwood said. It recorded a surplus of about $2,000 last year. ?”We have been a financially prudent diocese,” he commented. The New Westminster diocesan synod voted in June to permit the blessing of same-sex unions. It was the third time it voted on such a resolution, and although it passed narrowly both previous times, Bishop Michael Ingham withheld consent pending a stronger majority – 63 per cent. The diocese has limited scope for legal action against rebel parishes, since its laws do not provide for an enforcement mechanism, said Mr. Wellwood. However, he said he has sent letters saying that the diocese will not continue to run payroll services for parishes that stop their assessments. Two parishes sent the diocese funds in trust to cover their payroll, but the diocese returned the cheques. Mr. Wellwood said he has informed the parishes that if they continue to withhold their assessments, any money not in trust that is forwarded to the diocese will be applied first to their assessment; second, to any debts owing the diocese and third, to their payroll. Mr. Wellwood declined to name the parishes involved, but clergy at St. Simon and St. Martin, parishes, both of North Vancouver, confirmed that they had suspended their assessments. Rev. Ed Hird, incumbent of St. Simon, added, “My impression is that most of the eight … parishes in July are withholding their assessments.” The eight parishes – St. Andrew’s, Pender Harbour; St. John’s, Shaughnessy; St. Martin?s, North Vancouver; St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, St. Simon’s, North Vancouver; Church of Emmanuel, Richmond; Church of the Good Shepherd, Vancouver and St. Matthias and St. Luke, Vancouver” have assumed the name Anglican Communion in New Westminster. They include 12 clergy who walked out of diocesan synod on June 15. Rev. Timothy Cooke, incumbent at St. Martin, said his church is examining its options for paying staff. It is also hoping to continue its financial support of work of the national church. “We would like to find a mechanism whereby we can continue to send 34 per cent of the diocesan assessment to support the work of General Synod,” said Mr. Cooke. The status of the 12 dissident clergy “hasn’t been resolved,” said diocesan communications officer Neale Adams. Bishop Ingham, through diocesan chancellor George Cadman, wrote to the priests asking them “whether they remain under (the bishop’s) jurisdiction and authority.” Priests pledge obedience to their bishop in their ordination vows. Clergy responded that they considered themselves part of the diocese, a response that did not directly address Bishop Ingham?s question, and Mr. Cadman said he requested a clarification. As of mid-August, however, the situation had not been clarified. If the clergy do resign from the diocese, Bishop Ingham said, he would have to declare vacancies in their parishes. Clergy and members of parishes are free to leave the church at any time, he said, but the land and buildings are the property of the diocese. While there has been talk that the eight parishes might secede from the diocese and try to retain their buildings and properties, the diocese’s position is that it owns parish properties and buildings. The diocese was formed by a British Columbia legislature act of incorporation in 1893 and parishes are subunits of the diocese, said Mr. Wellwood. The chancellor has prepared a written opinion on what happens to the property of parishes that wish to leave the Anglican Church of Canada. That opinion reads, in part, “Parishes have no separate corporate status except as part of the diocese – Property can only be transferred or sold with the approval from diocesan council and the bishop.”

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