“The centre may appear to be vanished, but the only thing at risk of vanishing is us,” said Bishop Anthony Burton of Saskatchewan at a recent Essentials conference in Prince Albert, Sask.
More than 100 people from across Canada attended The Vanishing Centre? Fragmentation in the Church. “Our instinct as Anglicans is to think of the centre as the mean between two extremes, to give each its due,” Bishop Burton said. “But extremes move and in whatever imaginary centre we try to place ourselves, we will forever be in flux, pulled here and there by fashion and institutional pressure. And we will be encouraged to call this accommodation spiritual growth.”
Edmonton Bishop Victoria Matthews, who said she was speaking as an interested observer, agreed relativism in theology is a danger. “We can’t blame people for seeing our truth statements as relative if we act like they are,” she said.
Bishop Matthews said Anglican seminaries must raise the low Christian proficiency and biblical knowledge evident in laity and clergy. Michael Treschow of the Okanagan University College criticized conservatives and liberals for abandoning hope: “conservatives ignore it and liberals undermine it.”
Ed Norman, music director at St. John’s (Shaughnessy), Vancouver, discouraged music directors from using sound machines or prerecorded music in worship. He urged clergy to seek excellence in music for worship and to nurture and welcome artists in the church.
Rev. John Stott, known worldwide as a preacher and author, outlined the seemingly contradictory characteristics of authentic Christian preaching. He argued that it was biblical yet contemporary, authoritative but still tentative, pastoral and prophetic, gifted and studied, thoughtful yet passionate.
Dr. Stott told the clergy to encourage parishioners to do their own Bible study, comparing the role of preacher to a shepherd leading sheep to feed. “They don’t spoonfeed their sheep, they lead them to a pasture where they can feed themselves.”
Dr. Stott also spoke on the marks of a living church, which he said is a learning church, a caring church, a worshipping church and a church committed to evangelism.
Bruce Hindmarsh of Briercrest Biblical Seminary told delegates “the religion of the heart has a backbone. It is Trinitarian, Christological orthodoxy.”
Dr. Robert Crouse of University of King’s College, Halifax, contended all the church’s thinking about unity must be rooted in incarnational, Trinitarian doctrine and that a renewal of spiritual life must be focused on that centre.
Essentials began in 1994 when the Prayer Book Society, Barnabas Ministries and the Anglican Renewal Movement agreed to work together for renewal of the Anglican Church.
Karen Stiller is an associate editor of the Saskatchewan Anglican and a member of Essentials.