Now is the time to say goodbye

Michael Bird’s exit from the Diocese of Niagara has generated enough interest to be noted in the secular press. Or perhaps it was a slow news day in Guelph.

As you can see, other than the bodies under the parking lot, the Diocese of Niagara is a veritable avian utopia:

As the eleventh Bishop of Niagara, Bishop Bird has borne witness to God’s transformational and inclusive love. He led the diocese to create a new vision for its ministry that includes a focus on prophetic social justice-making, life-changing worship, and leadership development. Bishop Bird is a strong and progressive voice within the Anglican Church of Canada on issues related to the inclusion of members of the LGBTQ2 community, the alleviation and eradication of poverty, the truth and reconciliation process with Indigenous peoples, and the global refugee crisis.

At its next meeting in October, the governing body of the diocese will begin the electoral planning process by selecting a seven-person oversight committee known as the Electoral Synod Nominations and Planning Committee. It is expected that an electoral synod will happen in the first quarter of 2018.

Bishop Michael Bird resigns

As Bird himself notes, “There is so much more to say”, but I will have to confine myself to: I’m devastated.

From here:

Dear friends in Christ:

This evening I have informed the members of Synod Council that, after many months of prayerful discernment, I will step down from my work as the Bishop of Niagara on June 1, 2018. At that time, I will take up a new ministry in the Diocese of Ottawa. Archbishop Colin Johnson, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, is now in receipt of my letter of resignation.

The decision to end my episcopal ministry here in Niagara was a very difficult one and serving as your bishop has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. Together, we have embraced so many exciting opportunities, we have faced and met a number of daunting challenges, and above all we have remained steadfast in our calling as God’s people. This time has been marked by a decade full of faith and vision, courage and hope, change and innovation. We have never shied away from allowing our prophetic voice to be heard both within the Church and beyond, and we have passionately advocated for those who are marginalized and with those whose voices have gone unheard.

There is so much more to say and I have so many people to thank for the love and support that I have received during these past ten years. There are, however, many months ahead to celebrate and give thanks to God for all that has transpired. For now, let me simply and sincerely ask for your prayers for our diocese, and for Susan and me personally, as we all prepare for this time of transition that will unfold in the days and months ahead.

With profound gratitude, I remain yours faithfully in Christ,

Bishop of Niagara

Bishop Michael Bird to proceed with same-sex marriage

The voting on the marriage canon change is only just over and the Diocese of Niagara bishop, Michael Bird, has already declared that he intends to ignore the vote and go ahead anyway. He claims that “several other bishops” will do likewise, confirming the prediction by Fred Hiltz that, if the motion fails, there will be “civil disobedience”.

Somehow Bird has managed to squeeze from the absence of any motion or canon explicitly forbidding same-sex marriage, the idea that he has tacit authority to proceed. In other words, anything not expressly forbidden by the canons is permitted. As Ivan Karamazov almost said: “If the Canon does not exist, everything is permitted.”

Why did they bother with a vote in the first place? Why even have a synod?

The rule of chaos begins in the Anglican Church of Canada; perhaps I should say “continues”.

From here (my emphasis):

STATEMENT BY THE BISHOP OF NIAGARA

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has narrowly voted against a change in the marriage canon that would have enshrined equal marriage within our national canons. This decision is deeply regrettable and inconsistent with the ever more inclusive witness of our Church that has inspired this synod’s theme: “You are my witnesses” (Isaiah 43).

The Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, ‘This Holy Estate, provides a sound and compelling mandate to move forward with an understanding of the sacrament of marriage that is inclusive for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Over the past few months I have heard from an unprecedented number of faithful people from across the Anglican Church of Canada expressing support for this vision which upholds the dignity of every human being. I am also mindful that it has been over a decade, in 2004, that our Church affirmed the “integrity and sanctity of committed adult same-sex relationships.”

In the words of David Jones, the chancellor of General Synod, our current marriage canon “does not contain either a definition of marriage or a specific prohibition against solemnizing same-sex marriage.” At the same time, it is clear that our Anglican conventions permit a diocesan bishop to exercise episcopal authority by authorizing liturgies to respond to pastoral needs within their dioceses, in the absence of any actions by this General Synod to address these realities.

Accordingly, and in concert with several other bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is my intention to immediately exercise this authority to respond to the sacramental needs of the LGBTQ2 community in the Diocese of Niagara. In the absence of any nationally approved liturgy, I am authorizing The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage and The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2 for use in our diocese. These newly created rites of The Episcopal Church in the United States of America may be used for the marriage of any duly qualified couples. Clergy intending to use these rites will, for the time being, be required to notify the Bishop’s Office in advance.

I offer this witness to the transformational power of God’s inclusive love while acknowledging the considerable differences that exist within our beloved Church. My sincere hope is that God’s grace will inspire all Canadian Anglicans to continue to break bread together in the days ahead. I want to say, as a bishop charged with guarding the faith, unity and discipline of the Church, that I solemnly pledge to do my part to ensure that this is indeed the case.

Please join me in praying for God’s constant presence, guidance, and comfort as we move forward.  Pray for our Church: local, national and universal; as its discernment continues on this matter. And my dear friends pray especially for the global LGBTQ2 community that continues to face unjust and often horrific discrimination, oppression and violence for openly being the people God created them to be.

Canadian bishops all get a copy of Michael Coren’s new book

Coren’s book about how he came to support same-sex marriage has been distributed to all Canadian bishops – as if they needed any encouragement in that direction. Here is Michael Bird’s response:

book

Coren hopes it will do “some good”, as if such a thing were likely to result from a rather disgusting betrayal of his former principles:

Capture

An open letter to Bishop Michael Bird

A resident of Guelph appeals once more to the bishop of Niagara not to sell St. Matthias to property developers.

In spite of claiming to make justice one of the centrepieces of its ministry, the diocese doesn’t seem to have convinced those who live in Guelph: it would appear that “the word on the streets of Guelph is ‘greed’”.

From here:

This column is presented as an open letter to Michael Bird, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara.

On behalf of the Citizens for Community and all the residents of Guelph, I would appeal to you not to renew the Anglican Church’s conditional purchase agreement with HIP Developments for 171 Kortright Rd. W. Yes, you have the legal right to sell the St. Matthias church property – and to the highest bidder. That’s all you have though. You don’t have the moral right. The land is community space – for the people of Guelph.

You represent the Anglican Church. People expect higher moral standards of churches, not lower. If you sell the property, zoned “institutional” for a much higher “residential” or “high density residential” amount, in the middle of a single home family neighbourhood, the Anglican Church will be held responsible. You will have failed morally.

You can do better. The Anglican Diocese bought the land in 1981 for $110,000. It was zoned “institutional” and for a reason. Communities need lands zoned “institutional” for different faiths, hospices, nursery schools, service clubs, seniors’ centres, not-for-profit housing, and a host of other organizations. To buy land zoned for “institutional,” and then turn around and sell it for “residential” or “high density residential,” at a much higher profit, and to not accept fair market offers from other churches, is immoral. The word on the streets of Guelph is greed. People also aren’t interested in money reinvested in Guelph that is more than the value of the property as “institutional.” That would be tainted money. It would be totally unjust for Anglican ministries to be financed at the expense of the McElderry neighbourhood and their families.

In the future, other organizations will need community space. People need a place to meet and to be community. The church stands for community. Other churches offered fair market value for the St. Matthias property. Why did you not accept their offers or negotiate with them? Why not now accept new offers from the same churches or other community organizations? The Anglican Church benefited from this land zoned “institutional” for over thirty years! Why would you not give another church or community organization the same opportunity? The United and Presbyterian churches both sold their churches to other churches or institutions.

I would encourage you to come from Hamilton to Guelph and to listen to the people. I assure you the majority would respond: “Well, you can do whatever, but it definitely sounds like greed.” You also have caused the neighbours to raise and spend thousands of dollars and work countless hours to fight for their neighbourhood. If you succeed at the OMB with your initial decision to sell to HIP Developments, will you reimburse the local community for their expenses? I would hope so.

What do you stand for? I believe (for) community and spirituality. How is what you’re doing consistent with: “Do unto others (other churches) as you would have them do unto you.” Other churches made fair market value offers. Reopen the sale process and do the right thing. No one will fault you for getting it wrong at the first. They will if you get it wrong in the end. Churches are human and as history proves don’t always get it right. We know that only too well in Canada. We all get it wrong from time to time. Stop the renewal agreement with HIP, and do the right thing. The McElderry neighbourhood and the reputation of the Anglican Church in Guelph, a church that continues to serve Guelph well, are far more important than surplus money. Don’t go down in history as the bishop who sold our community land out from underneath us. Go down in history as the bishop, like many bishops, archbishops and other religious leaders, who realized that getting it right in the end is what it’s all about.

Guelph is counting on you getting it right. Choose people over profit. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” If you are our friend, let us know by your actions. The time is always right to do what is right. Contact HIP Developments and make a “Good for the People of Guelph” and “Good for the Anglican Church” decision.

Bishop Michael Bird defends the sale of St. Matthias, Guelph

St. Matthias Anglican Church in Guelph has been sold by the Diocese of Niagara for $2 million to a property developer who intends to build a six story apartment building on the lot. Residents in the surrounding area are less than happy about this and are protesting the sale. The local paper recently published an editorial implying that the Diocese of Niagara is behaving more like a corporation – in an “unflattering sense of the word” – than a church. Developers are expected to be motivated by profit, churches are not:

In the story of what’s next to come to a former church property in south end Guelph, a development firm has frequently been framed as a villain in the narrative.

Whenever that happens, it’s a convenience for the current owner-vendor of the property.

That’s the Anglican Diocese of Niagara.

It’s the stakeholder in this chronicle that decided to put the former St. Matthias Church lands up for sale – and to choose the big-bidding developer, whose intentions could easily have been anticipated by the diocese. The diocese has confirmed that it received two purchase offers from churches but they were “substantially lower” than the offer it tentatively accepted.

The diocese had every right to accept whatever bid it wanted to in this process. But it must accept that in making this decision it will be regarded as behaving corporately – in an unflattering sense of the word.

Michael Bird, unhappy at the thought that there are villains at work in all this, has responded:

I strongly disagree with the editorial board’s characterization that there are villains in this story. The Diocese, the developer, members of city council, concerned citizens and others are each playing a role in what has become a very thorough planning process. I continue to have every confidence that the needs and well-being of Guelph citizens will be of primary concern.

[….]

Today our congregations in the city of Guelph continue to proclaim Jesus’s message of love and hope and justice, particularly in this season of Easter.

I note that Jesus’ message of salvation is missing from the list.

Apparently, the reason the building has been abandoned and sold is so the congregation can “focus on ministry”:

In 2013, the St. Matthias congregation voted to take leave of their building to focus on ministry in the community rather than the upkeep of a building and property.

What ministry, you might be wondering? Well, advertising Earth Day, for one. And being a member of Proud Anglicans for another – evidently the massive influx of LGBTQetc Anglicans was insufficient to keep the place afloat.

The organisation of local residents opposed to the sale has its own perspective on how effectively St. Matthias has managed to “focus on ministry in the community” since its closure:

From our perspective, there does not seem to any continued Anglican ‘ministry’ in this neighbourhood. We have not seen a public service, prayer meeting, flyer, social event or any other invitation in the two years since the church closed. The site itself has been vandalized and/or signs empty,  for most of that time.

The Diocese’s director of justice, community and global ministries, Rev Bill Mouse clearly had not been briefed by the bishop when he admitted in an interview that, in the end, it all came down to money:

It came from the congregation’s size and their ability to financially support the ministry and the property.

A United Church minister was “baffled and disturbed at the diocese’s decision”. He approached the diocese to cooperate in setting up:

a spiritual centre — a place where different religious traditions could meet, celebrate in their own tradition but co-operate for the sake of the neighbourhood.

Normally this type of mushy mult-faith amalgam would be right up the Diocese of Niagara’s street but, in this case, there was no response from the diocese. Well, $2 million is a lot of money.

Nathan Cirillo, the soldier shot on Parliament hill, was from Hamilton

From here:

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot at point-blank range as he stood guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa Wednesday.

The young Hamilton father was a reservist who was only on a short-term posting at the memorial, relatives and other sources have confirmed.

Bishop Michael Bird had this to say:

Bishop Michael Bird visited the armoury to pass on the message that the soldiers and their fallen comrade’s family were in his thoughts and prayers.

“We are blessed to live in this country … but maybe this is a reality check for us,” he said.

Canada is traditionally at the forefront in peacekeeping, he said. “Obviously, we live in a different world, now. We live in a violent world, but ultimately violence does not have the final say.”

Bird has it wrong: ultimately, there will be judgement and it will be not be non-violent. Those who have not received the forgiveness afforded by Christ’s atoning death on the cross will be judged; their fate will be unpleasant.

Even the less than ultimate, temporal, final say will be the exercise of force by state authorities who have the Biblically sanctioned authority to restrain evil by the sword – using violence.

Bishop Michael Bird is suing me

On February 19th 2008, the Diocese of Niagara served St. Hilda’s with legal papers with the intention of taking possession of St. Hilda’s building and freezing our bank account.

On February 19th 2013, exactly five years later, I was served personally with a statement of claim for defamation of character from the Diocese of Niagara’s Bishop Michael Bird.

The claim is seeking:

  • $400,000 in damages plus court costs and their legal costs.
  • An interim and permanent injunction to shut down Anglican Samizdat.
  • An interim and permanent injunction prohibiting me from publishing further comments about Michael Bird.

The claim quotes – with sporadic accuracy – 31 blog postings that are alleged to be libellous. On the advice of my lawyer, the posts were removed the day after receiving the statement of claim.

Contrary to what one might expect in such circumstances, I did not receive a cease and desist letter in advance of the suit.

Initial negotiations for an early settlement have been unsuccessful.

I have filed a statement of defence, the pleadings are now closed and we have commenced the Discovery process.

Stay tuned.