At least 830 people, meeting in Long Beach, California, for the June 3-4 "Plano West" conference co-hosted by the Los Angeles and San Diego chapters of the American Anglican Council (AAC), were alternately urged to leave the Episcopal Church USA and to press the worldwide Anglican Communion to censure ECUSA for its "ongoing ungodly actions."
The statement also asked the primates for recognition of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes--sometimes called the Anglican Communion Network--a group seeking to "realign" themselves with conservative primates throughout the Anglican Communion.
Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno--who exchanged correspondence with planners about arrangements for the Long Beach event--was nevertheless barred from welcoming the group to Southern California after he refused to sign an AAC statement, required of all attendees. Bruno told the Los Angeles Times he declined to sign the statement because it "excludes all people of Judaism, Islam and Buddhism as being within the love of God."
Network may 'grow more slowly'
"ECUSA is infected with disease DNA," declared the Rev. Bill Thompson, rector of All Saints, Long Beach, and dean of the network's Western Convocation. "In the network we have the opportunity to change that. Much of ECUSA has lost its way. We must get that way back for ourselves," he told the gathering, to enthusiastic applause.
Thompson's remarks were aimed at inspiring additional congregations to join the network, which is growing more slowly than organizers had hoped. Citing a projected $1.1 million budget, Thompson called for donations to assist the fledgling convocation.
"We're beginning to develop income streams, and there are some grants that have been given," he said, noting a $150,000 matching grant from the AAC.
The Rev. David Anderson, AAC national president, predicted the network would continue to grow. "It's just going to grow more slowly," he said. "I think people are treating it very seriously." Anderson said membership in the AAC has been growing steadily since January.
Seven of the Episcopal Church's 113 dioceses have voted to join the network, with two other dioceses expected to vote on affiliating this year. Fewer than 70 of the 6,800 congregations in non-affiliated dioceses have joined. Some evangelical bishops sympathetic to the network's goals are reportedly reluctant to join while their parishioners are divided on the issue.
'Water walkers' called to action
In the conference's opening address, the Rev. Ron Jackson, rector of St. Luke's in-the-Mountains, La Crescenta, California, compared ECUSA to the historic Queen Mary ship, docked nearby.
"It represents the grandeur of an age gone by but is now dry-docked. It can't go anywhere," said Jackson, who is also the president of the Los Angeles AAC chapter. "It's a place for tourists, not sailors ... a place you can buy souvenirs, but it isn't the kind of ship Christ is trying to build."
He cited the Gospel of Matthew's account of Jesus walking on water during a storm, and challenged the gathering to become "water walkers."
"I believe Jesus is building a ship to take us out into the water. I believe Jesus will teach us to sail by the wind of the Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus is saying to us, 'get out of the boat. Don't let the wind and waves terrify you,'" declared Jackson.
Blessings draw reactions
Jackson and other speakers also criticized Bishop Bruno for recently blessing the union of the Rev. Malcolm Boyd and his partner of 20 years, author and counselor Mark Thompson. Bruno's action is believed to be the first time a sitting bishop has presided at such a ceremony since General Convention, meeting in Minneapolis last August, acknowledged the practice as part of the life of the Episcopal Church.
"How do words begin to describe the scope and the depth of the offense against the church catholic, against the communion members, against the Gospel itself that this is?" Jackson asked. "What kind of message are these bishops intending to send to the primates? They're sending some kind of message, and it's pretty loud and clear."
Bishop John Chane of Washington said he will bless the union of the Rev. Michael Hopkins and John Bradley on June 12 in Maryland. Hopkins' term as president of Integrity, the Episcopal Church's gay and lesbian advocacy group, just ended.
Claiming the Blessing (CTB), a coalition of organizations favoring same-sex blessings, issued a statement applauding the pastoral sensitivity of Bruno and Chane "in choosing to both authorize and preside at the blessing of unions of same-sex couples in their dioceses. We believe such celebrations of holy love give glory to God and are examples to us all, and we give thanks for the witness and ministry of the bishops presiding and the couples committing themselves to Christ and to each other." CTB includes member organizations like Integrity, Oasis, Beyond Inclusion and the Episcopal Women's Caucus.
"We reject the American Anglican Council's characterization of the actions of the bishops of Los Angeles and Washington as 'unilateral,' noting that such blessings are in accord with the actions of the majority of the duly elected representatives of the mainstream Episcopal Church meeting in its General Convention," the statement read.
Meanwhile, AAC leaders at the conference also condemned the actions of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, which affirmed the integrity of same-sex unions June 4 at its meeting in St. Catharine's, Ontario. Anderson and other speakers issued a call to evangelize and to minister to grieving conservatives in that church.
Harder times ahead?
To strong applause, Anderson said he would like to see the ECUSA censured by the primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He also told conference-goers that, rather than conservative Episcopalians leaving the ECUSA, those whom he said committed the schismatic act should be the ones to go.
"I would like to see the Episcopal Church censured, put on a probation status and called to repentance and if they do not repent, then certain things need to happen that are of a long-term nature. Some of the revisionists have implied: why haven't we just left, we're so schismatic anyway," Anderson said. "I believe that we gathered are the orthodox historically Anglican Christian faith within the United States. The cemeteries have our loved ones laid to rest. The nurseries have our children and our godchildren in them. This is our church and I want to see this church reformed, renewed, called to repentance, to experience the full grace of God's forgiveness.
"We are here to push back heresy and apostasy and claim this Episcopal Church for Jesus Christ the one and the only."
Anderson predicted times will get harder before they get better, and advised participants to stockpile diocesan and parish directories.
"There may come a time when the AAC chapter in your diocese may need to do direct mail into every home in the diocese, when they may need to replicate the local bishop's power to place a message in every living room," he advised participants.
'Radical individualism' cited
Bishop Joseph Wasonga of the Diocese of Maseno West in Kenya received a standing ovation when he addressed the gathering.
"We know we need to walk hand in hand with you as you bring the light of the Gospel to your country," he said amid cheering and shouting. "We will not receive money from anybody not acknowledging the authority of Scripture and that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No part of the Body of Christ is allowed to make a unilateral decision that affects the whole Body of Christ, that creates disunity and schism and we cannot say we are working together. We are all members of the Body of Christ and we must be subject to the lordship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are not to conform to culture, to tribalism, to racialism, or the radical individualism found in the West."
Third in a series
"Plano West" was the third in a series of AAC-sponsored gatherings for Episcopalians who are at odds with the consecration of an openly gay priest as Bishop of New Hampshire and with the blessing of same sex unions. An October 2003 gathering, planned for Plano, Texas but moved to Dallas to accommodate 2,600 attendees, was followed by "Plano East" in Woodbridge, Virginia, attended by more than 2,000 in January 2004.
According to the AAC, those attending "Plano West" came from a variety of western states including Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Washington, and California, as well as some participants from the East Coast.
A featured speaker was the Rev. Michael Green, a well-known evangelist and a senior research fellow at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, England who is an advisor to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Green helped formulate the charter that birthed the NACDP. Other speakers included the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, and the Rev. Alison Barfoot, recently appointed assistant for international relations to Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda.