South American province opens arms to dissenting Canadian parishes

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Left, Bishop Don Harvey welcomes Bishop Malcolm Harding, who joined him in the South American Province of the Southern Cone.

An Anglican province in South America said on Nov. 22 that it will accept 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.

A second retired Canadian bishop, Malcolm Harding, formerly of the Manitoba diocese of Brandon, announced at the same time that he has relinquished his licence to minister in the Anglican Church of Canada and has become a bishop in the Province of the Southern Cone under Archbishop Gregory Venables.

Both announcements came at the start of a two-day conference 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.

“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 Donald Harvey, formerly of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador and the first Canadian bishop to join the Southern Cone. His 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 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.

At a news conference, 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.” Parishes would have to apply for membership in the Province of the Southern Cone, he said.

The network has about 500 individual members and 16 member parishes, said Canon Charlie Masters, national director of the network. The Anglican Church of Canada has a total of about 2,800 congregations and about 641,000 on parish rolls.

The organization is considering setting up 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, said Mr. Masters.

Network leaders will be asking 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.

However, Bishop Harvey acknowledged that his plan to ordain on Dec. 2 (within the 90-day period) two priests in the diocese of Vancouver-based of New Westminster might be seen as confrontational, “but ordinations in New Westminster are a minor blip on the screen,” he said. (Anglican tradition and canon law prohibit bishops from ministering outside their dioceses without permission.) Mr. Walters said the ordinations are pastoral, rather than political, acts since one of the candidates has been waiting four years for ordination.

Mr. Masters said his bishop, Ralph Spence of the diocese of Niagara, has asked to meet with him on Nov. 27 in the diocesan office in Hamilton, Ont.

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 that liberals are the ones who have departed from traditional biblical and Christian teaching that homosexuality is sinful.

Addressing the conference in videotaped remarks, Archbishop Venables said that “the nature of the division … is a severance resulting from a determined abandoning of the one true historic faith delivered to the saints. This reality alone makes it clear that it is not schism … 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, who since retirement has been ambassador for Anglican Renewal Ministries, said his decision to leave the Canadian church has been “a growing process.” He also said in a statement that “I am deeply grieved that the church I have loved and served for over 30 years has left me no choice … I now realize that we cannot have unity at the expense of truth.”

Network leaders also outlined some organization details. “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 the diocese of Ottawa and a board member of the network.

On the subject of the ordination of women, which is a source of disagreement among churches that are members of the Common Cause coalition, “we will respect and protect those who dissent,” he said. The network will also practise “a godly balance between bishops, synod and parishes in the selection and discipline of clergy,” he said.

It will be bound by foundational Anglican documents and “have a prayer book from the orthodox Anglican tradition,” he said. (Many conservative Anglicans prefer the traditional Book of Common Prayer to the more recent Book of Alternative Services.)

In the last three months, three Canadian dioceses – Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara – have voted to allow gay couples to receive a church blessing. The Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster has allowed same-sex blessings for five years. While the national General Synod governing 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.

The Province of the Southern Cone includes Anglican churches in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.

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

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