West Coast bishops warn parishes against separation

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At the time of year that Anglican churches usually hold their vestries, or annual general meetings, two bishops in British Columbia have warned parishes that they may not legally separate from their diocese or the Anglican Church of Canada.Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, wrote on Feb. 6 to four parishes that are members of the Anglican Network in Canada, a group of churches that are considering separation from the denomination.Bishop James Cowan of the Victoria-based diocese of British Columbia (which includes Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands) in his letter dated Jan. 30 addressed all clergy, wardens and members of parish councils in his diocese. Bishop Ingham wrote that “no parish or congregation in the diocese … 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,” (promoting a split in the church). Excerpts of the letter were published on the diocesan Web site.

He addressed the clergy, wardens and trustees of the four parishes, saying they have a “fiduciary responsibility” to “preserve and protect the assets of the church” within the diocese and the national church.

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

He added, “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.”

Clergy at the four churches could not immediately be reached for comment, however, parish notes published on St. John’s Shaughnessy’s Web site, dated Feb. 3, noted that retired Canadian bishop Donald Harvey, moderator of the Network, has offered the parish “episcopal oversight” under the jurisdiction of the Province of the Southern Cone (which covers the southern portion of South America).

“The leadership (of St. John’s) are united in their believe that this offer of episcopal oversight is the right offer to accept at the right time, despite the legal and financial risks and other potential consequences. It will allow us to move on with our ministry and bring us into full fellowship with the worldwide Anglican Communion,” the note read. It was signed by the church’s wardens, treasurer and church committee chair. St. John’s vestry meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13.

Bishop Cowan, whose diocese has no parishes listed as network members, said any moves to separate are “beyond the powers of any parish or congregation within this diocese.” Both bishops, in similar wording, noted that there may be clergy or laity who, in good conscience, can no longer remain with their diocese or the Anglican Church of Canada. “Resignation of office and the seeking of a spiritual home elsewhere might be the honourable action of some. I would be sad to see this happen,” wrote Bishop Cowan.

In other news, Bishop Harvey announced that he had granted licenses to Rev. William G. Campbell of Toronto and Rev. Lawrence H. Winslow of Sandy Lake, Man., whom the bishop said are retired Anglican clergy. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Winslow are under his oversight, said Bishop Harvey, and that of Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone. “Therefore, their licences and orders are effective throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion although the Anglican Church of Canada has made it clear they will not recognize these orders,” the notice read.

Mr. Winslow relinquished ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada in January, 2008. It was not immediately known when or if Mr. Campbell relinquished his orders in Canada.

Bishop Harvey also announced that a new church, meeting as a home Bible study group in Brandon, Man., has joined the network and will begin regular Sunday services on Palm Sunday, Mar. 16.

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Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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