Intensifying tension over growing liberalism within the Anglican Church of Canada has broken into an open rift in recent months, as biblically orthodox congregations have moved to separate themselves from the Canadian church structure and align themselves with the similarly orthodox Province of the Southern Cone in South America.

Although it was not the only factor, the Canadian church’s increasing acceptance of blessings for same-sex unions is generally being regarded as the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

The process began in earnest when the orthodox Anglican Network in Canada held a national meeting at the Crossroads Centre in Burlington last Nov. 22 and 23. Almost 300 people representing 70 churches across Canada assembled there to discuss the option of leaving the Anglican Church of Canada, while remaining Anglicans in full communion with the Church of England throughout the world, by affiliating with Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone.

The event was presided over by Bishop Donald Harvey, who is now serving under Venables. It was announced that Bishop Malcolm Harding was also joining Harvey in accepting new primatial oversight by Venables and that two congregations, Church of the Resurrection in Hope, B.C. and St. John’s in Richmond, B.C., had elected to receive episcopal care from Harvey and Venables. The rectors of those churches, meanwhile, received new licences from Harvey.

Since that conference, a number of congregations have held votes over whether they wish to remain within the Anglican Church of Canada or accept oversight from the Southern Cone. At press time, the following have voted to leave the ACC, most by wide margins: St. John’s (Shaughnessy), Vancouver; St. Alban’s, Ottawa; St. George’s (Lowville), Campbellville, Ont.; St. Hilda’s, Oakville, Ont.; St. Chad’s, Toronto; St. Mary’s (Metchosin), Victoria, B.C.; St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, B.C.; Holy Cross, Abbotsford, B.C.; St. Matthias and St. Luke’s, Vancouver; Church of the Good Shepherd, Vancouver; and Church of the Good Shepherd, St. Catharines, Ont.

However, the transition has not, in many cases, been taking place smoothly. ANiC director Cheryl Chang toldThe Interim ACC personnel in the Diocese of Niagara have been particularly hostile to those seeking to break away in two parishes.

“In the Diocese of Niagara, we have the most aggressive response,” she said. “Immediately after the votes, a group from the diocese … showed up and tried to take over the buildings by force, essentially. When they were refused admission, they began court proceedings. That went to court on Feb. 29. They were seeking an order for possession or to share the building with the congregation.”

A hearing on the order was postponed to March 20, during which time the court – in a decision described as a minor miracle – granted the local parishes exclusive possession to continue using their properties.

In the Dioceses of New Westminster and Ottawa, bishops have served a notice upon priests serving breakaway congregations a notice of presumption of abandonment of ministry, in which they have been given 60 days to respond to the allegations against them.

In the Diocese of B.C., there has been a “cooling off period,” with an agreement reached to allow the congregation to stay in their building and continue ministry while engaging in discussions toward a settlement of the issues.

In the Diocese of Toronto, the bishop locked the church in which the congregation voted to break away and suspended the priest. That congregation is now meeting elsewhere, while the building has been reopened without a priest.

Chang noted that immediately after the November conference in Burlington, a number of clergy who attended were summoned to meet with their bishops. Then a number of letters came out from the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and from various bishops basically threatening any priests or congregations that were considering affiliating with the network.

“Most of them made statements to the effect of, ‘If you make this vote, you should know that the properties belong to us’ – I guess intimidating people to the point where they would hopefully not vote for this or affiliate with us out of fear of losing their church building. Despite those threats, a number of churches have voted to join the network,” she said.

Chang added that while congregations have generally been free to vote, threats against properties, evictions, firings and suspensions of priests and a general atmosphere of intimidation have dissuaded a number of other congregations from voting.

“A lot of people are going to wait. Now that we’ve had the first wave, there are a lot of people who will wait and see how things unfold before they will consider moving forward,” she said.

As possibly other parishes prepare to vote, the next step for ANiC is “Compelled by Christ’s Love,” a national conference in Vancouver April 25 and 26. Described as “a joyful celebration of (God’s) goodness, a time of solid Bible teaching and a new commissioning of clergy, parishes and members to the mission Christ entrusted to his church,” the event will feature an appearance by Venables and other leaders in the global Anglican communion. It will culminate in a special service of celebration, commissioning and communion.

In the meantime, Chang is calling on all biblically faithful Christians to pray for ANiC’s cause. “We are in desperate need of prayer. We were very grateful – we felt the decision in the first Niagara hearing was nothing short of a miracle. We are grateful to God for that decision. We need continued prayer as we appear before the courts, that we will be seen in a light that is favourable for Christianity.”