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NEW WESTMINSTER: St. Martin's Parish Action by Bishop Not the Will of the People

ST. MARTIN'S PARISH ACTION BY BISHOP NOT THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE

By David W. Virtue

Patricia Young should know. She has been a traditionalist member of St. Martin's parish in North Vancouver for a number of years and the actions by two members of the vestry installed by revisionist Bishop Michael Ingham to return the parish back to the New Westminster fold, does not sit well with her. In fact she is downright angry.

"It is not the will of the people who worship there," she told Virtuosity at an Anglican Mission conference recently in Destin, Florida, recently. She was once an elected alternate delegate to synod.

"What the bishop is doing to us is not what the majority of St Martin's wants. We do not want to remain under an apostate bishop and we are not in a state of crisis that the bishop alleges. We want to stay in the [ACINW] coalition and we do not want our funds and money being paid to the diocese under his leadership. What is happening is being done against our will and desires."

The Anglican Communion in New Westminster will continue to recognize St. Martin's membership as a full member until its congregation democratically chooses otherwise, Young said in the interview. Two new lay leaders installed by the Diocese of New Westminster announced that St. Martin's was no longer a member of the eleven-church coalition known as the Anglican Communion in New Westminster and wold start repaying its assessments.

But a September 2002 saw 76 percent majority of the church seek an alternative bishop to oversee their parish, and by 79 percent to withhold monthly diocesan taxes. "That has not changed."

"The decision to withdraw from the ACiNW and begin repaying assessments was made exclusively by a small handful of leaders installed by the diocese without consulting the congregation. The decision shocked many members of St. Martin's who wish to remain within the coalition but feel they've lost control of their church. Young said the parish had dwindled from its usual 200 on a Sunday to less than 100.

"We have lost half of our active congregation, as a result we have significantly reduced donations to the church coffers." "We once had three wardens and two trustees, now we have two trustees appointed by the bishop. The bishop invoked Canon 15, so he could fire the church committee, trustees and wardens and re-appointed two who are now doing his bidding."

Ingham has only 15 percent of the parish behind him despite his takeover and apparent acquiescence of the church to his will, said Young. "He fired a youth pastor, and made the counters unwelcome. He doesn't mind gutting the church, he has lots of money."

Young said that when Canon 15 was invoked the church needed spiritual guidance. "Ed Hird rector of St. Simon's in North Vancouver and Silas Ng, rector of Emmanuel Church in Vancouver and Barclay Mayo of St. Andrew's, Pender Harbor joined with us."

While acknowledging that she has no status to decide the way forward or whether to fight the battle for the buildings she will not lay down and be walked over. The game is not over. I am leaving this AMIA conference to go back and meet with fellow parishioners to discuss alternatives for our future."

"I want people to know that what Michael Ingham is doing is not what the majority of parishioners at St. Martin's want." She said Ingham will appoint a permanent priest who will please nobody. He will only be happy when St. Martin's pews are empty then it will be a pyrrhic victory. Asked how she thought the parish would react, Young said, "people will be reluctant to leave because they have a long history with the church.

It is particularly hard for older people who go back several generations." "The younger ones will leave if they see the church has been co-opted permanently by Ingham. My own future is uncertain. My husband and I and our two children will weigh our options after we have had a good look at the situation."

Other parishioners have been just as vocal and many expressed their anger at the local SUN newspaper for what saw as a biased newspaper article. The story invited the wrath of several St. Martin's parishioners to come down on the newspaper. "With regard to your article entitled "Dissident Anglican Parish back in fold", I wish to clarify the situation.

Bishop Michael Ingham, through his appointed wardens, is forcing the parish to rejoin the diocese. The last parish vestry meeting clearly instructed the elected trustees and wardens, who have since been dismissed by the Bishop, to continue allegiance with the ACiNW.

The Bishop will not hold another vestry meeting because he knows that a clear majority of parishioners would vote against him. He must be held accountable for his actions, said Florence Wilton, a parishioner at St. Martin's . "As a member of St. Martins for the past 25 years, none of Bishop Ingham's appointed wardens speak for my wife and I or the majority of members of St. Martin's. Bishop Ingham has disobeyed the House of Bishops, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and breached the obligations he swore to when Consecrated - specifically, to be an instrument of unity in the church, and uphold the teachings of the church.

He answers to no one. He has portrayed the "dissenting" parishioners of St. Martins as homophobic and divisive rebels, even though we are in keeping with what Anglicans believe around the world," said Gordon & Erica Barrett also of St. Martin's.

"I am rarely moved to write letters to the editor, but I find that I simply must protest Douglas Todd's article today. Regardless of what the Diocese of New Westminster may be claiming, the majority of parishioners at St. Martin's have NOT agreed to the things which the bishop's warden may be suggesting. They have not been allowed to express any opinion in a democratic fashion since the bishop took over, so how these claims can be made as though they were the will of the parish defies any definition of "truth".

It is quite clear, if the facts are investigated, that a handful of diocesan appointees are making unilateral decisions on behalf of the diocese, and claiming that these are the decisions of the parish. The diocese may make whatever claims it wishes, using whomever may be willing to be used as their spokespersons, but that does not establish those claims as true.

"In fact, the leaders chosen by the legitimate vote of the parishioners have been systematically removed and replaced since the diocesan takeover. Every person in any position of leadership or authority (right down to the Sunday school teachers) who do not agree with the bishop or the diocese have been removed or barred from exercising ministry in the parish.

The parish has not been consulted regarding their wishes, nor have they been afforded any opportunity to make decisions about the future of the parish. "It is difficult to imagine how this could be construed as a "way forward".

When the expressed wishes of the people are being ignored, when their right to be consulted about the future of their own parish is being denied, and when they are being dictated to by unelected leaders appointed to do the will of the diocese it is difficult to imagine how any sort of "wonderful sense of community" can possibly be built, exploded Linda Seale, Chairperson of the ACiNW media committee.

Gerry and Linda Taunton, two parishioners said, "for Douglas Todd to say that the 'lay leadership' of St. Martins has decided to return to the fold by restoring relations with the Diocese of New Westminster is to imply that Lindsay Buchanan (cited in the article) and the other wardens appointed by Bishop Michael Ingham somehow have the moral and legal authority to make such a decision.

However, these wardens do not enjoy the support of the majority of parishioners of St. Martins. If they think they do, they should call a vestry meeting to see if they can persuade others to their point of view. Fat chance."

"On Sept 7, the Bishop FIRED the entire elected Church Committee, as well as the Newsletter Editors, Roster of Collection Counters, Telephone Coordinator & even the Youth Pastor. He then imposed a form of MARTIAL LAW." "How could these actions help St. Martin's? On Sept. 28, an ALL Parishioners Vestry meeting was held. Trustees were confirmed, Wardens, Treasurer and a full slate of committee members democratically elected, but are ignored."

"The bishop Michael Ingham has repeatedly stated in public meetings that if parishioners cannot abide by his actions they are welcome to leave, go and worship elsewhere. But it is our parish. The diocese did not build St. Martin's. The diocese has never contributed to St. Martin's. The properties were paid for and are registered in the name of the parish corporation. The parish voluntarily joined the diocese and the parish voted to reject Michael Ingham."

The macro issue is the revisionist movement in the Canadian Anglican church and the moving away from traditional beliefs and worship. A sub-issue is blessing same-sex unions. The immediate issue at St. Martin's is the abuse of power by a renegade bishop.

The bishop has disregarded requests by the highest church authorities asking for a truce and agreed to a truce in exchange for an alternative bishop removing his services and support from dissident parishes in the diocese. St. Martin's is an example of the tyranny of the bishop in the diocese and it is the pain, stress, time, energy and money being bled from St. Martin's parishioners that prevents other parishes in the diocese from speaking out and rejecting this abomination of due process and pastoral care.

The parishioners of St. Martin's would like very much for the bishop to remove his presence from St. Martin's so the parish can get on with it's mission and worship as part of the worldwide Anglican communion. The parish is part of that communion. The bishop is not, said Ron Barrett of St. Martin's.

All of this is merely the execution of a strategy to force the conservative/orthodox parishioners out of the parish by creating an atmosphere that does not recognize them as parishioners or honour their deeply held beliefs.

While those parishioners are willing to wait for the House of Bishops to complete their deliberations to find a solution to the impasse in this Diocese, Bishop Ingham apparently is not, said Ron & Carolyn Edwards. In September 2003, New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham fired the parish's elected leaders, installing his own appointees and changing the locks on the church doors.

Parish leaders appointed by the bishop have since fired the youth pastor and scuttled the parish's official newsletter and Website run by volunteer editors who were supportive of the parish's decision to seek an alternative bishop. A group of parishioners representing over half the congregation have also been refused use of their own church for a worship service on Monday nights.

The crackdown has had a significant cost. In 2001, St. Martin's drew an average of 200 worshippers on a weekly basis. But a recent Sunday morning service drew fewer than 70 to hear Bishop Ingham speak.

Bishop Ingham has taken a hard line with churches that have held to their request for alternative leadership. One week before Christmas he terminated Holy Cross, Abbotsford for seeking alternative episcopal oversight.

END

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