Bishop Michael Ingham asked the retiring bishop of Algoma, Ronald Ferris, to consider assisting him last year by serving as a pastoral bishop to conservative parishes in his diocese under the shared episcopal ministry plan set out by Canadian House of Bishops.

However, in BC Supreme Court Tuesday, May 26, the former Canadian bishop said he felt strongly that he couldn’t serve as a bishop within a diocese that, in his opinion, had departed from biblical teaching and blessed same sex unions.

Ronald Ferris (Anglican Journal photo)

Bishop Ingham, according to a letter entered in evidence, suggested that Ferris—for 27 years a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada—submit his name to Archbishop Terrance Buckle. He was retiring to Langley, BC, which is within the Diocese of New Westminster which Bishop Ingham heads. If he accepted the offer, he would have been included on a list of possible alternative bishops from which conservative  parishes having difficulties with Bishop Ingham or the diocese could pick.

“I knew I couldn’t work in a system which had broken with the Anglican Communion,” Ferris told the court. But who exactly had broken from the Communion was at issue during the second day of testimony before Mr. Justice Stephen Kelleher.

Some 22 leaders in four congregations, including three former diocesan priests, who have left the Anglican Church of Canada, want to keep their parish buildings, and have sued the diocese and Bishop Ingham, asking the court to rule they can. The diocese says it owns the buildings.

Ferris decided not to work as a retired bishop within the Diocese of New Westminster. Instead he left Anglican Church of Canada and joined the Anglican Network in Canada, a group of congregations that currently say they are connected to the Anglican Communion through the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone in South America.

During much of the day’s testimony, Ferris recounted events in the Anglican Church of Canada, after he became Bishop of Yukon in 1981. While he let his name stand for that and other episcopal positions 12 times, including in 1993 when he came in second in the Diocese of New Westminster to Michael Ingham, he said he had never sought nomination, but felt that if asked, he should run. In 1995 he left the Yukon to become Bishop of Algoma based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Recounting three Lambeth Conferences and several General Synods, he traced the evolution of, and reaction to, the blessing of same sex unions requested by the New Westminster Synod in 2002, and implemented by Bishop Ingham in 2003.

The blessing brought “shock therapy” to the whole Anglican Communion, Ferris contended, especially when combined with the ordination of an openly homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, in the US Episcopal Church in 2004.

While for many years there had been private services of blessing—he termed it “stealth implementation” of a blessing of gays and lesbians—in the US, “now they were becoming more public.”

He said he opposed the blessing because the Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Anglican Consultative Council asked that they cease. The Canadian House of Bishop was split on the issue, he said, and “it was against the discipline of Christ.”

The issue, he insisted, was unlike the ordination of women priests, Ferris said, which stirred up the Church in the 1960s and 1970s. “People see parallels but there were differences,” he said. “[Women’s ordination] is a matter of church order rather than a matter of church doctrine or morals.”

Under cross examination from the diocese’s lawyer, George Macintosh, QC, Ferris denied that he could have appealed the same sex blessing issue to the Anglican Church of Canada’s Supreme Court of Appeal, as Macintosh suggested.

He and the lawyer concluded the day sparring over whether a Canon (church bylaw) would have allowed such an appeal. Judge Kelleher cut off the dispute, noting that Ferris had said he was not a canon law lawyer. “His view doesn't take us very far one way or the other,” said the judge.

Earlier, during the morning, the cross examination concluded for Donald Harvey, retired bishop of Eastern Newfoundland. The former Anglican Church of Canada bishop is now moderator, or head bishop, of the Anglican Network in Canada. He too resigned from the Anglican Church of Canada upon retirement from that body.

Donald Harvey (Anglican Journal)

Harvey said he remains an Anglican bishop by being accepted by Archbishop Gregory Venables as a member of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, which covers several countries in South America, an arrangement to which the Canadian Church objects.

Macintosh, lawyer for the diocese, asked Harvey how this could be the case since the constitution of the Southern Cone limits itself to South America, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, objects to extra-territorial bishops.

Harvey said that the Southern Cone’s constitution “does put territorial restrictions on its membership but not on its jurisdiction,” which allows him to serve in Canada, Harvey said.

Upon questioning, Harvey did agree that it was a new development for the Primate, or head, of one church to appoint a bishop who lived in another country to work in that country—although other Primates, mostly in Africa, have ordained bishops in their own dioceses and sent them back to North America to serve.

Under direct examination Harvey had said he had over the years had a change of mind, and now supports the ordination of women priests. Under cross-examination, Macintosh took him through a document he signed in 1975 opposing female ordination. (The national General Synod authorized the ordination of women priests the following year.)

Harvey, with others, then declared that women’s ordination was against “biblical teaching”; that it was contrary to the Anglican Church’s “Solemn Declaration”; that it was not within the General Synod’s competence to institute. He had said the issue was causing “a crisis” and declared he might have to leave the Anglican Church. These arguments are similar to those being expressed in relation to the blessing of same sex unions.

Macintosh noted that currently Harvey is involved in the creation of a new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), whose provisional canons provide that candidates for bishop must be male; women can serve as deacons and priests. The ACNA provisional constitution states however that individual dioceses can refuse to accept any ordained women.

Harvey said these provisions were adopted as a compromise until the groups making up the ACNA come to “theological agreement” on the role of women. He said they didn’t describe his own position.

Macintosh suggested that Harvey had been able to stay within the Anglican Church in the 1970s only because of a “conscience clause” that stated those opposed to women’s ordination would not be given a woman priests—just as groups within this proposed ACNA will be able to refuse to ordain women.

The diocese’s lawyer suggested this was similar to the Diocese of New Westminster’s conscience clause regarding same sex blessings—no priest or congregation need be involved in the blessing if they are opposed to it.

Harvey objected to the line of questioning, insisting women’s ordination was a matter of “church order,” and the blessing a matter of “salvation.” But Macintosh insisted that he focus on the conscience clause issue.

“The conscience clause was able to keep you in the Anglican Church of Canada?” he asked.

“It’s hard for me to recall what I thought at that time, but that’s probable,” replied Harvey.

Harvey agreed that the dissenters refused appointment of an alternative or visiting bishop to minister to conservative parishes because the diocesan bishop, Bishop Ingham, insisted on keeping ultimate jurisdiction.

“How many times did you [as a bishop] surrender your jurisdiction?” the lawyer asked Harvey. The lawyer noted that when Harvey served as an alternative bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts to a conservative parish, the diocesan bishop there retained jurisdiction. “You know it’s not on for a bishop to give up his power any more than a prime minister or a judge,” Macintosh suggested.

Harvey said there had been no occasion for him to give up his jurisdiction; when he had been invited to Massachusetts, the matter did not come up.