Bishop Michael Ingham slowly came to change his mind in favour of the blessing of same sex unions in the 1990s, but insisted in BC Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 2, that he did not foist his view on his diocese.

During the second day of testimony, under questioning by opposing lawyer Geoff Cowper, QC, Bishop Ingham agreed that before he was elected bishop in September, 1993, that he would abide by advisory guidelines issued by the Canadian House of Bishops in 1979 that same sex blessings should not take place.

However between that time and 1998, he felt that the union of faithful, committed gay and lesbian couples could be blessed. “The process of changing my mind took several years.”

He began arguing for a change amongst his fellow bishops. “I hadn’t decided how that change should happen,” he said. But he did decide that change should come from the Diocesan Synod “and not from me.”

After that followed three votes by diocesan synods —with ever increasing majorities—asking for a blessing. The bishops agreed after the last vote in 2002, and issued a rite of blessing in May, 2003.

The testimony came on the sixth day of testimony in a trial before Mr. Justice Stephen Kelleher. The bishop was the first defence witness in the lawsuit brought by 22 leaders in four Vancouver area congregations, including four former diocesan priests. They all have left the Anglican Church of Canada, but want to keep the parish buildings. They have sued the Diocese of New Westminster and Bishop Ingham, and are asking the court to rule they can take the properties with them.

Cowper, the dissidents' lawyer, suggested that at a meeting of Integrity—a group of gay and lesbian members of the diocese and their supporters—that the bishop had advised them as to how to get a blessing passed.

The bishop said that at the time he was talking with a very disappointed group. Diocesan Synod had just voted for the first time in favour of the blessing, but he had at that point refused to consent. To say they were “disappointed” was “an understatement,” he testified.

He said he told the Integrity group that there were political forces at play within the Church. “I said this [the Church] is a very political institution and you should not be naïve about it.” But, he said, he did not tell the group what to do.

Did he understand the consequences of approving the blessing “going it alone”? Cowper asked.

The bishop replied that within the diocese, and from outside it, many wanted him to go ahead with the blessing. Many others wanted him to reject it. He described his stance at the time as “cautious.”

“This was a difficult balancing act,” he said. “I was not willing to take the diocese out of a relationship with the see of Canterbury.” On the other hand the Diocesan Synod had requested the blessing.

In 1998 the Lambeth Conference had passed Resolution 110 that advised against same sex blessing. Bishop Ingham had attended and said he had seriously taken the Lambeth decision into consideration.

Cowper asked Bishop Ingham if he placed high moral weight on the Lambeth resolution. Although it was only advisory, the lawyer said, it had been passed by a significant majority of the world’s Anglican bishops.

The bishop replied that he didn’t feel the Lambeth statement was necessarily of higher moral worth than other sources of advice. “I was disappointed in Lambeth,” added Bishop Ingham.

Bishop Ingham added that the passage of Resolution 110 “was a rather sordid affair...Bishops were hissing, booing, catcalling and shouting out unspeakable things about gay and lesbian people,” he said.

Was the bishop concerned about the effect on the worldwide Anglican Communion that his approval of the blessing of same sex unions might have?

“The measure I approved was for the Diocese of New Westminster,” said the bishop.

But wasn’t the bishop taking upon himself and the diocese a “prophetic role.” “That’s what you hoped would happen?”

“Change has to happen somewhere,” replied the bishop. “Otherwise it doesn’t happen.”

The bishop agreed with the dissident’s lawyer that the events since the blessing was authorized in 2003 have been unprecedented. They included invocation of the diocese’s Canon 15 that allows the diocese to take over the governance of a parish; an attempt to change the locks at a parish; an agreement with a dissident priest to take early retirement; the inhibition of another bishop; and several more events which led to the lawsuit.

However, said the bishop, it was also unprecedented in the diocese that some people were threatening to bring in another bishop to take over parishes. His concern was that the Diocese of New Westminster stay within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Turning to Bishop Ingham’s insistence that no one is being asked to leave any parish except priests who are still in place after having relinquished the bishop’s license, Cowper asked how—not from a legal but “a human point of view”—the bishop could expect members of the dissident parishes to remain in the diocese if they fail to win the lawsuit?

“It’s not likely they will stay, is it?” the lawyer asked.

“I’m not convinced of that,” replied Bishop Ingham. “One should never underestimate the attachment of Anglicans to their buildings.” The reply elicited groans from some in the court supporting the dissident congregations.

The bishop went on to suggest that some people will want to remain where they have been baptized, married, or where relatives are buried. He said it was his understanding that members of dissident congregations had been told by their leaders they could have the Anglican Church of Canada and take their buildings with them. However, he admitted he had not been at any of the meetings of these congregations where these matters were discussed.

“I do hope that many of the present members will stay,” he said. He said he will continue to appoint conservative priests to conservative parishes, which would be the case in the four parishes: St. John's Shaughnessy, Good Shepherd, and St. Matthias & St. Luke in Vancouver, and St. Matthew's, Abbotsford.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Cowper, produced a handbook for bishops issued by the Anglican Church of Canada in 1996. Bishop Ingham said he hadn’t been aware of the handbook before the trial. He agreed it said that bishops should carefully consider the statements coming out of Lambeth Conference, and said he had.

But the bishop, unasked, then pointed out for the lawyer another section of the handbook which said that bishops should “interpret the Gospels...reflecting the ministry of the prophets.”

Earlier in the day, Bishop Ingham completed the direct examination by the diocese’s lawyer, George Macintosh, QC. The bishop described the vote in June of 2002 at Diocesan Synod, asking for a rite of blessing for the third time. After the vote in favour was announced, members of eight parishes staged a walkout.

The bishop said the vote was on a proposal he had made. It was obvious that the issue would arise again at the synod. “It seemed to me I had to take some leadership and see a way forward.”

He met with conservative clergy late in May, 2002, and presented his proposal. It included a “conscience clause” guaranteeing no clergy or congregations opposed to the blessings need take part, and for an “episcopal visitor,” a conservative bishop, to provide pastoral care to those who might find it difficult to deal with himself.

The conscience clause, later formally issued by the Bishop, stated “there would be no discrimination against anyone because of their conscience...[the blessing] was not to become a litmus test issue as to who would become priests in the Diocese of New Westminster,” he said.

However, the conservative clergy wanted a bishop who have full jurisdiction over their parishes, including the sole power to appoint priests. This Bishop Ingham refused. “I feared the diocese would be balkanized along theological lines.” He also felt he didn’t have the authority to give up jurisdiction.

Just before Diocesan Synod, a dissident clergyman, David Short, and his warden came with a legal opinion that the bishop did not have the authority to issue a rite of blessing—even though a group of three lawyers versed in canon law had given him an opinion saying he did.

“I told them this was a little late in the day to be bringing a document like this.” Nevertheless he did read it and show it to his Chancellor (chief legal officer). “Neither he nor I found it persuasive enough,” the bishop told the court.

When the vote in 2002 occurred and a walkout of eight conservative parishes took place, the bishop had noted that several people taking part were neither lay delegates nor clergy, but appeared to have come to make the walkout appear larger than it otherwise would have been. Still the demonstration was a shock.

“We all sat in stunned silence for a while.”

But he had noted that even before the vote, one of the clergy who walked out, Trevor Walters, the day before had sent an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, at that time George Carey, complaining that the bishop had threatened to withdraw the licenses of clergy who did not agree with him.

This was definitely not true, the bishop told the court, but “the very opposite to what I did.” He had stated that no one was to be discriminated against because of their stand on the same sex blessing, and that he expected clergy on all sides of the issue “to be in relationship with one another.” Only clergy who did discriminate would be subject to discipline.

However Walter’s letter led to the Archbishop of Canterbury and many others getting involved from outside the diocese. It led to “an atmosphere of polemic,” said the bishop

“This was the point at which the issue began to get internationalized,” said the bishop.

There upon followed several attempts at reconciliation, including asking a conservative bishop to come to the diocese. He worked successfully with a conservative parish that had opposed the blessing.

The diocese’s lawyer asked the bishop about his 1997 book, Mansions of the Spirit, which some conservative parishioners and clergy had testified they found alarming. He said it was an introduction to inter-faith dialogue. “It seems to me that dialogue between the world religions is central to achieving peace.”

He said that in the book he advocated a “grounded openness.” As a Christian he is grounded in Jesus Christ while being open to the truth as expressed in other religions.

Testifying about the 1893 “Solemn Declaration” which was one of the founding documents of the Anglican Church of Canada, the bishop said it had been reprinted in one of three Canadian prayer books issued to date by the Anglican Church of Canada. It appeared in the 1959-1962 edition, but not in 1918 or 1985 editions. “I view it as an historical document.”

He suggested that historically the primary purpose of the declaration was to emphasize that Anglicans in Canada (then the “Church of England in Canada”) were in communion with the English Church through the See of Canterbury. Several Canadian churches at the time were emphasizing their roots in European Churches.

He compared the Anglican Communion to the British Commonwealth. As the Commonwealth is a group of sovereign states, the Communion is a fellowship of autonomous Churches, connected in each case with “bands of affection,” but with no authority over each other.

He suggested the controversy surrounding the blessing of same sex unions was similar to many controversies in the Anglican Church throughout its history, including the legitimacy of slavery, the ordination of women, the remarriage of divorced persons, and even whether children should be given Holy Communion.

“I believe that Anglicanism is a big tent in which there is room for people with different theological convictions. My concern is with attempts to erect partitions—and even to move the tent pegs and enclose only some people.”

Bishop Ingham’s direct examination concluded the vows that a bishop much undertake when ordained. They include promises not only to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” but also to “boldly proclaim and interpret the gospel of Christ, enlightening the minds and stirring up the conscience of your people.”

“In my experience stirring up the conscience is not always entirely welcome,” he said.

The trial was to continue on Wednesday, June 3, with testimony from the Rev. Kevin Dixon, Douglas Macadams, and the Rev. Christine Rowe. The court has reserved another week for argument between the lawyers in front of the judge.