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Diocese of Caledonia: Former bishop-elect fired as priest

Jacob Worley (Supplied Photo)

(Staff)  ON FRIDAY, NOV. 10 ARCHBISHOP JOHN PRIVETT phoned and wrote to the Rev. Jacob Worley to tell him that his employment as a priest in the Diocese of Caledonia was  being terminated. Worley says that when he asked what the reason was, Privett (who is Metropolitan of the Province of BC & Yukon) declined to give him one. In accordance with Immigration rules, Worley said he would be required to leave Canada for the United States within ten days of his last day of employment, which he was told would be Sunday, Nov. 19.  “I’m going to trust the Lord – who else am I going to trust?  I could say like Job, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.’ I’m going to rejoice,” said Worley when reached by phone later that day.

In May of 2017, Worley made headlines in Church news when the House of Bishops of the Province of BC and Yukon refused to approve him as Bishop of Caledonia, a diocese that stretches across the northern half of British Columbia.  The majority decision cited Provincial Canon 4(b)vi, which states that an objection to the election of a bishop may be brought on the grounds that “he or she teaches or holds or within five years previously taught or held anything contrary to the Doctrine or Discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada.”  In a statement released by the Anglican Church of Canada on May 15, Privett was quoted as saying that “within the past five years the Rev. Worley has held – and continues to hold – views contrary to the Discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada.” These “views” relate to jurisdictional issues, as Worley had served for a time within AMiA (Anglican Mission in America) in the United States. 

In the wake of the Provincial decision, Worley and others had pointed to the selective application of Canons, and Bp. David Parsons (Arctic) and Bp. Bill Anderson (Retired, Caledonia) wrote to protest the decision.  While the Provincial decision cited Lambeth 1988, Resolution 72, which addresses diocesan border crossing, as the rationale for Worley’s view being contrary to the discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada, there have been, in the Anglican Church of Canada, numerous breaches of Lambeth 1.10 (the Anglican Communion’s official statement on sexuality). An Open Letter from Anglican Communion Alliance National Director, Sharon Dewey Hetke, read in part “Why do Canons guarding jurisdiction seem to be sacrosanct, while Canons related to doctrine and our received tradition must give way to the vanguard of revisionist teaching on sexuality?”.

Worley says his question to the Province was this: “If you’re going to say that I hold a view contrary to the discipline of the Church, aren’t there others in that room who do also?” He says he also asked Privett, “If you don’t think I’m able to be a bishop, what makes you say I’m able to be a priest?” According to Worley, Privett replied, “Well, because we trust you.”  To which Worley says he asked, “Well, you trust me to be a priest, but not a bishop?” Questions have also been raised as to why Provincial officials did not raise concerns about Worley’s eligibility in the time leading up to the election.

Worley declined to speak publicly about the details at the time of the Provincial rejection of him as bishop, but upon being fired decided to speak out and explain the circumstances of his connection to AMiA:

“In 2007 I was a priest in TEC [The Episcopal Church] in the Diocese of the Rio Grande.  That was a season in the Episcopal Church’s life when many of the orthodox clergy and even dioceses were being pressured really hard, to the point of, we felt like, persecution.  Some of us were losing our jobs; some of us were just having a major amount of persecution and pressure put upon us.  I was, at that time, interim Rector at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Los Cruces, New Mexico. And as an interim, you work for the bishop.”

Worley explains that when he took over, the parish vestry was already very concerned about the direction of the Episcopal Church with regard to same-sex relationships. “They were saying to me ‘We need to talk about this.’ So at one vestry meeting, I said ‘Okay, we’ll finish up with business early, and then we’ll have a frank conversation off the record.  Everything is open for discussion, just let it out’.” 

According to Worley, someone who objected to this decision informed the bishop and Worley was asked to resign. He says, “And it was at a time when other people in the diocese were also realizing, ‘We’re not going to have a job.’  So I called Bp. Alexander Greene from Rwanda, who was seated in the House of Bishops of Rwanda, and asked if he would accept my orders.  He said ‘Yes, I’ll take you over until such time as we can vet you ourselves’.” Worley says it was just at that time that many of the people who were already leaving the church said to him, “Will you now plant a church for us?” His Rwandan bishops agreed and Worley planted the church.

This church plant was the crux of the Provincial objection to Worley’s election. The majority in the House of Bishops of BC & Yukon said that “they couldn’t accept me as a bishop because I planted a church within the boundaries of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, and that I won’t say I’m sorry I did it,” explained Worley. Worley told TAP in May that he felt he could not do that “because I know that the Lord moved in a mighty way there. And I didn’t go to anybody and say ‘Come and join us, leave the church’ – I never said that.  I just did it. At first there were 19 of us, and 7 were my family!  There were young families, just having their kids kind of families, in their early to mid-twenties. And they didn’t want to leave the legacy of the Episcopal Church to their kids, because they saw what was happening.”

The church plant began by meeting in living rooms, but grew substantially over the next few years. “But more importantly,” Worley said, “the people we were ministering to were those people in the community who had no place to go, people with mental illnesses, people ostracized by the rest of the churches, who felt they needed to worship and have a loving place where they heard the Gospel. People’s lives were touched, God moved and he blessed it and I can’t say that was wrong and I won’t.  And they wanted me to.  And as far as I’m concerned, I would rather say ‘God blessed that and the movement of the Holy Spirit was there’ than to deny the Holy Spirit and get a purple shirt.  I won’t do it.”

In March of 2013, Worley came to the Anglican Church of Canada to serve in the Diocese of Caledonia as an interim priest in Ft. St. John.  Then, after a brief stint in Ireland, Worley was asked to come back to the Diocese of Caledonia. “We missed Canada so much, so we said ‘Yes, we’d love to come back.’ St. James’ needed somebody so I was put here, in Bulkley Valley Regional Parish.”  Worley was elected to serve as bishop on April 22, 2017.

The Diocese of Caledonia eventually accepted the Province’s decision not to approve the election, and a new episcopal election was held this past October. On the 20th ballot, the Rev. David Lehmann was elected. Lehmann currently serves in the Diocese of the Arctic, and at time of publication we have not been able to reach him for a comment on the termination of Worley’s employment. 

On Nov. 14, the Diocese of Caledonia released the following Statement: “Archbishop John Privett, who has Episcopal authority as per Canon 1 of the Diocese of Caledonia, in consultation with those in leadership positions in the Diocese and in prayerful consideration of what is in the best interests of the Worley family and the future of the Diocese, has acted to terminate Rev Worley’s employment, effective November 30, 2017, without cause. The termination is accompanied with a generous severance package to assist Rev Worley and his family in the transition. The details surrounding the Worley’s residence status in Canada were unknown but will now be considered.”

The severance package is reported to have included three months’ pay. In the Council of the North (of which Caledonia is a member), this amounts to well under half of Worley’s moving costs alone. A GoFundMe page started by one of Worley’s former parishioners has since raised over $4,500.

In his Statement (released Nov. 23), Privett said he was going against convention in speaking publicly about the termination, but felt he needed to do so in light of “wide comment on social media.” He went on to say that “Mr. Worley’s termination was not based on any particular theological point of view. Our church and this Diocese will always welcome clergy and parishioners from a wide range of faith perspectives and theological views that fall within the breadth of our Anglican tradition.”  This comment has been met with skepticism amongst many conservatives, and the events around Worley come at a time when many are concerned about how they will be treated as the Church moves towards General Synod 2019 and the possible doctrinal change allowing same-sex marriage.

Following the events of Spring 2017, Worley had continued to serve in the Bulkley Valley Parish.

Reflecting on the news that he would be forced to leave his parish, Worley said, “This is how it started in The Episcopal Church, how the exodus began.  People got shoved out. In those cases, they were given no reason...but everybody knew the reason.” But he added “I know that God will work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. He will use this for His glory and the good of His church.”

Worley and his wife, Kelly, have five children, aged 12 to 25. At press time, the Worleys have left the country.  However, due to snowy conditions in northern BC, they were unable to bring most of their belongings with them.

To read the complete May 2017 interview with Worley, go to   TAP

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