An Anglican province in South America said on Nov. 22 that it will accept as members conservative Canadian Anglican churches that are in “serious theological dispute” with their dioceses or with the national church. Such disputes have become more acute recently over differing views on homosexuality.
The announcement was made at a conference led by Bishop Donald Harvey, formerly of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador and the first of two Canadian bishops to join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone under Archbishop Gregory Venables.
A second retired Canadian bishop, Malcolm Harding, formerly of the Manitoba diocese of Brandon, told the conference that he too had relinquished his licence to minister in Canada and joined the Southern Cone.
(Meanwhile, on Dec. 8, the central California diocese of San Joaquin became the first diocese of the U.S. Episcopal Church to leave the denomination. The diocese, which has 47 parishes and more than 8,000 members, plans to align with the Southern Cone. The dioceses of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth have also taken preliminary votes to leave the Episcopal Church, but their decisions have not been finalized.)
The two-day conference was convened by the Anglican Network in Canada, a group of parishes and individuals that disagree with the more-liberal stance on homosexuality taken by several Canadian dioceses and by the national church. It was held one week after the diocese of Niagara voted to allow priests to bless same-sex couples (please see Niagara, p. 2).
“The cards are being called in. We are doing something that will be history. After hoping the church would turn around and repent, we say ‘enough’ and with humility and sorrow but also a great sense of exultation and joy, we go forward,” said Bishop Harvey, whose defection was announced Nov. 16.
Conservative leaders told the 250 attendees that the Network, as a member of a North American conservative coalition called Common Cause, is setting up a new Anglican structure for disaffected churches.
“We have the higher goal of becoming a parallel province in North America,” said Rev. Trevor Walters of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster. He noted that a meeting of bishops last September “outlined a 15-month timetable to create a separate ecclesiastical structure in North America” that could replace the Anglican Church of Canada or the Episcopal Church in the U.S.
He said that could occur if those churches failed next year to sign an international covenant, or statement of agreed points of faith. “We might become the rightful inheritors of Anglicanism in North America,” he said.
Bishop Harvey, who is the moderator of the Canadian network, said some parishes might be able to leave the Canadian church immediately, “others might want to wait until their annual vestry meetings and vote on it there; some may say ‘we support you fully’ but we cannot separate now, but wait for us.”
During the conference, two churches, St. John’s, Richmond, B.C. and Church of the Resurrection, Hope, B.C., said they had joined the South American province. Both had roots in the Anglican Church of Canada, but neither is now affiliated with it.
The network has about 500 individual members and 16 member parishes, said Canon Charles Masters, national director of the network. The Anglican Church of Canada has about 2,800 congregations and 641,000 on parish rolls.
The organization is considering a headquarters in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, he said. Some member parishes have not been contributing financially to their dioceses and the network is asking that its affiliates contribute 10 per cent of parish revenues to the network.
Network leaders also asked Canadian Anglican leaders for a 90-day “period of grace” during which there would be no disciplinary action against priests or parishes that explore affiliation with the network, said board member Cheryl Chang.
Bishop Harvey acknowledged that his ordination on Dec. 2 (within the 90-day period) of two deacons in the diocese of New Westminster might be seen as confrontational, but they are “a minor blip on the screen,” he said. The Network said the ordinations were not under the jurisdiction of the Canadian church. Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster wrote to the two deacons noting that he could not recognize their orders, said diocesan spokesman Neale Adams.In any case, said Bishop Harvey, “these measures are meant to be of a temporary nature. It will be two to three years before there is a new province of the Americas.”
Network leaders stressed that they do not see their actions as schismatic, or divisive, of the wider church, rather it is the liberals who have departed from traditional biblical teaching that homosexuality is sinful.
Addressing the conference in videotaped remarks, Archbishop Venables said, “The sin here is not one of schism but of false teaching which is not at its root about human sexuality but about the very nature of truth itself.”
Bishop Harding said his decision to leave the Canadian church had been “a growing process,” and he was “deeply grieved that the church I have loved and served for over 30 years has left me no choice.”
Network leaders also outlined some organizational details (see box, this page). “The corporate structure will serve parishes and not vice versa. It will be lean and support missionary and compassionate outreach,” said Rev. George Sinclair of Ottawa and a network board member.
The Network also has a potential $1-million legal fund, which it could use to defend congregations that want to leave the Canadian church and retain their buildings and property.
“There is a group of people in Vancouver who have committed to underwrite a fund of $1 million, but it is my belief that we may need to raise a lot more than that if we need to defend this up to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Ms. Chang, a Vancouver-based lawyer and a member of its legal team. She said she could not identify the donors.
In the U.S., some dioceses and local churches have gone to court to argue over who owns church property should a congregation or diocese decide to leave. On the subject of the ordination of women, which is a source of disagreement among members of the Common Cause coalition, “we will respect and protect those who dissent,” he said.
Since October, three Canadian dioceses have voted to allow gay couples to receive a church blessing. The diocese of New Westminster has allowed same-sex blessings for five years. While the national General Synod convention of 2007 declined to “affirm the authority of dioceses” to offer same-sex blessings, it said that such blessings are not contrary to core church doctrine.