Skip to comments.[Canada] Nanaimo pastor dismissed
Posted on 08/19/2004 10:40:11 AM PDT by ahadams2
Nanaimo pastor dismissed
Anglican rector Tom Semper was asked to resign after a petition on same-sex unions went to the bishop
The struggle in the Anglican Church about blessing same-sex couples recently focused on Nanaimos St. James Anglican Church, and its conservative rector, Tom Semper. On June 9, 2004, following the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, the local diocese under its new Bishop, Jim Cowan, asked Semper for his resignation, and Semper submitted it. He is now no longer licensed to practice as a parish priest and no longer a member of the Anglican Church of Canada. The majority of his congregation has left as well.
Sunday Magazine interviewed Semper to establish the events that led to the breach, and then explored the basic differences between the orthodox and the liberal wings of the Anglicans that caused it. He also presents here a peek at the future.
In the summer of 2003 Bishop Michael Ingham of the New Westminster diocese (that is, B.C.s lower mainland) gave his consent to a church ceremony blessing a homosexual couple in his diocese. "At that point", Semper says, "conservative members of our congregation began to leave. They didnt join other Anglican congregations. A young family, who had left the United Church over the same issue and joined us instead, decided to leave since the same thing was now happening in the Anglican Church. Six church members, all old-timers, curtailed their giving. To stimulate discussion and clarify our congregational position I gave a series of three Sunday morning meditations on the subject. Immediately after Jim Cowans installation as Bishop, I explained these developments to him, but received no reply.
"A month before the General Synod of May 28 - June 4 2004, where the blessing of same-sex couples was on the agenda, four leaders of St. James and myself drafted a petition, to serve as a basis for discussion at a special Vestry meeting following General Synod, and to be submitted to the Bishop if the blessing of same-sex relationships was continued to be allowed in the Anglican Church of Canada. The petition announced the parishs need for a bishop who could declare and defend their traditional convictions, asked for continuing use of the church facilities but otherwise for autonomy from the Diocese and the Anglican Church of Canada. This draft was sent by a member of the congregation to the Bishops office.
"Though it was only a draft, and intended to let the Bishop know what was happening, I was accused of having broken my vows to the Bishop and of being schismatic, and was asked to submit my resignation.
"Though I thought the call for my resignation unjustified, and though I had a number of recourses through the ecclesiastical and civil courts to fight my dismissal, I had decided long beforehand that if things got to this point, I would not pursue the legal process, nor would I get involved in civil or ecclesiastical lawsuits concerning the use of the physical facilities of the parish. However, here was a congregation that was predominantly conservative and wishing to continue its worship in the same facility under a new arrangement, but the Diocese would not even contemplate making that possible. In civil law, in the case of a divorce, the courts will divide the physical assets fairly, but we did not receive any grace.
"The congregation of St. James responded quickly and provided me with a severance package, something unexpected and which they were not obliged to do. People, both liberal and conservative, in the congregation were very upset, if not with what happened, then with the way it happened. As a result about thirty people have left the church, with twenty to twenty-five remaining. Those who left are in the process of forming a new congregation, and I, too, would like to provide a place where conservative Anglicans can go."
The nature of the conflict
Sunday: Explain how it is possible that the Anglican Church of Canada would permit one of its bishops to sanction a practice that is consistently condemned by scripture, and has traditionally been condemned by all orthodox branches of the Church, including the Anglican?
Semper: Power to set process and public policy rests with the individual Bishop and Diocese. Bishop Ingham was not transgressing canon law by moving to bless same-sex unions. The question is, what discipline can be brought to bear for the sake of unity within the national and international church? The Canadian House of Bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury have only advisory powers. Doctrine and discipline are determined at the General Synod, which consists of clergy and laity. When it passed the motion "affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed same-sex unions," nine orthodox bishops (out of a total of approximately thirty) stated This Synod has erred. These are strong words, but they will remain only words until they and other conservatives put a price tag on their convictions. To affirm the integrity and sanctity of same-gender relationships is to publicly misrepresent the character of God and the gospel of grace. I cannot be part of that.
Sunday: And where does the authority of Scripture come in?
Semper: The Anglican church has always taught that we need go no further than the Bible. Scripture is enough, it is sufficient to find God and wholeness through Christ. The voices of reason, experience and tradition are given place, but they are secondary to the voice of scripture. Scripture has always been given the first and last word. That is the position the liberals have dropped. Before the General Synod, in the knowledge that the same-sex issue would come up, a motion was put before our local Diocesan Synod to affirm the primacy of Scripture, but it did not pass.
Sunday: Some people say that not long ago the issues of ordination of women and of divorced people threatened to divide the Church, but it didnt. Why should the issue of blessing gay marriage do so now?
Semper: Both the Old and New Testaments give examples of women in primary leadership roles. Concerning the question of divorce, the weight of scripture considers not the errors of the past but the present conviction of what is right, and the honest desire to do it. Where past error is acknowledged there is present grace to go on with God. But this is very different from saying that sexual intimacy between people of the same gender is not wrong and indeed may, for some, be Gods will. I think most fair-minded people will see that distinction.
Semper continues: The liberals suggest that the one unpardonable sin is to break fellowship. But when I read my Bible, Paul, Peter and John, and James and Jude all say that there may come a time that you have to say You are not even welcome in my house.There is that tension in the Bible between being welcoming on the one hand and "holy" on the other. The liberal approach says You can mess with scripture, but you dont mess with the structure of the church or break away from it.
Sunday: So the liberals dont want to break fellowship. What do they mean by Christian fellowship?
Semper (after a thoughtful silence): I really dont know. A while ago I saw a man gardening in his front yard. I like gardening myself and one glance told me this guy was a gardener. I stopped and we started talking. Right away we understood each other, we understood clearly the words the other used. We had fellowship in gardening. After that I went to a meeting of clergy and for the next four hours we tried to understand what we meant by fellowship in Christ. We couldnt do it. It was more like the time when I saw flowers in a garden across the street. I went to look and saw they were plastic. The first appearance suggested the owner was a gardener, but what he did had nothing in common with my understanding of gardening.
Semper continues: So when the orthodox Anglicans separate from the liberals, it just gives structural expression to the inward reality that there no longer is spiritual fellowship between the two. What the Anglican Church of Canada accepts as fellowship has become nothing more than phonics: we stand and say the same words, the same Creed; the sounds are the same, but they lack a shared meaning. I hear someone say Jesus but listening further I discover he and I are talking about two different persons. Thats the problem and its a big one. The Anglican Church of Canada has raised ambiguity to an art form. Fortunately, it is not that way for the vast majority of Anglicans the world over."
Sunday: What does the future for you and the people who left St. James look like?
Semper: Probably we will organize into a congregation that can provide a place for conservative Anglicans to go.
Sunday: Are you planning to link up with other conservative Anglican groupings in Canada?
Semper: Yes. There are other conservative Anglicans and clergy on Vancouver Island, and on the national level there is an organization called Anglican Essentials which has become the voice of conservative Anglicans. There also exists an organization called The Anglican Communion in Canada" which consists of conservative clergy and congregations who have already left the Anglican Church of Canada but have stayed connected with the world-wide Anglican communion through a group of conservative Bishops in Africa and Asia. Our group in Nanaimo is looking at the possibility of coming under the umbrella of the Anglican Communion in Canada.
Sunday: So this would still be an Anglican church?
Semper: Absolutely, but structurally and financially independent from the Anglican Church of Canada. The statement affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed same-sex unions, and also the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. is something the wide majority of Anglicans around the world cannot accept, and they will not be associated with. It is just a question of how this reality is formalized.
Sunday: Any concluding remarks?
Semper: My desire is to look forward, not back. I do care for the people who have left and for those who would leave if there were an orthodox alternative. I would like to be part of providing that alternative.
Two men, two different approaches
On the one hand Tom Semper, Rector of St.James Anglican Church of Nanaimo, on the other hand Jim Cowan, Anglican Bishop over Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands two clerics belonging to the same church, yet very much at odds. How does one explain it?
A look into the background of both men is revealing.
Semper grew up in the United Church of Canada, but did not come to faith until he was 27, and it was through a Baptist witness. The nature and origin of man and the earth had always intrigued him, so he studied Physical Anthropology (with a minor in Geology) at McGill University, to find the answers. After coming to faith in Christ, he left his printing business and went to Briercrest Bible College, Saskatchewan. Next, he studied Philosophy at a Catholic institution in Ontario and then went on to a Lutheran seminary in Alberta. He proceeded to get an M.Div. from Regent College, Vancouver and rounded out his studies with a year at the Vancouver School of Theology.
Why did Semper settle into the Anglican Church? He says he loved its breadth. It had good roots in the Evangelical gospel and at the same time connections with the Catholic tradition. He always was a peacemaker between the various denominations he had come to appreciate in his spiritual journey, and the Anglican Church seemed like a good platform from which to build bridges. It is ironic that such a bridge builder should now be expelled as a schismatic.
Now look at the background of Cowan. He is an Anglican thoroughbred. He was born into an Anglican home, was a member of the Church Boys League, faithfully attended the Churchs Sunday School and Junior Choir, was confirmed at age 15 and felt called to the Anglican priesthood not long afterward. He never strayed from the Church, served as a parish priest, and then as the previous Bishops right-hand man. When he himself was elected bishop he was asked his opinion on the matter of homosexuals being married by the Church. His answer was "It is not my opinion that is in question it is the opinion of the Church. If that changes, then I have to re-evaluate my stand."
On the one hand we have a convert to Christ who is comfortable with a variety of Christian traditions, as long as they remain faithful to the authority of scripture and the guidance of historic tradition. On the other hand a churchman, to whom the integrity of the structure is paramount. To him, theological convictions and loyalties must be subordinated to the organizational unity of his beloved Church.
apostate Canadian bishop fires faithful Anglican priest ping.
I fear that all of you are in for some ugly days after the Eames Commission reports and the next big meeting of your hiearchs or Anglican Council -- I don't know which comes first. But I am, sadly, very sure that things will get much uglier for orthodox Anglicans in North America. God keep all of you strong in Christ Crucified and Risen.
Oh it's already getting interesting, and is certain to get moreso. In the meantime we'll take all the prayers we can get - thankyou!
[or to put the above in the language of my Pentecostal friends "Amen! Preach it sister! :-) ]