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B.C. church shut in same-sex fight. Anglican congregation challenges its bishop

B.C. church shut in same-sex fight. Anglican congregation challenges its
bishop by refusing to perform gay marriages

Michael Higgins National Post
Tuesday, December 23, 2003

An Anglican church defying its bishop by refusing to support same-sex
unions has been "terminated" only days before Christmas.

The decision by Bishop Michael Ingham to close Holy Cross in
Abbotsford, B.C., is the latest action in a dispute that is threatening
to split the Anglican church worldwide.

Despite the closure, the priest at Holy Cross, the Rev. James Wagner,
vowed yesterday to celebrate mass on Christmas Day with parishioners.

"As far as the diocese is concerned we do not exist. We are a non-
entity," Mr. Wagner said yesterday. "But I will not abandon these
people. I will continue to pastor and pray for them in the midst of
this crisis."

He said the decision to close the church was a surprise because "it's
so close to Christmas."

Ronald Harrison, executive archdeacon of the Diocese of New
Westminster, said Holy Cross brought the closure upon itself by seeking
episcopal oversight from another bishop. He said that a result of the
church declaring itself "independent" was that its funds had been
stopped and eventually the bishop was forced to close it.

The decision by Bishop Ingham to sanction same-sex unions and the
broader issue of homosexuality are dividing Anglicans. In October,
church leaders met at a crisis conference in London called in part
because of Bishop Ingham's approval of same-sex unions. The Canadian
House of Bishops has also set up a task force to look at parishes
opposed to Bishop Ingham's decision.

Holy Cross, a mission church that relies on its funding from the
diocese, is part of a group of breakaway churches in New Westminster
that was seeking episcopal oversight by Bishop Terry Buckle of the
Yukon.

In October, the Diocesan Council of New Westminster voted to close Holy
Cross but needed Bishop Ingham's approval. However, funding was
withdrawn from the church.

In a letter dated Dec. 18, Bishop Ingham informed Mr. Wagner that he
had decided to close the church.

Mr. Wagner said he told parishioners the news on Sunday.

"They were shocked and surprised that it would come at this time. When
they got the news it was four days before Christmas."

None of the other churches in the breakaway group has been closed.
Because they are incorporated individually, and don't rely on funding
from the diocese, they have been able to carry on.

Mr. Wagner said his church was being ostracized within the diocese
though it is aligned with Anglican thinking worldwide.

"Substantially we are right in step with Anglicans throughout the world
and that has great consolation for them [the parishioners] because they
very much want to be Anglicans. They are not doing things rebelliously
and very much want to be a part of the family of Anglicans throughout
the world," Mr. Wagner said.

The termination of the church meant they were "like sheep without a
shepherd," he said.

He said although they would celebrate Mass on Christmas Day, they would
not be recognized as Anglicans. "It's not just that the Diocese of New
Westminster will not recognize us as Anglicans, the really sad thing is
that, unofficially, there are many Anglicans who want to recognize us,
but, officially, there is no one that will recognize us as such."

Mr. Wagner had already had his pay cut off by the diocese and said he
now needed to consult with his lawyer to see what his position is.

"I don't regret what I am doing or the circumstances I find myself in.
I think that Jesus often talked about his disciples having to count the
cost and having to take up their cross," he said.

He called on the Canadian House of Bishops and primates internationally
for clear leadership.

Mr. Wagner said the parish had already been in discussion with the
House of Bishops' task force.

The task force was set up to establish "adequate provision for
Episcopal oversight of dissenting minorities."

It followed a call from Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury,
who warned the Anglican Church was in danger of splintering over the
issue of homosexuality.

After the task force was set up, Bishop Ingham wrote to Holy Cross
offering to restore its funding if it accepted his authority.

Mr. Harrison said the bishop had never had a satisfactory reply except
from Mr. Wagner, who said he was consulting his lawyer.

"We support and fund all kinds of things, including mission
initiatives, but if they have openly declared their hostility to the
diocese and the diocesan bishop and will not rescind that even when the
bishop has stepped back from the plate, the question is: Why would we
fund that?

"The decision was made months ago and the bishop withheld his decision
while he waited for the parish to respond favourably. They didn't
correspond with him. It has nothing to do with Christmas. We have been
waiting for their response for some time."

+++

Church at home with the Lord Holy Cross celebrates Christmas in
priest's living room

Ai Lin Choo,
Vancouver Sun

Friday, December 26, 2003

ABBOTSFORD Surrounded by Christmas wrappings, presents and excited
children, about 20 members of Abbotsford's newly terminated Church of
the Holy Cross gathered in their priest's living room for Christmas
service Thursday.

While the gathering was mostly upbeat and included the usual Christmas
songs and nativity stories, the reasons behind the domestic gathering
were still on the minds of many.

"We as a church community will continue as we always have. It's
unfortunate that the diocese has felt the need to close down the
mission," said Dave Chapman, who has been a member of the church since
it opened in 2001.

Thursday was the first time parishioners had met for a service since
hearing that Bishop Michael Ingham had decided to terminate their
mission. The small church has been battling Ingham ever since he
decided to sanction same-sex marriages in the Anglican Diocese of New
Westminster.

Reverend James Wagner said the service renewed his commitment to his
congregation, adding, "we will continue to worship, even though we're
apparently not recognized formally."

The makeshift church looked like any other Christmas-morning household.
Children ran around excitedly displaying and playing with their new
toys. But for the parishioners, the atmosphere reiterated a sense of
loss -- of not feeling like they belong to a larger community.

"We hear a lot about tolerance and diversity and that diverse views
should be respected. It seems to me a strange way to resolve conflict,"
said Chapman.

He said he has been feeling frustrated and disappointed since hearing
that the church has been cut off from the New Westminster diocese. He
finds it ironic that a church is closing down a mission when, in his
view, churches are supposed to be about opening new missions.

"There's just something strangely ironic and surreal about all this."

And although the mission church is only three years old, member Rachel
Weiland said she is very hurt by the closure.

"We follow the minority these days and we stick to the word of God and
the diocese doesn't, so they just cut us off," she said.

While the New Westminster diocese does not place an obligation on
priests to perform same-sex marriages, Wagner says the issue is only
part of the fight with the diocese. Members of the mission church say
they differ from their diocese in their belief that gays and lesbians
can be cured of their sexual orientation.

Wagner says the controversy is now being looked at by a task force at
the Canadian House of Bishops for dissenting parishes and hopes the
decision to terminate the church will be overturned. Beyond that, he
says, he has no plans for what he will do next. "I haven't thought that
far yet."

Because the New Westminster diocese withdrew funding to the church in
October, Wagner doubts the congregation will be able to continue to
meet in the location where it has been holding services lately -- a
seniors' room at the Matsqui Recreational Centre.

But Jeremy Smyth, who described the mood Thursday as quiet and
reflective, said that doesn't mean it lacked joy. "In a strange way, I
am joyful because as a Christian I find it's a joy to be persecuted for
Jesus' sake -- especially at Christmas time when we're caught up in the
stress and activities of preparing for it," he said.

END

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