“How have recent events helped or hindered the ministry of Jesus Christ in this place?”
This was the key question asked recently by the task force mandated by the house of bishops to “identify the range of possible circumstances in which alternative/adequate episcopal oversight might be called for” in parishes which seriously disagree with church decisions.
The four-member task force headed by Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton began its search for answers on Dec. 9-10 by meeting with the clergy and lay leaders of a diocese deeply divided: New Westminster.
By “recent events” the task force meant the ongoing conflict triggered by the 2002 diocesan synod resolution allowing the blessing of gay relationships by parishes. That resolution resulted in the walkout by eight (out of 80) parishes opposed to the decision, the formation of a coalition of dissenting parishes after Bishop Michael Ingham upheld the synod’s motion, and the acceptance by the coalition of an offer of episcopal oversight from another bishop.
“People kept asking us, ?what’s your advice?’ We’re saying we’re not here to dispense advice, we’re here to listen to your story,” said Bishop Matthews in an interview with the Anglican Journal.
And listen the task force did ? to parishes which have remained with the diocese despite their objections to same-sex blessings, to dissenting parishes which formed a coalition called the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACiNW), and to parishes which approve of the blessings.
The meetings, which all sides described as helpful, were emotional at times, according to some of those who were present.
“A couple of us spoke about the alienation of the Chinese and Japanese churches,” said Rodney Andrews, incumbent at St. Alban, Richmond, and bishop-elect of the diocese of Saskatoon. His parish once shared its buildings with the Church of Emmanuel, a large and rapidly-growing Chinese Anglican church.
Bishop-elect Andrews said that “the atmosphere changed” shortly after the synod resolution. Church of Emmanuel ? a member congregation of the ACiNW ? moved to new quarters, “leaving many members of St. Alban’s confused and hurt,” he said.
St. Alban’s was one of the first parishes to be financially affected by the conflict. The Church of Emmanuel had paid St. Alban’s $30,000 a year in rent, representing 14 per cent of its budget. “We have remained ?in the black’ but had to forego employment of a second priest, a benefit the parish has enjoyed through much of its recent history,” he added.
Peter Hare, of St. Alban, Burnaby, was quoted on the New Westminster diocesan Web site article as having said that while the split has “really not affected our church,” he felt badly that it has turned New Westminster into “a very white diocese; we have lost many of our Asian parishes.” Three parishes with Chinese-speaking congregations and one Japanese-speaking parish have joined the ACiNW.
Linda Seale, an ACiNW spokesperson, said that, “for many of us, it (the meeting) was very helpful to have an opportunity to explain our issues in ways that perhaps they (the task force) had not heard before.”
Archdeacon Barbara Clay of St. Laurence church, Coquitlam, told the Journal, “the general thoughts from the clergy around the table was this is all about the authority and respect for episcopacy. It’s not about the same-sex issue.” She said many clergy and lay leaders “believe our bishop has been very, very patient and tolerant with clergy opposed to his leadership.”
Parishes with significant gay and lesbian membership said the same-sex blessing resolution has been helpful, the diocesan Web site reported. “We can say to people they have a healthier way to be gay,” said Rev. Michael Batten of St. Paul ‘s in Vancouver ‘s West End.
Ronald E. Harrison, executive archdeacon of New Westminster, said the task force members have been “going about their work with considerable thoroughness.” He said that while it is still too early to know what the outcome would be, “one very good thing about this is that people will come to a better understanding of various other issues ? not just same-sex issues ? and see that we are a diverse church and that diversity is being honoured and respected.” He added, “They will discover a three-dimensional church, not the stereotype church. It will be a learning experience.”
The task force is expected to report back to the senior bishops, or metropolitans, of the Canadian church by the end of February and submit a report to the house of bishops at its April meeting. It will also appoint a mediator “to assist in the identification of possible parameters of alternative/adequate episcopal oversight for the particular situation in New Westminster.”