Essays Ancient and Modern
Excerpt: Chapter Eight
REFLECTIONS ON DUNCAN & McCULLAGH
Although initially it was not intentional, I am rather pleased to have placed this paper as the last one in the series. My reaction to reading the original essay again has had an odd double affect upon me. First, of making me laugh quite heartily at certain incidents and secondly, causing me to shed a few tears as there is so much material that evokes each of those responses as memories of the years of my ministry and people flash by. First of all, I should note that I believe I chose this particular subject from a list of church history topics principally because I was destined to go to work in the Diocese of Caledonia after ordination where these two missionaries had broken new ground in the middle of the nineteenth century.
In order to be a candidate for Holy Orders one had, in those days, to be sponsored by a bishop who, after the fulfilment of the scholastic preparation, would ordain and place him in a living or curacy in his diocese. I had met Bishop Eric Munn on several occasions and was deeply impressed with his holiness, pastoral manner, and sense of humour. He had been, in his younger days, a curate at St. James’ in Vancouver and lived, as I always fantasized, in the same suite of rooms that I would one day occupy.
To be honest, there was actually another secondary and rather more mundane reason why I approached Bishop Munn for sponsorship. I discovered that there was a modest financial benefit with regard to college expenses for candidates who were destined to work in missionary dioceses. It was simply part and parcel of the life of a student who, without assistance from elsewhere, welcomed the meagre funds that waiting on tables, shelving books in the library stacks and working in northern mines and fisheries in the summer months supplied.
At the time I wrote this paper for the history component, I had not the vaguest idea that in the future I would come to have so many personal links with the early missionaries and history of the Anglican Church on the British Columbia coast.
These two gentlemen, William Duncan and James McCullagh, worked in relatively close proximity to each other, Duncan being sent first to Fort Simpson and then later serving at Metlakatla. McCullagh was involved at Aiyansh on the Naas River with the Nisga'a People. I believe they had occasion to meet from time to time to discuss their respective missions as they were both sent out under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society. In spite of that, however, they were in fact very different in temperament and in their respective approaches to involvement with Aboriginal People. Many of these nuances escaped me at the time of the writing of the college essay, but time and the experience of working with Aboriginal people on the BC coast have opened to me numerous insights.
Incidentally before I proceed any further I should note that the spelling of Aboriginal names tends to vary from time to time, I think because it makes the names more authentically native and possibly to de-Anglicize them. This practice is even more complex in the far north of Canada where places such as Baker Lake and Frobisher Bay are now called Qamani’tuaq and Iqaluit. This reminds me that since the time when I was a schoolboy using the typical 1940s atlas as a guide, I now find the world has a very different look as dozens of countries have either changed their names or have split into even more countries.
With respect to Aboriginal names, it does make it more difficult to deal with on occasion because sometimes there are orthographic symbols employed, which give them the appearance of being decidedly foreign. Undoubtedly, these changes have been made to represent more accurately sounds that are not found in English.
Duncan and McCullagh differed considerably in their basic world-views with regard to Christian belief and the ethos of the faith. Duncan seemed to relish his position of control in Metlakatla, the village he virtually created. He regimented everything to the tiniest detail and ultimately held dominion over all of it. I find it amusing that even though he believed in an essentially low church, perhaps even Calvinistic view of Christianity, he enjoyed being called Father in spite of the fact that he was not even in Holy Orders. In any case the title Father at that time would have been considered extremely Popish, and as history reveals, Duncan was quite definitely anti-clerical.
The Church Missionary Society had always been an evangelical arm of the Church. Within the limits of Anglican evangelicalism the Society strove to provide ordained clergy for their appropriate function wherever they might be and therefore they followed that principle with respect to the demanding work in the Pacific Northwest. The Rev. William Ridley was eventually chosen by CMS in England and consecrated to go to British Columbia to offer episcopal ministry to the missions on the Coast.
Duncan did not like that idea at all as it would ultimately undermine his position and control. It seems obvious that Duncan had problems with authority and quite possibly he also had personal needs that could not tolerate competition in his little kingdom. In today's parlance I think he would probably be considered a 'control freak'. His mission, it seems, was to create a Utopia, an idea that had also been attempted in any number of places down through history.
Contrasting with Duncan’s approach to ministering to the residents of the Coast—a people who had lived there for aeons—was the work of James McCullagh. He embraced quite a different methodology. Instead of trying to make little Englishmen of those amongst whom he lived and worked, he acknowledged their culture and language and was able to be amongst them as one who appreciated the harsh realities of life in the wilds of British Columbia. He made valiant attempts at assimilating with them and learning their language. I cannot really add anything significant to the old essay’s account of McCullagh’s history and work, except to say that I found it refreshing to read historical accounts of his work on the Naas River and to see how succeeding generations of European immigrants endeavoured to rewrite history with regard to the Church’s and Government’s involvement and intentions for the well-being of Aboriginal People.
Incidentally, another of the CMS priests who worked at certain times together with McCullagh was the Rev. Alfred J. Hall who eventually became identified with work at Alert Bay with the Namgis People where he founded and built Christ Church, a sawmill, a school, a salmon saltery, learned the Kwak'wala language and produced the first intricately detailed grammar of that language. I was extremely privileged to have followed him, after a long stream of others, as Rector of Christ Church where I spent a number of happy years.
For eight years before that time I had lived and worked with Aboriginal People in Northern (Arctic) Québec at Schefferville and Village de Matimekosh, Côte-Nord, and with the Blackfoot People of the Blood Reserve in South-western Alberta. During the Alberta years I lived at St. Paul’s Residential School on the Reserve and served at first as Chaplain to the School as well as assistant priest at St. Paul’s Church on the Reserve. I eventually became Priest-in-Charge of the Parish and continued to serve as Chaplain at St. Paul’s School.
The Blood Reserve is enormous, being some 50 miles long and about 20 miles wide on the swath of land between the Belly and the St. Mary’s Rivers. The school was at the very southern end of the Reserve and was a residence for students from the isolated far reaches of the Reserve. At the time I was involved it was no longer a school as such, but St. Paul's served as a residential facility from which the students were bussed into Cardston each school day to attend the provincial schools.
At some point during 2008, decades after I had worked at St. Paul’s School, the Canadian Government implemented a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to deal with nagging problems which had gone back many years relating to the Church run government residential schools. The following excerpt is from the Government’s “Truth and Reconciliation” website.
“……as part of the court-approved Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that was negotiated between legal counsel for former students, legal counsel for the churches, the government of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations.
The commission is an official independent body that will provide former students — and anyone who has been affected by the residential school legacy — with an opportunity to share their individual experiences in a safe and culturally appropriate manner. It will be an opportunity for people to tell their stories about a significant part of Canadian history that is still unknown to most Canadians.
The purpose of the commission is not to determine guilt or innocence, but to create a historical account of the residential schools, help people to heal, and encourage reconciliation between aboriginals and non-aboriginal Canadians. The commission will also host events across the country to raise awareness about the residential school system and its impact.”
That will explain far better than I could what the Commission is supposed to be all about. Initially, I thought that it was a very good idea to finally put to rest continual wrangling about the issue of the schools. I assumed, as did most other people with whom I talked, that it would, by its very name, be modelled on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that had taken place in South Africa when Apartheid ended. That seemed to be a very just and honest attempt to deal with problems that had so sadly plagued South Africa. In that instance, people with legitimate claims of injustice were able to meet together with the specific officials who had oppressed them. It was an opportunity for offenders to repent and express their regrets, the arrangement being that those accused would then be exempt from litigation, and for the victims to have a face-to-face opportunity to speak with those who they believed had wronged them and to hear the expected apologies and remorse. There was relatively little money granted to those who had been offended—in other words, it was most certainly not a buyout!
When the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation issue arose in the news I was glad that we had possibly come to the point when we could move ahead and experience what South Africa had done.
But, how wrong I was. The Government of Canada apparently decided that they would allocate a billion or more dollars to compensate people who claimed abuse, meaning everything from child abuse to having to learn English or having to eat porridge for breakfast and tidy up one’s bed. I remember thinking to myself, My Mother used to make me eat porridge for breakfast too and she also put some strict rules into effect about my language!
I do not recall ever hearing any discussion of this process in Parliament or in the news at any time. It must have simply been a decision made by bureaucrats, and I now understand, from people who are very close to this issue that the money being talked about has already reached almost two billion dollars and the process is far from being over.
It all sounded to me like a rant about government and political speculation, but it hit me very much on a personal level one day last year. The phone rang around lunchtime one day and I was asked by a man if I was the Donald Dodman who had once worked at St. Paul’s Anglican School on the Blood Reserve in Alberta. My first thought was that this must be a long lost acquaintance who was trying to contact me. Rather, it turned out to be a private investigator employed in finding people who had worked in the Residential Schools. He said he knew nothing of the situation but was simply verifying if people were still alive, and if so, where they now lived. He said that I would be hearing from the Department of Indian Affairs. That certainly gave me a rather uncomfortable chill.
As he had correctly predicted, I soon received a letter and documents from the Department of Indian Affairs. They outlined several possibilities about how I could respond to them as they had received an allegation against me from a former student of St. Paul’s School. Included in the package was a photocopy of a hand-written statement from a former student who I well remember. It was appalling, disgusting and a complete fabrication. The young man had been an altar boy at St. Paul’s Church—and was a person who I quite liked and held to be a friend. It very explicitly outlined in some pornographic detail a situation which seemingly involved about five boys and girls at the same time, who were involved with me in some sort of orgiastic scenario—totally ridiculous. One statement in this allegation jumped off the page at me—“there was no penetration”, hardly a phrase that a Blackfoot Indian would use, but my initial thought was, “Well, why not, as none of this is true anyway? Wouldn’t that surely result in greater compensation?” Then I realized that there surely must have been a lawyer supervising the composition of this allegation and undoubtedly well aware that such a situation would necessarily lead to criminal prosecution, which was not really what they wanted to happen since that would move the whole thing into an actual legal criminal court action.
My immediate realization upon receiving this communication from Indian Affairs was that it was without a doubt some kind of kangaroo court. The instructions in the letter were that I would be able to provide a written response to the allegation, but would not be able to have legal counsel accompany me at the hearing although they did offer to pay $2500 for a lawyer to advise me beforehand if I wished it. In addition, I would not be permitted to speak during the hearing except to answer any questions the judge might have. On top of that, there would be no opportunity to meet face to face with the accuser along with the directive that I must immediately destroy the photocopy of the allegation after reading it. I thought to myself, 'This is not the Law of Canada, and I doubt that it is even legal'.
In a subsequent telephone call with the Indian Affairs person stationed in Vancouver, I made mention of the $2500 lawyer’s fee and the man said, “Oh, you don’t need to worry about that, it will be paid for—it’s free.”
I said, “It won't really be free, will it—it will come from the enormous amount of money you’re throwing at these people—in fact, from the same source as your salary.”
“Oh, he responded” in what sounded like a question, “you mean as a taxpayer you would be paying?”
“Of course, every Canadian taxpayer will be paying for this!”
He then very diplomatically explained to me that if I preferred, I would not be required to be present at the hearing if I chose not to—that they would simply process it. Apparently, I could opt out of having anything more to do with the situation no matter how many other allegations might happen to turn up. He gave me the distinct impression that this is exactly what they would prefer I did. I had initially been eager to participate and to defend myself.
The logistics of the hearing sounded decidedly odd to me and therefore I did choose to withdraw and have nothing to do with the process. In my middle 70s I was certainly not going to disrupt my retirement and enter into a charade like this. A good friend who also worked at St. Paul's School received many similar allegations and tried to attend and be involved with the Commission to little avail. My understanding is that many of the Blackfoot People are shocked and horrified at this exercise.
I believe that it is quite inconsistent with Canadian Law not to be able to face an accuser. I have never since heard anything from them. I would naturally be curious to know just how many other allegations might have been made against me, knowing how these things become part of the dynamic and gossip of the reserve community. But, I'm sure I never will know.
I have been in contact with several others who were staff members at St. Paul’s School in those days and they have all received similar allegations, even a Blackfoot Indian who was a dormitory supervisor.
Needless to say, I do not blame the Indian People who are applying for this money, but rather blame the government, which incredulously did not have the foresight to realize what the structure of this process would bring about. Who wouldn’t want to have a try at an award of from $20,000 to $100,000? A friend who listened to my passionate story remarked that she couldn’t imagine any Truth or Reconciliation coming out of this process.
I have contact with people who are involved with the internal operations of the process and I have been informed that there have, as of a year ago, been well over 100,000 applications for money from the Commission and that in the end it will undoubtedly run up into many billions of dollars more. This in itself is ridiculous when one considers that during the120 years that Canada’s Residential School system was in operation somewhere around 125 thousand students ever attended the schools.
As an amusing aside, many years ago when I was in college a fellow resident was Bert McKay, a Nisga'a teacher who was doing postgraduate studies in the Education Department at UBC. Bert, years later, became very much involved with theological education on the UBC campus. Because he had come from an isolated village on the Naas River, his school years were spent at St. Michael’s School in Alert Bay. On one occasion Bert remarked that those twelve years at St. Michael’s had been the happiest years of his life.
Although William Duncan and James McCullagh were grouped together for the purposes of my history essay they were certainly very different aside from the fact that they were both connected to the Church Missionary Society, which had sent them both off to work on the North Coast of British Columbia.
There is a very interesting aspect of the Duncan saga on which I would like now to focus some attention. It always strikes me that it is curiously pathetic how history does repeats itself. Perhaps I should say rather, how human nature tends to duplicate itself.
It is now almost a century and a half after the Metlakatla incident, and an unusually similar situation is in the process of unfolding, this time in the Diocese of New Westminster in the south-western corner of British Columbia. Actually, it is also happening in other parts of North America and on a worldwide scale including in Britain. Fragmentation seems to be rampant everywhere in the church. It would probably be more correct to say churches I suppose, because it is certainly not limited to the Anglican sphere. We frequently make much of the unity that exists in the Body of Christ; that unity which is the hallmark of the Church, and yet the effects of division continue in spite of our best intentions.
In Canada, and in British Columbia specifically, the news media have had a field-day watching how the Christians love one another as they struggle, resorting even to the law courts. Civil litigation seems a rather extreme and decidedly unscriptural approach, especially for bible worshipping purists, in attempts to take buildings and property with them as they depart. Conflicts like this are often focussed on spiritual things but closer analysis suggests that it mostly boils down to questions of sexual morality or simply pure materialism. It would seem that no matter which side of the fence one happens to be on in such actions, it is undoubtedly always lawyers who are the ultimate winners.
Rumblings began to be particularly obvious in June of 2002 when the Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster discussed and debated the question of blessing same-sex unions for the third time and came to a positive vote about it.
The dissenting clergy and their lay delegates were obviously well aware that this would likely happen as someone had arranged to have the news media present so that they could televise the reaction. When the motion was passed and the Bishop had given his assent, one of the dissenting clergy made a statement at a microphone on behalf of the group and then they theatrically walked out of the assembly in protest.
I had taken retirement in 1997 and so was not present, but I saw it on the evening news that day. The result had been expected because synods in the previous two years had narrowly approved of the blessing of same-sex unions. However, the Bishop had withheld his consent because he believed the majority was too narrow even though he himself was in favour of the possibility. At the June 2002 Synod the majority vote was larger and as a result the Bishop give his consent. The result was the protest and the walking out of the dissenting clergy and laity, which represented about eight parishes or missions, most quite small but two of them fairly large. The Diocese at that time consisted of about eighty parishes.
It amazed me completely when I heard about the reaction since the church was simply endeavouring to adjust to the realities of life in this century. These same people had never made any noticeable fuss during the times a few decades ago when the church was changing its approach to remarriage after a divorce, to say nothing of the question of the ordination of women, although at that time a few disaffected groups did depart from the Anglican fold in Canada. Naturally, as seems to be typical in these situations, they claimed that they were not leaving the Anglican Church, but that the Anglican Church was leaving them. After all, in the case of divorce they certainly could have referenced a number of Jesus’ own opinions about it, when he actually never uttered a single recorded word about same-sex issues.
As a member of the Diocesan Matrimonial Commission for years I recall processing dozens of applications regarding remarriage coming from some of those same dissenting clergy who were supporting members of their congregations for remarriage. Indeed, I was also aware that several of those clergy themselves were divorced and remarried.
After that fateful day in 2002 the verbal battles began in earnest. Perhaps I should specify that these were ‘internet battles’ because that is where most of it seemed to take place even considering the fact that the Diocese never did engage in that tawdry exercise. The dissenters were, in my estimation, quite vicious and extremely misleading in their reporting of what was happening. For instance, they continued to say, and still do, that the Bishop decided the issue, never that it was the people/synod making the decision, albeit with the Bishop’s required consent.
Then in 2003 came the episcopal ordination of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, which undoubtedly helped the dissenting Anglicans to believe that they had done the right thing. I think that the events of 2002-3 were probably the best thing that ever happened to those who dissented. Now they must have felt they finally had a genuine and valid reason to protest, while up until then their quibbling was always patently small-minded. Eventually, the group of dissenting clergy resigned from the Anglican Church of Canada and made alliances elsewhere. The story, which I have been following for these long ten years, is indeed a complex one. The worldwide Anglican story appears to be mirroring what has happened here in Vancouver, at least in a number of places, with the possible exception of Africa and the Far East.
All of this probably sounds as though it is fairly recent history having begun on a particular day in the year 2002. But it would not be true to say that, nor would it do justice to the whole complex story. I mentioned in Chapter 2 how I came to take early retirement in 1997, however, let us go back a few years—perhaps twenty or more to the time when I was working in the Diocese of New Westminster and recall how things began to deteriorate.
In order to set this in the correct time frame, I was then working in the Diocese at St. James’ Parish, from June 1987 to June 1997, ten years to the day, which also included nine annual sessions of the Diocesan Synod.
Synods in New Westminster consisted of the gathering of about 350 to 400 people comprised of clergy and elected lay delegates, who would attend to the affairs and directions of the Diocese and to discuss and establish policies. During those meetings I had been clearly aware of the presence of many of those same clergy who walked out of the 2002 Synod. They were basically of the evangelical right wing and who seemed to challenge any Diocesan initiative or programme routinely. They also appeared to me to be emphatically anti-bishop. During the ten year time frame of my involvement, Archbishop Hambidge was Bishop of New Westminster and when he retired Bishop Michael Ingham became the Diocesan Bishop. This anti-episcopal attitude has truly baffled me because now those who dissent and have officially walked away from the Anglican Church of Canada seem to be preoccupied with the purple. Some wags have actually been so cheeky as to suggest that in their new, purified version of Anglicanism they have more bishops per capita than in the Church they left.
I don’t believe that a Synod went by without the largest of the dissenting parishes complaining that they should be allowed to have more synod delegates because of the large number of parishioners they purported to have. The Diocese, as most dioceses do, had very specific guidelines about how many lay members, and hence votes, each parish was entitled to have. As I recall, it was something like:
|Number of Parishioners||Delegates|
|Less Than 100||1 (+ Clergy)|
|100 but fewer than 200||2 (+ Clergy)|
|200 but fewer than 400||3 (+ Clergy)|
|400 but fewer than 600||4 (+ Clergy)|
|600 but fewer than 800||5 (+ Clergy)|
|800 or more||6 (+ Clergy)|
Added to this is the stipulation that a delegate must be a communicant member of at least one year's standing and be at least 15 years old.
It is within the purview of each synod to establish those ratios and I know from experience that it can vary slightly from diocese to diocese. Perhaps the New Westminster numbers have changed a little since the days I was involved, but I can’t imagine that it would now be very much different.
That large parish in question always seemed to be claiming to have many more people than that upper number of 800. There were also endless discussions with this parish as to why they persistently over a number of years withheld large amounts of their assessed apportionment to the Diocese. (Parish apportionment is the calculated amount of support that each parish is assessed for the operation of the Diocese based on their population and resources). They always seemed to be obstructing the work of the church in the Diocese and seemed not to really want to be part of it. To me they were blatantly saying, we don’t really believe in the purposes of this church and we will do our own more authentic thing ourselves.
About half way through my ten years at St. James’ I was appointed Regional Dean of Burrard. This meant that I would have certain duties in the affairs of the Diocese. On one occasion I recall receiving a census of the parishes of the diocese, which dealt with numbers, finances, ethnic groups, activities and so on. I have never been very impressed by this kind of bureaucratic endeavour, however on inspection I found the report to be extremely interesting. It was thorough and was several hundred pages long. Each parish was evaluated, obviously by some professional entity, and as I read I became more and more intrigued. I first looked at the entry for St. James’ to see what they had come up with for us.I was most impressed with the depth of the study. They had our attendance numbers, finances, staff, ethnic spread and every detail down to an amazingly accurate appraisal. I then checked out a few other parishes in Burrard Deanery with which I was familiar and found that they too were accurately detailed. So, then I turned to that large and dissenting parish to see what they were about. Without a doubt they had their financial picture accurately spelled out and their attendance numbers carefully recorded, as is customary practice for all parishes to record week by week. It evaluated properties, buildings, rectories and things all in order. But then I noticed an interesting statistic—something that quite astonished me. Most of the congregation were not Anglican in background but rather were from other denominations and the most striking statistic of all, the parish had about a 300% annual turnover rate. In practical terms that means that the average person stayed with them for about four months. Most other Anglican parishes in the Diocese had turnover numbers, which were in the teens or 20% sector presumably reflecting mobility or perhaps even the life-spans of people. In a flash of insight it dawned on me that this was really one of those mega churches where people shop around looking for God knows what, perhaps the thrill of worshipping with a large crowd, but who are certainly not particularly committed to Anglican attitudes and order. Maybe they simply enjoy worshipping with others of a like minded and overtly evangelical mindset.
That parish claims to be the largest Anglican congregation in Canada, a claim that seems to be appended to every photo or web communication and articulated repeatedly. They obviously need to believe this part of their mythology. They also claim that their history reaches back over 100 years. The parish has without a doubt been there for about 100 years but the fundamentalist sort of church it is now goes back only about 25 or 30 years. Before that time the parish was an average and typical Anglican parish. The present buildings, which are considerable, were actually built in the late 40’s and were initiated by a priest, the Rector at that time, the Rev. Dr. Norman Larmonth who I well remember and who was incidentally a catholic minded Priest who in his retirement years often attended Mass with his wife at St. James'.
The parish was somehow hijacked by a fundamentalist leaning rector who was the last incumbent but one who turned the parish around into the protestant and quite unashamedly Calvinistic congregation that it is now, leaving others who did not share his views, I presume, to simply scatter and move on to other parishes or simply to give up on the church altogether. Incidentally, the Calvinistic tag, which they frequently allude to, is without a doubt the key to the whole dilemma. They are steeped in the notion that God has chosen (fait accompli) those who are puritans in nature and who hold to the truth of the Gospel. It is the ultra-protestant and underlying error of double-predestination which is rejected by Anglican formularies.
Incidentally, while on that particular tack I should emphasize my long held belief that the fundamentalist and puritan position is remarkably akin to the Gnostic notion of a dualistic cosmos where the realms of the Spirit and the natural, material world are at critical odds. Additionally, I believe that the current dilemma in the Church and throughout society as a whole, which so divides us are in reality a battle between the mind-sets of exclusivity and inclusivity. Jesus and the writers of the canonical Gospels clearly make the case for a Loving and All-Inclusive Creator.
The dissident clergy who walked out of Synod had before very long submitted their resignations to the Bishop and the Anglican Church of Canada. The Bishop duly acknowledged and accepted this and announced that he would be appointing clergy in their places, but at the same time he assured the people of those parishes that they were more than welcome to remain and continue worshipping in their parishes. Contrary to the often heard and blogged account of this situation, no one was ever expelled.
Perhaps they eventually panicked about their predicament and that was the point at which they collectively launched a lawsuit against the Diocese in an attempt to take the various properties along with them. The Provincial court awarded the buildings and property to the Diocese on a straightforward legal basis, as they were obviously not willing to get involved in a theological and in-house church wrangle. Then they appealed that judgement and it was also lost. Not leaving well enough alone, they then took it to the Supreme Court of Canada and lost that case as well, the Court awarding the buildings to the rightful and legal owner, the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, along with court costs, as in each of the other attempts.
In the aftermath of that, the congregations concerned all found alternate places in which to worship and conduct their affairs, but the rhetoric about their plight still continues to announce that they did not leave the church but the church left them. This is a common meme in similar situations and has become part and parcel of their mythology. In one message on an internet site they actually referred to their buildings as having been ‘confiscated’. It would seem that their problem is not only with the Diocese but with the legal system as they themselves had initiated the court action.
Besides this, they all seem to have found African or South American bishops with whom to attach themselves or have become aligned with other dissident Anglicans all of whom seem curiously to believe that they are still under the aegis of Canterbury, even though Canterbury does not recognize them nor list them amongst the various churches of the Communion. Attempts have been made by individuals at Synods in England to have them recognized as part of the Communion, but each time their motions have been amended, reducing them to rather polite but meaningless expressions of good wishes on their endeavours.
Recently I was curious about the present day situation of William Duncan’s community at New Metlakatla on Annette Island in Alaska and Googled the appropriate names. Amongst other things it brought up someone’s personal web-site which included a description of their recent sailboat voyage to that part of the world. They visited New Metlakatla apparently and remarked about having seen the “William Duncan Memorial Church”. They must have come across a brochure there about the history of the church, and I quote from that web-page blog: “16 miles south you find Metlakatla which was founded by William Duncan, a missionary who had been ejected from Canada”.
I recollect having read the history of some of the people involved in the European Reformation days in the 1530s. Specifically I recall reading correspondence between Erasmus and Martin Luther. How history does repeat itself!
Erasmus was a Dutch priest who, although he was very progressive in his thinking and even critical of many aspects of the Catholic Church, never dreamed of leaving it. He was a noted Renaissance scholar and Luther apparently fancied that Erasmus might join forces with him in his rebellion against the Church.
Erasmus had studied the classics, Greek, Latin and Hebrew and was grounded in rationalism. Examining the Roman Catholic Church, he was disappointed primarily with abuses in the Church, especially those of the clergy. These abuses are vividly and satirically described in his book, The Praise of Folly. He called for reform in the Roman Catholic Church and probably would have been a great asset to the Reformation, but a huge chasm separated these two men. Luther was convinced of the truth of God's word as it was revealed to him, in spite of the fact that he rejected bits of it and even had the effrontery to add things to it when he chose. He wanted true reformation in the church, which would be both in doctrine and practice. Erasmus simply wanted to promote moral reform in the Roman Catholic Church. He had no intention of leaving the Church, but remained and was supportive of the Papacy.
Erasmus was an avid correspondent and was constantly in touch with scores of people. In the letters between Luther and Erasmus, he chides and actually chastises Luther about his myopic views of scripture and was put off with Luther’s notion that there was “no pure interpretation of Scripture anywhere but in Wittenberg”. Erasmus touches upon another important point of the controversy in another letter to Martin Luther. He remarks, “You stipulate that we should not ask for or accept anything but Holy Scripture, but you do it in such a way as to require that we permit you to be its sole interpreter, renouncing all others. Thus the victory will be yours if we allow you to be not the steward but the lord of Holy Scripture”. [Hyperaspistes, Book I, Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol.76, pp. 204-205.]
It has been both fascinating and frustrating to watch this dissident drama unfold. The process has undoubtedly hi-lighted long festering and unaddressed issues and has done in the process untold damage to the unity of the church. I want to very briefly condense this struggle and touch on a few of the significant events and actions taken.
At various times in the 1970s Lambeth Conferences had dealt with the question of homosexuality, but in a rather perfunctory way. In 1979 the Canadian House of Bishops had ruled that ordained ministers may be homosexual but must abstain from any sexual activity. In 1985 a number of executive committee members and laypersons objected loudly to a controversial Anglican study guide on human sexuality which contained a somewhat sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals. In 1986 the Archbishop of Toronto suspended two lesbian deacons who told their congregation they were “married” and were expecting a child by artificial insemination. (I can't personally understand why they would feel the need to make that declaration).
What follows notes some of the principal moments as the issue was really beginning to heat up. The first time that any of this conflict actually came to my attention was in a news report from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Apparently, a Nigerian bishop in the course of things, accidentally or otherwise, was introduced to the Reverend Richard Kirker who was leader of the British Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. He was in the vicinity of the Lambeth meetings and was distributing information leaflets. The Bishop, upon realizing what had just happened, was possibly horrified that he had actually touched Kirker’s hand. He went into a fit of uncontrollable angst and shrieked in horror as he tried to exorcise demons from Father Kirker. It was during this conference that the world’s Anglican bishops overwhelmingly approved a motion saying that “homosexual practice is contrary to Scripture.”
The principal pivotal events of the next few years may be summarized as follows:
- 2002 - the Diocese of New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, first Canadian diocese to recognize same-sex blessings.
- 2003 - the American Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in the United States, appointed an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire.
- 2004 - an international panel of Anglican theologians calling for a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of gay clergy, asked the Canadian and U.S. churches to apologize for their actions.
- 2005 - the Anglican Primates’ Meeting in Dromantine, Ireland, asked the U.S. and Canada to withdraw members from the Anglican Consultative Council.
- 2007 - a worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops in Tanzania demanded the U.S. Episcopalians ban gay clergy and same-sex unions by Sept. 30, 2007 or face expulsion from the Communion, which they did not do and nothing happened.
- Also in 2007, Delegates at the Canadian Anglican synod in Winnipeg approved a historic motion that said same-sex blessings did not violate the core doctrines of the church.
- 2008 - the GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) convened in Jerusalem and produced a Declaration. It maintained that a “false gospel” (in fact they actually called it a different religion) is taught by the American and Canadian Anglican Churches.
From that point to the present time:
This period—2008 to 2013—is simply so frenetic with Anglican and pseudo-Anglican activity that I am afraid I would simply not be able to do it justice nor do I really comprehend it. It is filled with mergers of separated and competing Anglican-like bodies as well as more divisions and splits—even among splinter groups—and a lot more legal wrangling. It is peppered with many acronyms, some of which are hilarious and rather appropriate. A few of them are GAFCON, which I have already noted, as well as FOCA (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans—surely they could have left out the O for 'of' and been spared the ridicule since it is pronounced by the British like Fokker, as in the aircraft), TAC (Traditional Anglican Communion), and ACNA (Anglican Church in North America).