In a move that surprised even his fellow conservatives, Terry Buckle, bishop of the Yukon, withdrew his oversight of 11 conservative parishes in New Westminster. The churches, known as the Anglican Communion in New Westminster (ACiNW), had sought Buckle’s care after their own bishop, Michael Ingham, agreed to bless gay relationships.

In a letter dated Nov. 7, Buckle wrote to the ACiNW, “After much prayerful thought and reflection, I have reached the conclusion that it is necessary at this point in time for me to withdraw my offer of alternate episcopal oversight to the parishes of the ACiNW.

“I have attempted prayerfully to lead you this far, assisting you to remain in the Anglican Church of Canada, as requested. It is apparent to me that the way ahead, in this regard, is to allow a new process, and to allow this process, it is necessary for me to now withdraw my offer of episcopal oversight to the parishes of the ACiNW.”

Buckle had stood firm for five days during the HOB proceedings, saying he would only withdraw if the House “found a workable solution acceptable to both sides.” In a phone interview, Buckle told The Interim that he met with the ACiNW clergy immediately after the HOB concluded and consulted further with their council. Only then did he take the initiative to withdraw his episcopal oversight. “It was my own decision. It would be an opportunity for the coalition to let the real situation be known to the House of Bishops. Jurisdiction would no longer be the over-riding issue. The focus could now be on their real needs.”

Buckle is hopeful a non-geographic bishop acceptable to the ACiNW will be appointed by the HOB.

The HOB passed a motion requesting: 1) Buckle “refrain from exercising episcopal ministry in the Diocese of New Westminster,” 2) Crawley stay (suspend) disciplinary proceedings against Buckle, 3) Ingham stay charges against seven priests and 4) the House set up a task force to “consult through the primate with the Archbishop of Canterbury” and report to the April 2004 meeting of the House of Bishops.

Earlier in October, David Crawley, metropolitan of British Columbia and the Yukon, had brought charges against Buckle for exercising “episcopal authority” over parishes outside his jurisdiction and after Ingham had expressly prohibited him from such a ministry. Days later, the chancellor of the Diocese of New Westminster charged seven priests with “offences against the lawful authority of the bishop.”

David Short, rector of St. John’s, Shaughnessy; Barclay Mayo of St. Andrew’s, Pender Harbour; Trevor Walters of St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford; Ed Hird of St. Simon’s, North Vancouver; Stephen Leung of Church of the Good Shepherd; Simon Chin of St. Matthias and St. Luke and Silas Ng of the Church of Emmanuel, Richmond were charged. The last three lead Chinese congregations.

During the HOB proceedings, Ingham disparaged the Asian congregations claiming they were “first-generation Canadians who were quite isolated from Canadian society and found the issues of homosexuality and pluralism extremely difficult to understand.”

Due to Buckle’s withdrawal, the charges against both the bishop and the priests have been stayed; that is, suspended or postponed, not dropped. If the charges are re-instated, the priests would be investigated first by a commission of inquiry, which could lead to an ecclesiastical trial. If found guilty, they could lose their priestly licences.

The ACiNW is expected to request that all charges be dropped and that Ingham reinstate James Wagner as priest in charge of the mission church of Holy Cross, Abbotsford, and that he also reinstate the youth pastor, wardens and trustees of St. Martin’s, North Vancouver. Ingham tried to change the church locks in October and has forbidden St. Martin’s from holding evening prayer services in its own sanctuary.