After almost two years of waiting, six distressed Anglican congregations in the Diocese of New Westminster finally have learned that the Panel of Reference has rejected their appeal for protection under a jurisdiction completely free from their liberal diocesan bishop, Michael Ingham. Instead, the panel has recommended a temporary, arms-length relationship between Ingham and the nearly 3,000 church members.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams appointed the panel in 2005 in response to the concerns expressed by the primates, or church leaders, of the Anglican Communion for adequate protection for parishes that were in “serious theological dispute” with their dioceses. The panel released its report on Oct. 13. It has suggested a visiting bishop, one who would be mutually agreed upon by both Ingham and the theologically conservative parishes. (A similar arrangement failed in 2004.) The visiting bishop would have only “delegated authority” and would still be under the authority of the diocesan bishop – in this case Ingham.

The applicants had requested a transfer of jurisdiction to either the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) or to the Council of Anglican Provinces of the Americas and the Caribbean (CAPA). The Panel rejected both these requests. Instead, it recommended that the parishes await the outcome of General Synod in June 2007, and its decisions on same-sex blessings. “The most desirable outcome,” said the report, “is for the theological dispute to be resolved and for reconciliation to be effected within the Anglican Church of Canada.”

This ideal outcome may not be very realistic. The panel did not address what to do in the likely event that General Synod approves a local option for blessing same-sex unions that would, for the applicants, be theologically unacceptable.

The panel recommended “an agreed scheme of extended episcopal ministry” similar to the Shared Episcopal Ministry (SEM) that the Canadian House of Bishops proposed in 2004 “with some additional safeguards … given the protracted and deep divisions which exist.” However, none of the applicants found this arrangement satisfactory in 2004 and matters have only gotten worse.

The visiting bishop, whose name would be drawn from either the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia or, failing that, from the national church, would oversee the distressed congregations for an initial but renewable three-year period and conduct visitations and confirmations, as well as ordinations.

Furthermore, the panel recommended that the diocese end “any previous disciplinary action against any clergy concerned” and destroy all records of such discipline.

Of the four parishes who appealed to the panel, three are located in Vancouver: St. John’s, Shaughnessy (Rev. David Short), Church of the Good Shepherd (Rev. Stephen Leung) and St. Matthias & St. Luke (Rev. Simon Chin), while the fourth, St. Matthew (Rev. Trevor Walters), is in Abbotsford

Ingham, who is on sabbatical, was not available for comment. Dean Peter Elliott, who is acting bishop said, “We reaffirm our commitment to unity in diversity. We respect the conscientious convictions of all members of the diocese. We hope for nothing less than that the parishes which now feel separated from the diocese would be willing to resume their full and proper role in diocesan life and Anglican ministry.”

Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone (lower South America), said: “It is unrealistic and most unwise to send biblically committed clergy and congregations back to a synod and bishop who have so tragically abandoned the foundations of the faith. These faithful clergy and people need the jurisdiction of a bishop who is fully committed to biblical faith and Anglican tradition and practice.”

A longer version of this article appeared in the Anglican Planet newspaper.