Church Times March 13 2009 Read here
It was a great privilege for me to attend part of the Church of England General Synod last month, and to participate in a fringe event. As a retired member of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, I have attended many synods. Few have been so convivial.
Another notable exception was the November 2008 synod of the fledgling Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), for which it is now my delight to serve as Moderator (News, 2 May 2008). This synod was characterised by unity in the Spirit, the joy of the Lord, and an eagerness to get on with the mission of proclaiming the good news of salvation through Christ.
Although it was our first synod, and there was much work to be done in setting up foundational processes and canons, well over half of our time together was devoted to prayer, praise, ministry of the word, and reports from the member parishes of how they were ministering in their communities. For many of these parishes, their short time in the ANiC had not been easy. But, without exception, they all expressed the joy and freedom they were experiencing. God has indeed been good.
Since the ANiC was launched in November 2007 with two small churches, two priests, and two bishops, we have grown to comprise 73 priests and deacons, three bishops, and 28 parishes, with a total average Sunday attendance of 3500. That initial growth has come from Canadian Anglicans who have felt conscience-bound to align with a biblically faithful Church, while still retaining their full Anglican identity. In recent years, tens of thousands have left the Anglican Church of Canada — and Anglicanism. The ANiC now provides an option for those who wish to remain Anglican. Our prayer and aim is that our future growth will come primarily from reaching out to the millions of unchurched Canadians through evangelism, church-planting, and discipleship.
Unfortunately, we are currently dealing with unnecessary and costly distractions because of litigation over church property. Despite our repeated requests to seek mutually advantageous settlements through negotiation or mediation, four Anglican Church of Canada dioceses — New Westminster, British Columbia, Niagara, and Huron — have forced ANiC parishes into court. The Primates’ recent communiqué calling for gracious restraint and mediation gave us hope (News, 13 February), but so far the Anglican Church of Canada has insisted on pursuing disputes in the secular court system.
It was heartening to be at the Church of England Synod, at which so much of the discussion revolved around the uniqueness of Christ and the Church’s mission to evangelise. My earnest desire is that such discussions will once again be warmly received in the established Anglican structures in North America — rather than being met with hostility. When that day comes, there will be no need for the ANiC and the proposed orthodox North American province, the Anglican Church in North America.
The growing gulf between the orthodox and the liberals in North American Anglicanism cuts to the very essence of our faith. It is not trivial, as so many wish to portray it. The irony is that we have had to leave in order to stay — leave the increasingly renegade North American structures in order to stay in the mainstream of global and historic Anglican orthodoxy. While the Church’s teaching on sexuality is currently in the spotlight, it is only the tip of the theological iceberg — the most visible aspect of the innovations that have taken hold in the established North American Churches.
It is often forgotten that the Bishop of New Westminster, the Rt Revd Michael Ingham, formally approved the blessing of same-sex unions in June 2002, more than one year before the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson. Many “traditional” Canadian Anglicans have suffered eviction from their buildings, inhibition, and accusations of abandonment of the ministry. Hostile bishops and dioceses have taken orthodox clergy, lay leaders, and parishes to court to wrest away buildings for which the dioceses have no use. Nine ANiC parishes have been forced before the courts, as the dioceses attempt to strip them of their church buildings.
In the next few months, cases will be heard in the dioceses of Niagara (11 March), Huron (6 April), and New Westminster (beginning 25 May). These court proceedings are costly, and in some cases vicious — the diocese is seeking to impose large financial burdens not just on the parish corporations, but also on individual clergy and wardens. The scorched-earth tactics have not spared even a renowned theologian, the Revd Professor J. I. Packer, who was accused and “convicted” of abandoning the ordained ministry by Bishop Ingham (News, 2 May 2008).
We are heartened, however, to hear that the Primates meeting in Egypt clearly acknowledged the depth of the crisis, and recognised that there are now two distinct religions within Anglicanism. This is exactly what we have struggled with in North America for much of the past decade. While we see all of scripture as the authoritative word of our unchanging God, and test new revelation by its consistency with scripture, “liberal” Anglicanism sees scripture as limited by the cultural context in which it was written, and so subordinate to purported “new revelation”.
Our intention is to continue to build the Anglican Church in North America, reuniting the roughly 100,000 displaced Anglicans who have been forced out of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church in the United States.
The Rt Revd Donald Harvey is a former Bishop of Eastern Newfoundland & Labrador, and the Moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada (www.anglicanetwork.ca).
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