Bishop Michael Ingham of the Anglican Church of Canada's New Westminster diocese has stoked a controversy throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion. On May 28 he announced approval for six Vancouver-area parishes to bless same-sex unions.

A few hours later, one of those parishes, St. Margaret's Cedar Cottage, blessed the union of Michael Kalmuk and Kelly Montfort. The two men have been together for 21 years. The ceremony represents the first time the 700,000-member Canadian church has officially recognized a homosexual union.

News of the ceremony prompted protests from parishes within the diocese and from church leaders worldwide. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who personally approves of same-sex unions, nonetheless chastised the diocese. Williams accused New Westminster of "ignoring the considerable reservations of the church" and going "significantly further than the teaching of the church or pastoral concern can justify."

Fifteen of the church's thirty-eight primates—that is, leaders of national or international church bodies—have signed a letter vowing to "firmly and resolutely address" the situation in New Westminster.

Ingham, "by deliberately and intentionally abandoning the established Anglican consensus, has placed himself and his diocese in an automatic state of impaired communion with the majority within the Anglican Communion," said the primates, most of whom are from Africa and Asia. "Bishop Ingham's action has brought the Anglican Communion to a defining moment in which the clear choice has to be made between remaining a communion or disintegrating into a federation of churches."

Archbishop Yong Ping Chung and three other bishops from South East Asia later declared that they, too, are no longer in communion with Ingham and all those within his diocese who supported his policy.

And within British Columbia itself, Bishop William Anderson of Prince Rupert issued a pastoral letter saying Ingham and the clergy who participated in the same-sex blessing were in a state of impaired communion with the Diocese of Caledonia. The vast majority of Anglican bishops approved a Lambeth Conference resolution in 1998 that said active homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture.

The ceremony took place about a year after the 30,000-member diocese voted in favor of same-sex blessings. Eight parishes walked out of the synod in protest and banded together as the Anglican Communion in New Westminster.

New Westminster's synod met two days after the same-sex blessing, and delegates rejected two efforts to moderate the synod's stance. One motion sought to postpone further blessings until after the Anglican Church of Canada addresses the matter at its General Synod next year. Another motion asked the diocese to endorse churches that minister to people seeking to leave active homosexuality.

The Rev. Dawn MacDonald, an ex-gay priest, sponsored both motions. She told delegates that membership at the parish she leads had decreased by half since last year's synod.

"I think the synod has shown itself to be pro-gay, and there is really no room for anything other than what they want to go ahead with," MacDonald told CT. "I feel the body of Christ has been ripped apart, all because we want to go ahead and make history."

If that were not enough for the Anglican Communion, in June the Diocese of New Hampshire elected an open homosexual, V. Gene Robinson, as bishop. The election will have to be approved by the Episcopal Church's General Convention, which began its meeting after CT's editorial deadline.

Peter T. Chattaway in Vancouver


Related Elsewhere:

Previous Christianity Today articles on the New Westminster debate include:

Why I Walked | Sometimes loving a denomination requires you to fight. (Jan. 3, 2003)
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Mortified in Vancouver | A church's actions can be in conflict with its professed faith only so long before faithful Christians wonder how much hypocrisy they can stand. (July 30, 2002)
Anglican Diocese Endorses Same-Sex Unions | Traditionalists walk out, issue global call for outside intervention. (July 12, 2002)
Vancouver Anglicans Approve Same-Sex Unions | Conservatives walk out after synod vote to bless gay couples. (June 17, 2002)

Other media coverage includes:

In Blessing Gay Unions, Bishop Courts a SchismThe New York Times (July 5, 2003)
Same-sex blessings prompt African to reject B.C. aidThe Vancouver Sun (July 2, 2003)
Open warfare erupts over gay clergy, blessing rites for same-sex couples—Scripps Howard News Service (July 2, 2003)
Same-sex blessings a reality after vote: Members of nine parishes walk out in protest—Anglican Journal (June 16, 2002)
Synod members react to vote result—Anglican Journal (June 15, 2002)
B.C. Anglican diocese approves blessing for same-sex unions—CBC News (June 15, 2002)

The New Westminster Diocese has written a series of questions and answers on the current debate. The Anglican Church of Canada has an archive of reaction statements and an original statement from diocese members who walked.

For more articles on homosexual salvation and same sex unions in addition to continued coverage of Anglican debates, see Christianity Today'sSexuality and Gender archive. This week, homosexual Anglican priest Jeffrey John withdrew his name from the Church of England bishop posting.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.