Magazine article Anglican Journal

Lots More to New Westminster Than Debate over Gays

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Lots More to New Westminster Than Debate over Gays

Article excerpt

WITH A high-profile and controversial bishop at the helm and the hot-button issue of what to do about same-sex blessings hanging over it, the Diocese of New Westminster has featured in the press a lot over the last couple of years.

In its diocesan synod vote on same-sex blessings in 1998, members split along the lines of the more traditional, conservative elements of the church, who were horrified at the thought of the church giving its approval to same-sex liaisons, and the more liberal, gay-friendly side which wanted the church to recognize the relationships of committed gays and lesbians.

But Bishop Michael Ingham strenuously objects to New Westminster being held up as the poster child for a split diocese, and is dismayed that a reporter might profile it as such.

"I don't want to focus particularly on the split between conservatives and liberals. I think that's a sideshow. There are many other dioceses in Canada which are far more evenly split between liberal and conservative than we are. We simply happen to have a profile at the moment because we are tackling some of the more difficult questions facing the church in an open and honest manner."

There's much more to New Westminster than the fractious issue of homosexuality, he said. He talked of dealing with a diverse, new racial mix, planting new churches partly with resources given up by the "over-churched" urban areas, trying to find solutions to the entrenched problem of drug addictions and reaching out to Vancouver's large aboriginal population.

"The diocese is growing in its Sunday attendance and growth is being experienced right across the theological spectrum," Bishop Ingham said. "We have growing conservative parishes, growing liberal parishes, parishes which are reaching out to women in feminist spirituality.

"We also have a number of parishes which are declining because their neighbourhoods are changing. There's a major demographic shift going on here on the west coast. It's a place to which people come from other parts of Canada and they often uproot themselves from their own church traditions and come here and don't reconnect. So there's a large number of lapsed church members and quite a lot of our parishes are doing a lot to reach out to them. Neighbourhood programs, invitations to attend worship or outreach programs, community meals, Alpha programs; there's a great range of evangelistic efforts going on right across the board and they're being quite successful."

It's not an easy diocese to evangelize, however. "All the Statistics Canada research about religious observance shows that it is the lowest in the country here in British Columbia, among all religions. So in many ways, this is one of the toughest places in Canada to be the church."

The diocese initiated a major commission four years ago to research all the churches in the diocese. They concluded that 25 per cent of churches are actively growing in membership, 35 per cent are stable or growing and 40 per cent are declining.

"We find the declining areas are almost all in the urban centres where we are over-churched for the population," Bishop Ingham said. One of the major tasks that we have in the diocese is the reallocation of physical resources to the growing suburbs and rural areas . …

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