New Westminster dissidents take case behind closed doors

August 28, 2002

The normally public dealings of a group of Anglicans opposed to same-sex blessings in the Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of New Westminster have moved behind closed doors on the say-so of a Texas priest.

From August 30 through September 3, the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACinNW), a coalition of eight parishes and 12 clergy who walked out of a June diocesan synod after hearing that same-sex blessings could go ahead in the diocese, will hold consultations with sympathetic foreign primates and bishops, but the meetings will be private.

Organizers say the only part of the gathering open to the press will be a September 1 celebration at a nearby Baptist church. They predict that more than 1,000 people, not only members of their coalition, will attend.

The Rev. Ed Hird, a spokesperson for the coalition, said in an interview that if it were up to him, the entire gathering would be open. Indeed, Hird's coalition has made public much of its correspondence with primates and bishops of the Anglican Communion, even before the diocesan synod.

It was not the coalition that which declared the consultations closed, but the Rev. Bill Atwood, a Texas priest and head of a conservative international mission organization called Ekklesia, whose membership is largely made up of conservative primates, archbishops and bishops. Atwood, who is serving as a booking agent of sorts for the primates, wrote in an e-mail, 'The archbishops have not made a final decision about whether or not to have any press briefing, but I would be surprised if they do. The archbishops I know do not like to comment to the press about ongoing conversations.'

Atwood, Hird, and the diocese all refused to name those who have confirmed that they will attend the gathering, but a Sunday bulletin insert for ACinNW parishes identified them as Archbishop Bernard Malango of the Province of Central Africa; Archbishop Yong Ping Chung of the Province of South East Asia; Bishop Peter Njenga, representing Archbishop David Gitari of Kenya; and Bishop Andrew Fairfield from North Dakota.

New Westminster bishop Michael Ingham is in Brazil and has not said if he will meet with the primates, who have requested a meeting. Anglican protocol dictates that bishops and primates do not enter each other's dioceses without an invitation or permission from the local bishop. That did not happen in this case.