I had worried that the conference might have been all discussion groups, brainstorming and group presentations. Mercifully there were none of these. We began by diving into the deep end, with theology. In his talk Ecclesial Existence Today, Professor Douglas Farrow reviewed in stark relief the events leading up to Amendment A134.6 at General Synod 2004 - the “sanctifying” of same sex blessings - and its profound implications. He refered to it as Pelagian and Gnostic heresy. He and others emphasized that A134.6 was no error due to an overworked delegation but was in fact designed by experienced writers who knew the precise import of their statement. However, A134.6 has given us clarity and unity in this issue, and for that we are grateful. It looks and feels like a kairos moment; God doing a new thing. Professor Farrow recommended that our response include repentance for what the church that we are part of has done, and that we consider fasting of the Eucharist other than in company of others in communion with us and under the authority of "orthodox" bishops. This implies a network of confessing churches.
The first afternoon continued with the presentation of vision-casting that has been elegantly crafted by the Essentials Council. The council currently consists of clergy and lay representing Anglican Renewal Ministries, Barnabas Anglican Ministries, and The Prayer Book Society. The first part of the vision is intended to widen the representation of Canadian Anglican orthodoxy beyond these groups, by establishing The Federation (working name). This would add bishops, priests, parishes and lay delegates from all ecclesiastical provinces. Later in the conference, candidates were voted to Federation council positions, including representatives from the Network (see below). The Federation will be a safe and encouraging place that will enable mission to federated constituencies and provide a mechanism for national realignment of orthodox groups. It will target General Synod 2007 with a Godly alternative.
The Anglican Network in Canada - "The Network" - will link groups of Anglicans - parishes and individuals - who believe that General Synod “crossed the line” with Amendment A134.6 and feel that either immediately, or in the short term future they cannot remain in communion with the ACC as represented by Synod. Smaller parishes may tend to move to the Network earlier than larger parishes with greater financial resources. Some groups (eg. The Anglican Gathering of Ottawa) consisting of individuals from many parishes have already taken root across the country, and the Network will allow them to operate in concert toward a common purpose of adequate episcopal oversight. This AEO will be provided for the Network, following his retirement December 1, 2004, by Bishop Don Harvey of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Federation will protect the Network while it is growing.
The newly elected representatives will begin work on the details of the responsibilities, scope and goals of the Federation and the Network immediately, now that a broad structure has been created, and will report back at the next Essentials conference in a 6 – 9 month timeframe.
Global Greetings were delivered to the conference, starting on Day 1 with Bishop Wallace Benn - UK, who brought us up to date with the recent appointment of a homosexual priest in St. Albans, and continuing on the morning of Day 2. Bill Atwood read messages from the Archbishops of Central Africa, Nigeria, and Uganda, emphasising that they support us strongly and that we must not feel alone or isolated. Bill Murdoch of the U.S. Anglican Communion Network, described the strong current growth of ACN as more and more parishes become affiliated, and encouraged us to act now. Then came Archbishop Greg Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone, who acknowledged the leadership role that has been taken by Anglican Essentials, whose influence has been felt far beyond Canada's borders. Archbishop Venables' three talks at the conference were highpoints. Days 2 and 3 opened with powerful sermons from David Short. He started by stating that Western culture had now succeeded in elevating sex almost to a replacement for God. In the "Holiness Code" (Corinthians Chs. 5-11), Paul fights the local church leadership of the time which was attempting to confer sanctity on incestual relations. Today we have it the wrong way round; tolerating sinners within the church while criticising those outside.
We heard the stories of two parishes that had experienced the process of change as the issue of same-sex blessings was broached to their congregations. Ven. Desiree Stedman described the anguish at St. Matthew's, Ottawa, when, after information sessions had been conducted, she preached on the subject. Rev. Trevor Walters described the 5-year experience at St. Matthew's Abbotsford, New Westminster diocese, recommending that lay-led education in the issues be conducted separately from the Sunday morning service, which must remain a safe haven to all. They had not neglected evangelism, running well-attended Alpha courses in the midst of the adjustment process. A well-organized prayer ministry had been vital. People had been encouraged to do research using the Internet to educate themselves in all aspects. Other delegates from ACiNW also spoke to us at various times, and the conference really valued hearing of their experience. However, The Network is a Canadian solution rather than providing AEO from overseas, as has been adopted by ACINW and The Anglican Communion Network in the States.
The evening of the second day was given over to three moving testimonies from ex-gays and an ex-lesbian, two of whom are now Anglican priests and all are happily married. There were few dry eyes. Please see the link below to "telling our stories." One told that when he came out of the closet, the liberal community offered little support or encouragement, while his orthodox friends continued to love him. All three had shown extraordinary fortitude in the face of adversity, having come from unbalanced family backgrounds, and they showed great moral courage in telling us their histories. The talks were followed by a powerful time of ministry when all in the room had the opportunity to ask help for sexual problems, and many did.
On the last day, Bishop Bob Duncan of the Anglican Communion Network described how God is building a new Anglicanism in America, where deans rather than bishops are the drivers, and decisions are made in accordance with biblical faithfulness. Control has been given to Jesus. Already the Anglican Communion Network is the size of 15 Anglican provinces, and is recognized by the Worldwide Anglican communion. Archbishop Venables told Bishops not to cork up their clergy, and clergy not to cork up their laity. He urged us in Canada not to try and "go it alone" but to ask for help every step of the way from our faithful friends worldwide. Then came the Commissioning eucharist, with some 15 or more bishops sharing the bread and wine, and our hearts, in a service that will stay in our memories as we think back over The Way Forward Conference, an extraordinary event.
Charlie Masters and George Sinclair and the Essentials Council deserve our most grateful thanks as the architects of a conference that was called at a time of crisis, yet uplifted all 700 who were there from across the country, through Charlie's and George's God-given vision for what was needed for such a time as this.