(Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a statement issued by the Anglican Communion Alliance. )
A provincial House of Bishops’ objection to the episcopacy of Caledonia bishop-elect the Rev. Jake Worley released earlier this week was a very unpleasant surprise, says the diocesan administrator, who has called meetings to allow the diocese to discern its next steps.
“I am deeply shocked and saddened by the failure of the Provincial House of Bishops to concur with the election of Rev. Jacob Worley as the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Caledonia,” the Rev. Gwen Andrews said in a statement released by the diocese Wednesday, May 17. Andrews also said she had called meetings of the diocese’s clergy and of its executive committee “to discuss this extraordinary decision and to determine an appropriate course of action.”
Since the retirement of Bishop William Anderson at the end of 2016, the diocese has been without a bishop, and Andrews has been managing its day-to-day affairs.
Andrews said she could not comment on what courses of action the diocese was considering before the meetings, scheduled for May 25 and May 26, take place.
Worley, who was elected bishop of the northern B.C. diocese at an electoral synod in Prince Rupert April 22, was objected to as a choice by the House of Bishops of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon. The bishops’ decision not to consecrate Worley is final, according to the canons (church laws) of the province, which includes the dioceses of British Columbia, New Westminster, Caledonia, Kootenay and Yukon, plus the Territory of the People.
According to those canons, any bishop-elect must be approved by the provincial House of Bishops.
The bishops said their objection had to do with ministry Worley performed for the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), which, according to their statement, he did “under license from the Province of Rwanda in the geographical jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church without permission of the Episcopal Church.” The discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada, according to the statement, forbids priests from ministering for one church of the Anglican Communion in a place falling under the jurisdiction of another church of the Communion without that other church’s permission.
Worley, who was born and raised in the U.S., planted a church in New Mexico for the Anglican Province of Rwanda in 2007. (After he had left it, that church joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), Worley said in an earlier interview. ACNA is another grouping of conservative Anglican churches.)
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Privett said the house’s review of Worley was part of the routine due diligence it does for any bishop-elect. Worley was able to stand as a candidate for election as bishop of the diocese of Caledonia because the electoral synod fell under the authority of the diocese, and the diocese’s canons governing the vetting of candidates are different from the provincial canons governing grounds for objecting to a bishop-elect’s episcopacy.
“There are different levels of vetting, so that the diocese of Caledonia and their selection committee did all that they did in terms of seeking conformity to the canons of the diocese of Caledonia,” Privett said. “Once there was an election, then it fell under the provincial canon. So that’s why the bishops actually really didn’t do much until it came to our area of responsibility.”
The provincial canons include six reasons why the bishops might object to the consecration of a bishop-elect. The bishops objected to Worley’s episcopacy under the sixth, that the bishop-elect “teaches or holds or within five years previously taught or held anything contrary to the Doctrine or Discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada.”
Specifically, the house said, they concluded Worley believed “it is acceptable and permissible for a priest of one church of the Anglican Communion to exercise priestly ministry in the geographical jurisdiction of a second church of the Anglican Communion without the permission of the Ecclesiastical Authority of that second church.”
Their decision, Privett said, was based on Canon IV of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Canons of General Synod, entitled “Reception and Recognition of Clergy from Churches in Full Communion with The Anglican Church of Canada.” The canon specifies the conditions whereby “a member of the clergy of a church in full communion with The Anglican Church of Canada…may be received into a diocese as a lawful bishop, priest or deacon.”
Commented Privett, “The concern from the bishops is the church in Rwanda is in communion with Canterbury, but was functioning irregularly within a jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church. And so we get this ambiguity where The Episcopal Church did not recognize the ministry of Rwanda in its own jurisdiction, and we’re in full communion with The Episcopal Church…so when someone leaves The Episcopal Church, or the Anglican Church of Canada, to serve in another Anglican church within the same geographical jurisdiction, that’s considered against our discipline.”
Andrews said she was shocked at the bishops’ decision, partly because in March, before the electoral synod, a search committee formed by the diocese sent a copy of Worley’s curriculum vitae and his employment history to Privett, pointing out his missionary work under the bishop of Rwanda and asking if it posed a problem to his candidacy. The search committee told her, Andrews said, that Privett did not think it would pose a problem.
Asked about this, Privett said his remarks were “off the cuff,” not part of the formal vetting process, and based on the fact that Worley had been received by the diocese of Caledonia as a priest in good standing.
“In itself, it may or may not have been an issue,” Privett said. “At that point, it didn’t seem to be, because he was functioning in the diocese of Caledonia and I’d assumed that the diocese of Caledonia had received him in due order…It was only when it came to the House of Bishops, when we were looking primarily at the criteria in the provincial canon, that we recognized that we needed to look further than we had been before.”
In her statement, Andrews also said she had been told the House of Bishops’ statement on Worley was released May 14, a day before she and Worley were informed about the decision. Privett, however, said this was incorrect. The statement was dated May 14, he said, because this is when it was written, but it was not released until after he had spoken with Andrews and Worley on May 15.
Asked about the tenor of the bishops’ discussions on Worley, Privett said, “The bishops took this really seriously and realized that this was a weighty matter, a weighty decision. And so we really did pray about it together. The conversation was pretty respectful, was pretty open with one another. I think the quality of our engagement in the house is really good, and I felt like we worked together on this right through it.”
It’s too early to say when another electoral synod will be held, Privett said.
“Our first concern right now is pastoral care for the diocese of Caledonia and for the Worley family,” he said. “This will be hard, and so we’re recognizing that we don’t want to just rush into an election.”
Privett said he acknowledged the decision had meant “shock, some surprise, some hurt, some confusion” to Andrews, Worley and others in the diocese.
“I think people are still processing information, and trying to absorb it,” he said.
Worley did not respond to requests for an interview.
Meanwhile, the Anglican Communion Alliance (ACA) said it was saddened and dismayed by the development.
“We want to believe that this decision was reached in a fair and reasonable manner, but we are also aware that to many Anglicans in the pew it looks unfair and deliberately skewed—especially given some recent history,” said a statement issued by Sharon Dewey Hetke, national director of the ACA. (The ACA is an organization of lay and clergy that aims to “continue the affirmation of classical Anglicanism within the Anglican Church of Canada,” according to its website.)
Hetke cited three developments involving bishops and dioceses, which she said constituted “breach of doctrine and discipline,” but were not subjected to “ecclesial censure.” These include the approval in 2002 of same-sex blessings in the diocese of New Westminster, the decision in 2016 by some bishops to go ahead with same-sex marriages after the approval on first reading of the motion to change the marriage canon, and the election in 2016 of a gay bishop in the diocese of Toronto.
“A pattern seems to emerge regarding the kinds of rules and canons that can, and cannot be, broken,” said Dewey Hetke. “Why do canons guarding jurisdiction seem to be sacrosanct, while canons related to doctrine and our received tradition must give way to the vanguard of revisionist thinking on sexuality?”
Hetke expressed the hope that “some resolution can be found that begins to mend the relationship between the diocese of Caledonia and leaders at the provincial and national levels” and which would also serve to “increase unity and trust between those leaders and Anglicans who have remained within the [Anglican Church of Canada] as loyal dissenters.”
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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