The Rev. Tom Foster of Modesto was a delegate to the historic inaugural provincial assembly of the Anglican Church in North America held June 22-25 in Bedford, Texas. He called the meeting "a gangbuster operation" and said the spirit of the gathering "was absolute joy."
The 29th province in the worldwide Anglican Communion was established to oversee U.S. churches and dioceses that have left the Episcopal Church, as well as those in Canada that similarly have split over doctrinal issues, primarily the interpretation of Scripture. ACNA will oversee 700 parishes four U.S. dioceses and about 100,000 people, organizers said.
The new province, which still must garner approval from two-thirds of Anglican leaders around the world, is not recognized by the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Robert Duncan, bishop of another U.S. breakaway diocese, was installed as ACNA's archbishop during the assembly, which included the adoption of a constitution and canons, or laws. That would put him on equal footing with Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the other 27 primates, or leaders, around the world.
Foster said spontaneous applause broke out several times during the event, especially when pastor Rick Warren of the megachurch Saddleback Church in Southern California spoke during the opening session and during Duncan's address.
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"In the middle of a sentence, everyone stood up and cheered," Foster said. The ovations came when the speakers talked of a need to look forward and not back, and to proclaim that "Jesus is the one and only savior and son of God," he said.
Foster, who leads Modesto's Jesus Our Savior Anglican Church, which was formed in 2008, said he was baptized in the Episcopal Church, married in it and ordained as an Episcopalian priest in 1955 when he was 25 years old. He's now 78.
"In the last 30 years, I've been apologizing for the behavior of the Episcopal Church," said Foster, who previously served at St. Paul's in Modesto and Christ the King in Riverbank. "Now I'm caught up in the joy of reuniting with all the people who have left over the years. My feeling is liberation and freedom."
But, he added, the split is not without its emotional toll.
"It's like leaving your mother," he said.
Foster said he never imagined he'd be in active service at his age.
"Ten years ago, I had prostate cancer and had special radiation therapy," he said. "For a while, I was a little confused about what God wanted me to do besides rest. Basically, God revealed that I could fade into a coffin or I could give everything I've got to preach the word of God. That's what I'm doing."
Just as Episcopalians are firmly convinced there was no need for a split, Foster and others at the Texas convention believe they could no longer remain joined to a church whose leaders have ordained an openly gay bishop, favored same-sex marriage vows and said that Jesus may not be the only way to God.
"I pray that one day the Episcopal Church will come to a different understanding of the Gospel -- a more traditional understanding," Foster said. "And I pray the lawsuits (over property) will end.
"Duncan said we're not 'againners' -- that is, against the Episcopal Church. Instead, we are to keep the main thing the main thing, of proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. We're invited to feed the hungry, care for the sick. We're invited to touch the lepers and care for AIDS patients.
"Duncan said he's interested in seeing 1,000 new parishes in the next five years. I hope our church is one of those."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.