Linda Seale, a lay leader at St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, and member of the congregation for the past 30 years, told a judge how “deeply troubled” her congregation had been over not only the same sex blessing issue but also other matters of belief.
She was testifying in BC Supreme Court during the third day of a three week trial caused by the lawsuit brought by some 22 leaders in four congregations—including Seale—against the Diocese of New Westminster and Bishop Michael Ingham, its bishop.
|Linda Seale of St. Matthew's Abbotsford
(TOPIC file photo)
The congregations, which have left the Anglican Church of Canada, want to keep their parish buildings, and have brought suit asking Mr. Justice Stephen Kelleher to rule that they can. The diocese says it owns the buildings.
Seale, who has been a warden and a trustee at St. Matthew’s among many other positions, said that even before the issue of same sex blessings came to the fore, she had been disturbed by what she called Bishop Ingham’s “pluralist approach to religion, that there are many ways to God.”
She recalled once at the Sorrento Retreat Centre near Kamloops, BC, while taking a course taught by the bishop, she had been alarmed by the direction of his thought.
Walking beside him to a meal one day, she asked him about the passage in John’s Gospel which says “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
She told the court the bishop replied: “There are some things you have to let go of.”
“I couldn’t believe I would hear a bishop in the Anglican Communion say such a thing,” she said. When the bishop came to preach at St. Matthew’s in 1998, she and a group of parishioners invited the bishop into the rector’s office so they could as a group all pray for him. “He looked very uncomfortable,” she said
The bishop did not return to St. Matthew’s since preaching on that day she said.
“There is a practice by which bishops are invited to parishes,” said George Macintosh, QC, the diocese’s lawyer, during a cross examination. “I understand Bishop Ingham was never invited to St. Matthew’s after 1998.”
“I don’t suppose he was,” replied Seale.
Seale agreed that St. Matthew’s did refuse to hold back the diocesan assessment paid by parishes to support the diocese and its work. The payments stopped in 2002 after the vote when a majority of the Diocesan Synod voted to ask the bishop for a blessing of same sex unions. She said the apportionments are voluntary payments.
Asked whether it was correct that since then the amount of unpaid assessment now amounts to $793,000, Seale said she had never sat down and totaled it up.
The parish did attempt to send money to the national Anglican Church of Canada, she said, but after several months its cheques were returned since they did not come from the diocese.
Earlier in the morning, the former Bishop of Algoma Ronald Ferris concluded his testimony which began Tuesday. Upon retirement, Ferris left the Anglican Church of Canada and joined the Anglican Network in Canada, a group that includes the four dissenting congregations whose leaders brought the lawsuit.
Ferris said he was not attempting to persuade Anglicans to leave the Anglican Church of Canada. “I have not initiated contact with any parishes,” he said. However he said he would try to facilitate matters for congregations which might want to leave. While he was not aware of the plans of the Anglican Network at a deep level, “I do no believe there is such a strategy”—attempting to take parishes out of the Canadian Church.
Macintosh questioned Ferris about a statement he had made that that the diocese and its bishop had attempted to “evict” conservative Anglicans from their parishes. Ferris had said that Bishop Ingham’s actions would go down in “ecclesiastical infamy.”
(The diocese’s position is that no one has been asked to leave any parishes except clergy that have relinquished the licenses of the bishop.)
“There is ‘constructive’ eviction,” said Ferris, if conservatives members are in a position—because of the blessing of same sex unions and other matter—that they feel they must leave. This breakup wouldn’t be necessary, he told the court, if the New Westminster bishop surrendered full jurisdiction over conservative parishes to an alternate bishop sympathetic to their views.
“But [the diocese] has not asked a single congregation to leave a single church?” asked Macintosh.
“I would include clergy as part of a congregation,” replied Ferris. “Clergy are family, part of the congregation.”
“But no clergy have been asked to leave a church until they resigned?”
“I don’t know all the details to this,” Ferris replied.
During the afternoon, Gail Stevenson, a long-time parishioner of St. John’s Shaughnessy, the largest dissenting congregation, took the stand. She said she had been a parishioner for 68 years, after having been baptized in the parish at age 5. At that time the Parish of St. John’s worshiped in a small, brown wooden building, she said.
She recounted the construction of the church –a memorial for those who fought and died in the Second World War. She said that although she was too young to learn details, she knew her parents and other parishioners been involved in the campaign to raise the money to build it, and they had donated.
She said she had been a parishioner through five rectors, all of whom taught from the Bible. However, in recent times, she had been very disturbed by Bishop Michael Ingham’s views, especially those on the value of other religions. She felt 1997 book, Mansions of the Spirit, was not scriptural.
“Scripture gave me spiritual freedom,” she said, but the bishop was taking that away.
She eventually came to the conclusion that for herself and other like her to remain in the diocese under this bishop was not “workable.”
“It’s a little like a marriage that is no longer working. You can’t be together because the differences are too great,” said Stevenson. Such a conclusion was “heartbreaking and tragic. I never thought we would come to something like this.”
Many programs come out of St. John’s, she said, and she couldn’t imagine how space could be found for them if the congregation felt it had to leave. However, the said, “the truth of Christ is greater than the building.”
Ending the day’s session was the testimony of Peter Pang, who served as a warden at the Church of the Good Shepherd. The parish’s Chinese-speaking congregation also decided to disaffiliate from the Anglican Church of Canada in 2008.
Pang testified that his congregation was very conservative, and strongly opposed the blessing of same sex unions as a departure from scripture and the will of God. Pang said that if he had agreed with the blessing, some of his Asian friends would have objected strongly “I don’t think they would have even considered me to be a Christian any more.”
He recounted the visit of a delegation to see Bishop Michael Ingham before the bishop authorized the blessing. The bishop argued that the diocese was a “diverse family” and asked them to find a way of living with the rest of the diocese. The bishop pointed out that Christians once accepted slavery, as it appears in the Bible, but once it was seen as a social evil, the church position changed.
Pang said the bishop told the group he hoped they would stay, but if they left they would have to leave their property and assets behind. Pang said he was shocked by this statement. “I felt at the time he was more concerned with his property than his flock.”
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In another legal matter involving the Anglican Network in Canada, in the Superior Court of Ontario, Madam Justice Jane Milanetti awarded leaders of three dissenting congregations to pay $75,600 in court costs after the failure of their attempt to obtain exclusive use of buildings in the Diocese of Niagara in Ontario, until a trial could be held.
The case had been heard in March of 2008. The diocese had offered to share the buildings, Judge Milanetti noted in her judgement, “an offer substantially better...than my ultimate order.”
After the judge ruled in May of 2008 that the buildings must be shared, the Network parishes decided instead to leave. The parishes were St. George's Lowville, St. Hilda's Oakville, and the Church of the Good Shepherd, St. Catharines.
“Despite my order that the parties share the properties, the respondents have apparently chosen not to do so. I have learned that they opted to incur additional costs to worship elsewhere. Although that is clearly their prerogative, those additional expenses (despite their argument based on same), cannot and will not be considered by me in this decision,” she wrote in her decision on costs made public Wednesday (May 27).