Thursday, February 14, 2008

a fork in the (Anglican) road

In December, I wrote two posts on the 'Anglican crisis' that is affecting the church we attend and work at, St John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church:
Tonight, St John's held their annual vestry meeting. All of the usual (and fairly mundane) agenda items featured: financial reports, adoption of previous meeting minutes, ministry snapshots etc... but that wasn't why the church was as full as I have ever seen it. Rather, the members of St John's showed up to vote on a "motion to accept or reject the offer of temporary Alternative Episcopal Oversight" from the Diocese of the Southern Cone, an Anglican diocese based out of Argentina.

The reason to seek such oversight, in a nutshell, is that the Anglican Church of Canada and the Diocese of New Westminster, who oversees St John's, have been "walking apart from the Anglican Communion." The parting comes primarily in regards to different views of the authority of scripture, of which the "tip-of-the-iceberg issue" is the blessing of same-sex unions. Much of he Episcopal church in the United States is in the same boat as much of the Anglican Church of Canada in regard to these issues.

3 of 4 pics by kim y

So tonight, it was up to St John's members to decide. Voting "Yes" would go against the Bishop of New Westminster's sincere wishes for those in his diocese, a vote for schism as he saw it. Or in the word's of J.I. Packer to vote "Yes" was to choose "not schism but realignment" - a move back to the rest of the Anglican communion who has repeatedly stood against the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal church for their trajectory of adopting a liberal approach to understanding the scriptures.

A letter (dated 6 February) by the current Bishop, Michael Ingham, was distributed to members of St John's as they entered the meeting describing the proceedings as "schismatic," threatening "immediate termination of license or removal from office" as well as the possibility of civil proceedings were directed at St John's clergy, wardens and trustees, and noting the diocese's "fiduciary responsibility to preserve and protect the assets of the Church for its future ministry", ie, take St John's financial and property assets out the church's control.

After 5 years of battling with the Bishop, having no episcopal oversight, not being able to hire new ordained staff, and having so much of the church's energy directed towards this crisis, St John's came together (for a 3 hour meeting) and voted on the motion, to either accept or reject the Southern Cone's offer of episcopal oversight and in doing so leave the Anglican Church of Canada, with the following outcome:
  • Vote "YES" = 475 (96% accepted the Southern Cone's offer)
  • Vote "NO" = 11 (2%)
  • "Abstain" from vote = 9 (2%)
A decisive result, which indicates a strong degree of unity and gives St John's the ability to move forward with the Southern Cone while being largely undivided. Rev. David Short, said the decision "closes the door on uncertainty, and opens the door to other uncertainties" as the possibilities of lengthy legal proceedings now await.

Being an Aussie and only in Vancouver for a limited time, in some ways I feel like an outsider at St John's (even though I work there). From that outside perspective, tonight I witnessed and joined-in to vote with a congregation who chose to define themselves as part of Christ's church, who together are desiring to honor God's word and seek the Lord first ahead of the possible legal, financial and leadership risks that lay ahead. It could be costly discipleship for St John's, but is there any other road to pick up a cross and follow Jesus down?


Sib said...


I'm going to sound completely stupid, but yes to joining the Southern Cone diocese?

Andrew & Jessica said...

Hi Sib - no stupidity on your part, probably just some poor late night writing on mine... I made a few changes, I hope the post is now clear on what a "Yes" vote means.


David MacKenzie said...

Dear Furnace-folks:

I just want to tell you that I think this latest decision is going to really help the ministry and the horizons of St. John's Shaughnessy open up. While the reality is not without its lament, the truth is SJS will now be able to join the Christian vanguard (instead of the rearguard) and be able to pursue the Holy Spirit's vision for the church (including the Great Commission) in a way that, up to now, has been stifled and smothered.

It's going to be good. And it's going to encourage others to risk the same.

Grace to you all, in the Lord Jesus Christ!


Pastor David MacKenzie
Regency Christian Church
Devon, Alberta.

Justin said...

Thanks for the post. Yes we can.

Anonymous said...

hey guys
this is really great news, i am so glad there was such overwhelming support for this... what a journey lies ahead for st johns.
can you explain to me, why the argentinian diocese?

Andrew & Jessica said...

Hey Helen - that is a really good question! I don't think I can adequately answer it... as far as I am aware, several 'global south' dioceses (defined as the faithful dioceses in Africa and Latin America) were willing to make this 'adoption'. There is a retired Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) Bishop, Donald Harvey, who has formally left the ACoC and is now working for the Southern Cone diocese. Harvey is well known and respected by churches who are considering a realignment. So while the top of the Provincial tree (a Primate) is in Argentina, the local Bishop is a Canadian. How Harvey came to have that relationship with the Southern Cone and whether that happened before or after the proposed realignment, I am not sure. I do think this arrangement makes more sense than some of the Anglican network arrangements who have Bishops based in Nigeria and Malawi.
St John's misses you...