Conference will gather conservative voices

Published June 1, 2005

Essentials, a strong conservative Anglican voice in Canada, operated a drop-in tent near the site of General Synod last summer. Archbishop Andrew Hutchison (far right), visited the tent after his election as primate and performed a blessing. From left, Rev. George Sinclair, Rev. Charlie Masters and Rev. Brett Cane.

Anglican Essentials Canada, an 11-year-old coalition that has become the predominant voice for conservatives disturbed with more-liberal church views on homosexuality, is planning a major conference this month in Toronto.

Called the “Open Door” conference, the gathering, to be held June 16-18, is the latest in a series of local and national meetings that have picked up momentum since the diocese of New Westminster in 2002 voted to approve blessing ceremonies for gay couples and General Synod 2004 voted to affirm the “integrity and sanctity” of same-sex relationships.

The Toronto meeting, which includes worship sessions, addresses, panel discussions and presentations, will “discuss and identify the critical issues and choices facing the Anglican Communion at this moment,” according to the Essentials Web site.

It will also explain Essentials’ restructuring, appeal for membership and talk about fundraising, according to Cheryl Chang, a lay member of the Vancouver parish of St. John’s, Shaughnessy, and spokesperson for the conference.

Essentials’ statement of purpose states that it strives to be a “theological and spiritual rallying point for historic Christian orthodoxy in the Anglican Church of Canada, calling the church to embrace and live by its orthodox Christian heritage under the renewing guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Speakers will include prominent conservatives like retired bishop Don Harvey of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Rev. David Short of the diocese of New Westminster, U.S. bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, Rev. Charlie Masters, who is national director of Essentials, and Rev. George Sinclair of the diocese of Ottawa.

But the conservative group enjoys an uneasy truce in some areas of the church. Its gatherings occasionally take place without the authorization or approval of local churches and dioceses. Last fall, the bishop of Saskatoon denied Essentials the opportunity to meet on church property, though Essentials last spring did gather at All Saints Anglican church there. A Newfoundland bishop recently issued a pastoral letter stating that an Essentials gathering in his diocese did not have his blessing or that of the diocese. Additionally, the presence of one featured speaker at the upcoming Toronto conference, a foreign primate (senior bishop), prompted a strongly-worded reply from the bishop in the host diocese.

Archbishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Anglican province of the Southern Cone (South America), wrote on March 22 to Bishop Colin Johnson, who oversees the diocese of Toronto. Archbishop Venables noted that he intends to “provide pastoral care and support” for members of Essentials “until such time as they can be commended to a provincial structure that is fully committed to the agreed theological values and position of the Anglican Communion.” Archbishop Ven-ables also invited Bishop Johnson to welcome conference members.

In a reply, dated April 11, Bishop Johnson wrote he was “sorry that you feel that you must ‘provide pastoral care and support’ for some parishioners in the Anglican Church of Canada, and I do not believe this is appropriate at this time.” Noting that he has accepted an invitation to speak at the opening of the conference, Bishop Johnson said he has “reservations” about Archbishop Venables’ attendance but hopes “you will use the occasion to seek for prayerful unity in Christ rather than to further the cause of disunity.”

Last year, Essentials restructured into two parts, one called the Federation and the other called the Anglican Network in Canada, or the Essentials Network.

The Federation is a group of individuals and parishes that wants to “recover the foundational principles of Anglicanism in Canada and work for their reinstatement in the life of the Anglican Church of Canada,” according to its statement of purpose. The Federation is focused on getting General Synod 2007 “to vote to stay within the Anglican Communion,” said Ms. Chang. “Basically, the Anglican Church of Canada has been suspended from the Anglican Communion. We have been given an opportunity to decide whether we want to be reinstated within the Anglican Communion or to walk apart. We want to try to get Canada not to choose to walk apart,” said Ms. Chang.

She was referring to the meeting of primates last February, at which the Anglican Communion’s senior archbishops requested that the Canadian and U.S. churches voluntarily withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council, an international body that meets once every three years. (Please see related story)

Although Canadian church leaders have said Canada is still a member of the Communion, some conservatives interpret the primates’ action as “suspension” of the North American churches. General Synod in 2007 is expected again to take up the question of whether the church should permit blessing rites for same-sex couples.

The Essentials Network, meanwhile, exists “in the event the Anglican Church of Canada decides to walk apart (from the Communion). There needs to be a structure in order to remain connected to the Anglican Communion,” said Ms. Chang, who is also executive director of the Network.

In recent years, some Anglicans in Canada and Episcopalians in the U.S. who believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality have explored links with conservative primates of other provinces. In Canada, Bishop Harvey is moderator of the Essentials Network.

Archbishop Venables recently drew the disapproval of Canada’s primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, when he traveled to Vancouver to meet with disaffected parishes immediately after an international meeting of Anglican primates agreed not to intervene in each others’ territories. In his letter to Bishop Johnson, Archbishop Venables said the primates also “openly acknowledged that ongoing relationships that many of us already have would continue.”

In April, meanwhile, an Essentials meeting in St. John’s, Nfld., drew the attention of Bishop Cyrus Pitman (Bishop Harvey’s successor). In a pastoral letter to parishes in the diocese, Bishop Pitman said the meeting was “in no way, shape, or form … sponsored by me as your bishop or by the diocese.”

In an interview, Bishop Pitman said his letter was not aimed at Bishop Harvey. “I don’t want to get into a battle with my predecessor,” he said. However, he said, “I started getting calls from people asking, ‘what can I do to save the church?’ It seems to me there are two competing visions for the church. I saw people setting up another structure to deal with issues when we have a structure in place. Let’s stick with our synods, our vestries and our General Synod,” he said.

Essentials was formed in 1994 after a meeting in Montreal of three Canadian Anglican groups: the Prayer Book Society, Anglican Renewal Ministries and Barnabas Anglican Ministries. The three groups are looking at fully merging with Essentials, said Ms. Chang. “That’s the goal. We would like to have a single voice. We’re hoping to simplify the issues and bring clarity to the situation,” she said.

Since the homosexuality issue gained prominence, Essentials has attracted more contributions and incurred more expenses. The rental of Roy Thomson Hall, a concert hall that is the site for the “Open Door” conference, is $10,500 per day. The group also operated a drop-in tent at General Synod on the grounds of the university site and members of the Essentials Council have traveled widely in recent months across Canada, the U.S. and abroad and the organization has held several conferences. Ms. Chang said Essentials’ budget for 2005 is $430,000, and fundraising will be on the Toronto conference’s agenda. For 2001, according to documents filed on the Canada Revenue Agency’s Web site, Essentials reported $83,406 in revenues.

Most contributions have come from individuals and incorporated bodies such as parishes in Canada, with some small personal donations coming from the United States, she said.

Essentials has also started a publication, called Anglican Planet, that is to “serve the journalistic and theological needs of the large community of Canadian Anglicans who are deeply concerned for the renewal of an orthodox centre and voice within our tradition,” according to an Essentials newsletter. Copies of the first issue of Anglican Planet were mailed free to many Canadian parishes in May.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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