A majority of parishioners from St. Matthias Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C. voted March 8 to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and join the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), a conservative body opposed to same-sex blessings and more liberal interpretations of Scripture. In a special vestry meeting held at the Church of the Lord on Blanshard, a Reformed Episcopal Church, 170 parishioners voted in favour of a split and 10 voted against it, according to an ANiC news release; seven ballots were spoiled. The vestry also received a declaration signed by 32 individuals opposing the meeting and vote, as well as letters of support from 20 parishioners who were unable to attend. The parishioners said they are now under the episcopal oversight of ANiC moderator, Bishop Donald Harvey, and the primatial authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
“Yesterday was a very sad day in the life of St. Matthias parish and in the life of the diocese of British Columbia,” said Archdeacon Bruce Bryant-Scott, commissary to the bishop and diocesan executive officer of the diocese of British Columbia, reacting to the news on March 9. “People have made this decision to leave us and that is a traumatic thing for the people there; in some cases, friends are leaving friends to go to another faith community.” Archdeacon Bryant-Scott added that it was also sad because the clergy “who we trusted to be acting on behalf of the bishop decided they could no longer do that; and, in fact, while holding licence from the bishop, worked to undermine the authority of the bishop.” He also said that the vote was not legitimate since, under the diocese’s canon, a parish cannot remove itself from the diocese. Individuals and clergy can decide to leave but “the parish as such is a unit of the diocese.” He said that the rector of St. Matthias, Canon Ronald Corcoran, had been “specifically ordered by the bishop and myself not to allow” the vote to take place, but that he chose to defy those orders. The resignations of Mr. Corcoran and three other clergy have been accepted by the diocese; they have since applied for licences from Bishop Donald Harvey, ANiC moderator. Bishop Harvey welcomed the St. Matthias vote, saying the group was joining “a growing movement of Anglicans throughout North America seeking to remain in the mainstream of global and historic Anglicanism.”
A total of 16 parishes have voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada over the blessing of same-sex unions. St. Matthias is the third parish in the diocese of British Columbia to have voted for a split. The diocese of British Columbia has 56 parishes in total. The other two parishes where a majority voted to separate are St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Nanoose Bay, and St. Mary’s Metchosin. Clergy in these parishes have resigned and have since been replaced. Archdeacon Bryant-Scott said about 40 parishioners attended last Sunday’s service at St. Matthias, down from its usual 180. The future of St. Matthias, which was founded in 1911 and which puts its roster of membership at more than 350, will be determined by parishioners who have remained and by the diocesan council, he said.
He expressed the diocese’s hope that the parishioners who have left would not contest ownership of St. Matthias. The ANiC release has said the group would meet in the Fairfield Community Centre beginning March 15. Last year, the former clergy of St. Mary’s Metchosin sued the diocese for exclusive possession of the church property but were unsuccessful.
Asked what he thought the reasons behind the departures were since the diocese of British Columbia has not even considered blessing same-sex unions, he said it could be that “there are a significant number of people who have been attracted to these parishes who are not well-grounded in the Anglican tradition.” He said Anglican tradition comes with an understanding that “within our community we do have this broad comprehensiveness where you’ve got high church, low church, evangelical, liberal, Catholic and so forth. And it’s not that you have watered down positions – it’s that your strongly held position is held within a larger community where you know that there is a diversity of opinion around these kinds of things.”
He added that the diocese’s proximity to the diocese of New Westminster, which has allowed same-sex blessings in some parishes since 2002, could be another factor. “The situation there is very polarized; there’s a spill-over effect there,” he said. “The very simple fact that we remain in communion with the diocese of New Westminster is a simple enough affront to these individuals that they just make up their minds that they need to leave.”The ANiC release said that the parishioners were “determined to remain biblically faithful and true to historic Christian and Anglican doctrine,” and that the decision had been made after “months of systematically examining all sides of the issues, searching Scripture for direction, and seeking God’s leading.” It added: “The decision to join ANiC demonstrates the deep faith, conviction and courage of the people of St. Matthias. Parishes that earlier made this decision have faced hostile court proceedings, eviction and other punitive action by Anglican Church of Canada bishops simply because they seek to continue worshipping in their buildings – which they paid for and maintained through the years – while the Anglican Communion addresses the theological divide in the global church.”
Archdeacon Bryant-Scott said, however, that the decision had been made “based on misinformation and biased information,” noting that “almost no opportunity was provided for anybody from outside the parish and in the diocese to give a balanced response.”
He said the process that the parish went through “led them to the conclusion that they had no choice but to leave the diocese, whereas, in fact, there is still very much in this diocese many conservative, evangelical churches which have chosen to stay within the diocese, to stay within the Anglican Church of Canada and do not see that as a problem.” He said this situation was also true in dioceses across Canada.