Rwandan archbishop supports New Westminster dissidents

Dissident Anglican clergy who walked out of their diocesan synod, protesting a vote to allow same-sex blessings, have an offer of “ecclesiastical protection” from a bishop far afield of their Vancouver-area diocese of New Westminster.

The offer — described as “meaningless” by the bishop of New Westminster — comes from Emmanuel M. Kolini, archbishop of Rwanda and bishop of Kigali, and more recently, one of two renegade archbishops who last year consecrated four ‘missionary’ bishops in the Episcopal Church in the United States, purportedly to minister to traditional Episcopalians who objected to women priests and other moves toward a more liberal church.

In his letter, Archbishop Kolini wrote that communion, or the relationship of the diocese of New Westminster with the Anglican church worldwide, “has been jeopardized by the schismatic acts” of the synod. He sympathized with the clergy for the so-called “threats toward you and numerous others concerning your clerical licenses,” and assured them “we will not recognize any such efforts.” The archbishop added that he would be willing to share with others “the possibility of ecclesiastical protection.”

(Archbishop Kolini could not be reached in Rwanda to authenticate the letter, which originally appeared on the Web site of the Prayer Book Society of Canada.)

The bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, last week sent a letter to a dozen clergy who walked out of synod June 15 asking whether they wished to remain licensed in the diocese of New Westminster “under my jurisdiction and authority as your diocesan bishop.” In his letter, Bishop Ingham appealed to the clergy to “stay within the diocesan family and continue to exercise your ministry among us.” The deadline for responding is July 2, 2002.

In an interview, Bishop Ingham denied the letter was a threat, but rather, he said, it was a letter for clarification.

I want to know whether the walkout was a protest or had they resigned,” said the bishop. If the clergy had resigned from the diocese, Bishop Ingham said, he would need to declare vacancies in those parishes affected. Clergy and members of parishes are free to leave the church at any time, he said, but the land and buildings are property of the diocese.

Bishop Ingham, who has only seen a Web site version of Archbishop Kolini’s letter, called the offer of episcopal protection “meaningless” since the archbishop has no jurisdiction in Canada.

“He has never been in contact with me or tried to ascertain the facts of the situation,” said Bishop Ingham. “He is clearly being manipulated by this dissident group which is feeding him partial information.”

Rev. Ed Hird, incumbent of St. Simon’s North Vancouver and a spokesperson for the dissident clergy, said his group had sent a response to Bishop Ingham, who had not yet received it by Thursday afternoon. In an interview, Mr. Hird declined to discuss the particulars of the clergy response but said his group had not left the diocese, but rather, it is the diocese which is acting in isolation of the church worldwide.

“We withdrew from synod because we think synod acted schismatically,” said Mr. Hird. The group, which now calls itself the Anglican Communion in New Westminster, was asking even before the diocesan synod for the appointment of another bishop to minister to them. Such an appointment is called alternative episcopal oversight.

Prior to Archbishop Kolini’s offer, Mr. Hird was confident that a Canadian bishop would step in and offer his oversight. Thirteen Canadian bishops (just under one-third of the country’s bishops) issued a statement two days after the New Westminster synod, decrying its decision. They called on the diocese to withhold implementation of same-sex blessings.
Mr. Hird called the 13 bishops “very supportive” but said it would be difficult for a Canadian bishop to offer episcopal oversight, since, he suggested, the bishop might be disciplined by the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers. Bishops may not exercise jurisdiction outside their dioceses, unless another bishop requests it.

Meanwhile, the dissident clergy continue to explore their options, which could include closer ties with a continuing or parallel church in the United States, said Mr. Hird.

That church, the Anglican Mission in America, is led by the bishops consecrated in June, 2001 in Denver by Archbishop Kolini and Archbishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung of South East Asia.

The AMiA — about 40 congregations which parted with the Episcopal Church in the United States — is considered a splinter group by many in the Anglican Communion. George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called the consecrations of the missionary bishops — who serve within the territorial boundaries of the Episcopal Church — “at best irregular and at worst schismatic.”

AMiA members, however continue to consider themselves part of the Anglican Communion, through their connections with the Anglican provinces of Rwanda and South East Asia.


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