The bishops of the Diocese of Niagara have issued a cautionary open letter concerning “Building on the solid Rock”, the Anglican Network conference to be held in Burlington, Ontario, later this month. The Rt Rev Ralph Spence, Bishop, and The Rt Rev Michael Bird, Coadjutor Bishop, don’t seem to be too keen on the meeting.
It has come to our attention that that [sic] there is a national conference of the Anglican Network in Canada being organized for November 22nd and 23rd to be held in our diocese at Crossroads in Burlington. In the initial registration form for this conference, it stated that ‘This conference is open only to Network members and members of Network parishes”. This criterion was subsequently softened by suggesting that it was “primarily intended for Network members and members of Network parishes but is also open to those who share our concern.” Regardless of the language, we believe that this conference is attempting to limit and screen those in attendance based upon very specific theological positions.
It is the opinion of the Bishops of this diocese that any conference, meeting or gathering that intentionally seeks to exclude, screen or forbid any other person from attending for any reason whatsoever is contrary to the teachings and traditions of the Church that seeks to be inclusive and inviting. We believe this action is inconsistent with what the Anglican Church has historically sought to affirm as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic body of Christ. From the time of the Protestant Reformation, the Anglican Church has struggled to be a community where a diversity of voices could be offered and differing opinions respected and honoured.
With all due respect, that seems to me overwrought and inaccurate. Meetings are held in the Anglican Church of Canada all the time from which some Anglicans are excluded. The House of Bishops met last month in London, and I would not have been accepted had I shown up and asked to be admitted. Ordinary pew warmers are, in my experience, screened out from diocesan clergy retreats. Confirmation classes are limited to those interested in seeking to be confirmed.
The reference to the Protestant Reformation in this context is especially puzzling. The Reformation was born of doctrinal differences between the Reformers and the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer obviously neither respected nor honoured Catholic opinions on disputed doctrinal issues.
The Anglican Church accepted differing opinions, but only insofar as those opinions impinged on matters regarded as non-essential. The early leaders of the Church of England did not honour the views of those who rejected the Thirty-Nine Articles. The C of E imposed the Book of Common Prayer throughout the realm to ensure that every parish followed the same liturgy. No respect for diversity there.
Then comes the warning.
If, in the course of this conference, it comes to the attention of the Bishops of this diocese that any discussions, resolutions or strategies emerge that are contrary to the canons of the Church or may be deemed to be schismatic in nature, we will have no alternative but to act canonically in the best interest of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara and the Anglican Church of Canada.
I hope I’m not being impertinent if I wonder what happened to the respect for diversity and honour for differing opinions that the bishops just extolled.