Bishop Michael Ingham has told his Diocesan Council that he feels he has no option but to protect the property and assets of the Diocese of New Westminster and the Anglican Church of Canada, and warned that the diocese may find itself in the civil courts to do so.
“If a congregation leaves, then it is the responsibility of the diocese to see that the parish continues, and is available for future generations of Christians,” he told the 45-member body that with the bishop governs the diocese between Diocesan Synods.
Across Canada, about a dozen congregations (out of some 2000) in the Anglican Church of Canada have joined as the “Anglican Network in Canada,” along with their clergy. Four congregations in the Diocese of New Westminster are among them. Eleven former diocesan clergy have relinquished their licenses from Bishop Ingham.
Legal action to regain access to church properties in the Dioceses of Niagara and British Columbia (Vancouver Island) has begun in courts in BC and Ontario. To date there has been no court action in the Diocese of New Westminster.
“We have sought to avoid the prospect of civil litigation over property,” Bishop Ingham told the Diocesan Council. He said the diocese had attempted to “create space” for people of differing opinions.
“In the most part we have been successful in creating a kind of climate of mutual respect that has allowed people of very different opinions to work alongside one another so that the mission of our Church can go forward.”
“It is in a small number of cases that reasonable accommodation has been rejected. But we must, it seems to me, act to ensure that future generations of Anglicans who wish to worship in our Church according to the Anglican tradition have the freedom to do so in all the parishes of our diocese,” he said.
He said he had received messages from some in the diocese who urged the diocese to “do the Christian thing and do what the Bible says and settle out of court”—hand over land and property to just “get on with our lives.”
“I’ve heard these messages, I understand them, I sympathize a great deal with them, but I have to say tonight it is not a course I believe we should pursue.”
“If we were to do this in order to avoid scandal or public controversy, as sure as day follows night, we would be complicit in destabilizing hundreds of parishes across the Anglican Church of Canada. They would instantly be targeted for political action by the Anglican Network,” he said.
“If there is no consequence for occupying buildings that belong to the Anglican Church of Canada after you have disaffiliated from the Anglican Church of Canada, then the Church would surrender its claim to ownership and to the mission of the Church.”
“Far from resolving controversy and scandal, it would multiply it exponentially—we would be subjecting parishes right across the country to years of divisiveness and division.”
The bishop also said that in his opinion he and the Council don’t have the legal option to surrender assets—and if they did, they would be held liable for failing to protect them. He said he was also concerned about the effect giving up assets would have beyond the diocese.
“What one diocese does will establish precedents for dioceses not only across Canada, but also across the United States. Any action we take will impact far away from British Columbia.”
The bishop made his remarks “to put them on the public record” before the Diocesan Council went into an in camera (closed) session for a “full and frank” discussion of the issues before it. The results of the closed session were not announced afterwards.