Bishop Michael Ingham has told priests and parish officers in four parishes that it is their responsibility to keep their parishes within the Diocese of New Westminster.

“No parish or congregation in the Diocese of New Westminster has any legal existence except as part of the Diocese, and any attempt by any person to remove a parish from the jurisdiction of the Bishop and Synod would be schismatic,” he wrote in a letter dated February 6.

He said the clergy, wardens, and trustees have a “fiduciary responsibility”—the responsibility of a trustee—“to preserve and protect the assets of the Church within the Diocese of New Westminster and the Anglican Church of Canada.”

“Any attempt to betray that trust through schismatic action is a ground for immediate termination of license or removal from office, and may well subject those same individuals to civil proceedings also,” he wrote.

The letter was directed to clergy, wardens, and trustees of St. John’s Shaughnessy, Church of the Good Shepherd, and St. Matthias/St. Luke, all in Vancouver, and to St. Matthew’s Abbotsford.

The four parishes are listed on the website of the Anglican Network in Canada as being member parishes. Leaders of the Network are engaged in establishing a separate Church in Canada under the jurisdiction of an Anglican Church in South America, the Province of the Southern Cone.

Bishop Ingham’s letter followed a similar epistle issued by a neighbouring bishop, James Cowan, who is Bishop of British Columbia, which covers Vancouver Island. On January 30, Bishop Cowan sent a letter to all his parishes, also warning any attempt to transfer episcopal and synod jurisdiction to another Anglican Province.

Both bishops wrote that if a resolution to leave the diocese came before any parish’s annual meeting, the chair of the meeting is obliged to rule it out of order as “ultra vires”–beyond the powers of any parish or congregation.

“There may be clergy and laity who, in good conscience, feel they can no longer remain members of the Diocese of New Westminster or the Anglican Church of Canada. Resignation of office and the seeking of a spiritual home elsewhere is the honourable and appropriate course of action for such persons,” wrote Bishop Ingham, echoing a similar passage in Bishop Cowan’s earlier letter.

Bishop Ingham added: “I and the Officers of the Diocese are also under a fiduciary responsibility to preserve and protect the assets of the Church for its future ministry. I strongly urge you to take no action that would force me or the Diocese to seek relief in the civil courts to ensure your compliance with the responsibilities to which you are subject.”

In November, leaders of the Anglican Network in Canada said that the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone would welcome parishes wishing to leave the Anglican Church of Canada. The Southern Cone includes Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Also that month, the retired bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Donald Harvey, who heads the network, left the Anglican Church of Canada and announced he had come under the jurisdiction of the South American Church.

Both moves were opposed by church leaders in Canada. Canadian Primate Fred Hiltz called the action “regrettable,” since the Canadian House of Bishops had made “adequate and appropriate provision for the pastoral care and episcopal support of all members of our church.”

The actions were also strongly discouraged by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams: “I cannot support or sanctions such actions, in line with what successive Lambeth Resolutions and Primates’ Communiques have declared,” Archbishop Williams wrote to Archbishop Hiltz on January 21.

The test of Bishop Cowan’s letter can be found here: