By John Connolly

VANCOUVER, February 15, 2008 ( – Citing disagreements over homosexuality, the largest Anglican congregation in Canada voted overwhelmingly to break with its diocese and join a conservative Anglican movement based in South America.

St. John’s, a parish in the upscale neighborhood of Shaughnessy in Vancouver, voted to leave the Diocese of New Westminster on February 13. St. John’s has been at odds with the diocese since 2002, when the Diocese of New Westminster began allowing its parishes to perform blessings for same-sex unions. In the past six years, the parish has withheld financial support for the diocese in protest, but voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday night to join the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, led by Archbishop Gregory Venables.

“The mood at the meeting [to vote] was really something,” said Lesley Bentley, a member of St. John’s. “It was a very sober atmosphere. No one was taking it lightly. There was no sense of exuberance. We did it because we believe the future of our Church depends on it.”

“Within the diocese we are called the dissidents, but looking at global Communion, the diocese and the Anglican Church of Canada are the dissidents,” said St. John’s senior pastor, Rev. David Short. “One of the key disappointments for orthodox Anglicans right across the country has been the failure of the [national Church] to address this properly.”

St. John’s secession may lead to other Canadian parishes allying themselves with the Southern Cone. Three other churches in the Diocese of New Westminster and two in Ontario are expected to vote to leave the Canadian Church.

In the United States, the entire Diocese of San Joaquin in California voted in December to leave the U.S. Anglican Communion. That secession was made up of 47 churches and 8,300 people, all of whom put themselves under the authority of Archbishop Venables. About 120 individual churches have broken with the main U.S. Anglican Communion and are reporting to conservative leaders in the African Anglican Churches.

“We saw that the [Church] leadership was moving in a direction that was very different than classical Christianity,” said Rev. Van McCalister, a spokesman for the Diocese of San Joaquin. “They are redefining who Christ is and what it means to be a Christian. And so we really thought it was important that we be aligned with the majority of the Anglican Communion that still had an orthodox view of Christ and Christianity.”

The split will likely force an issue over church property rights, as the Diocese of New Westminster claims St. John’s has no right to give its church building or funds to the southern Cone.

“No parish or congregationâEUR¦has any legal existence except as part of the diocese, and any attempt by any person to remove a parish from the jurisdiction of the Bishop and Synod would be schismatic,” Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster wrote.

Bishop Ingham was backed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, head of the Anglican Church of Canada.

“In our Anglican tradition, individuals who choose to leave the Church over contentious issues cannot take property and other assets with them,” said Archbishop Hiltz in a letter released this week.

Spokesmen for St. John’s have claimed that they will defend their church property in court, and both sides are gearing up for a legal battle over the issue.

See Previous LifeSiteNews Coverage:

Second Anglican Bishop Leaves Anglican Church of Canada Over Homosexuality Endorsement

The Split Widens: Anglican Bishops Call Global Conference for Traditional Anglicans

Canadian Anglican Bishop to Priests: Approve Homosexual Blessings or Resign

Official Split in Canadian Anglican Communions “likely to get messy”

Diocese Secedes From Episcopal Church Over Ordination of Gay Bishops