Seventeen individuals in three diocesan parishes have gone to B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver to try to keep former diocesan clergy who have left the Anglican Church of Canada working within their parish buildings.

Five of the people bringing the action are former diocesan clergy or parish officials at St. John’s Shaughnessy, Vancouver—although to date the diocese has taken no action against that parish.

The other 12 individuals are former clergy or former parish officials of St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, and of St. Matthias and St. Luke, Vancouver. The diocese invoked Canon 15 on August 25 at these two parishes. Canon 15 was not invoked at St. John’s.

Canon 15 is a diocesan bylaw that allows the Bishop to restructure a parish. New wardens and interim clergy were appointed, but have not been able to go to work since the buildings remain occupied by the former diocesan clergy.

No individuals from a fourth diocesan parish, the Church of the Good Shepherd, which is still led by a priest who also left the Anglican Church of Canada, Vancouver, were named as plaintiffs in the suit. Canon 15 has not been invoked at Good Shepherd. Its congregation has rented out the diocesan-owned Good Shepherd property and is worshipping in other premises.

“We deeply regret that some individuals who claim affiliation with the Anglican Network in Canada have seen fit to commence legal proceedings against the Diocese and the Bishop,” said George Cadman, Chancellor (chief legal officer) for the Diocese of New Westminster, which covers the Lower Mainland and Sunshine Coast.

The former diocesan clergy who are included among those bringing the action are Trevor Walters, David Short, and Simon Chin. They were three of the eight diocesan clergy who relinquished their licenses for ministry in the diocese and the Anglican Church of Canada on April 21. They then declared they had joined an Anglican Church in South America—but refused to leave the church properties.

At their regular meeting September 9 the Diocesan Council voted unanimously to confirm the Bishop’s action. The council is a group of 45 clergy and lay delegates who with Bishop Michael Ingham are responsible for governing the diocese between Diocesan Synods.

At the Diocesan Council meeting Bishop Michael Ingham stressed that he did not “fire” the clergy involved, they left the diocese and the Canadian Church. “The sequence of events is actually quite important,” said the Bishop.

“It is only the clergy who are being asked to leave these churches,” added the Chancellor. No others are being asked to leave, he told Diocesan Council.

The suit by the 17 people is against the Diocesan Synod and Bishop Ingham. It asks the Supreme Court to declare that the dismissal of the trustees is “of no force and effect” and that the former trustees still hold their offices.

The court documents claim that the 1893 Act of the Provincial Legislature which established the diocese requires it to “maintain and defend historic, orthodox Anglican teaching and practice.” The group wants the Supreme Court to declare that in establishing a rite for the blessing of same sex unions Bishop Ingham and Diocesan Synod have not done this.

Accordingly, they argue, dissident parishes in the Anglican Network in Canada can leave the Anglican Church of Canada and realign with an Anglican Church in South America, the Province of the Southern Cone, taking their property with them.

Chancellor Cadman said that the diocese will respect the outcome of the civil court process, and hoped the dissidents will do the same. Although the diocese regrets that the matter is now in court, it will mount a strong defense and respond, in accordance with court rules, he said.

He noted that the legal arguments presented in the suit by those bringing it are similar to those made by other Anglican Network groups in Ontario and on Vancouver Island, which have failed in preliminary proceedings to persuade courts to rule against dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada.

A letter from the Anglican Network that was distributed at the Diocesan Council meeting stated that it is open to “dialogue and alternative dispute resolution.”

The Chancellor said the Diocese was willing to discuss the timing of the former priests’ departures from diocesan properties, but saw nothing else to talk about at the present time. The letter was received for information.