The first large-scale gathering in the Anglican Churches of the Americas will be a February 2009 conference on "mutual responsibility and mission."
The organizers hope the gathering will help "to continue to celebrate our relationships through friendship, prayer, common worship, and to focus on Godâs common mission in the world," according to the draft of a "save the date" letter.
The conference will take place during the week of February 22 in San Juan, Costa Rica. Exact dates during that week are still to be determined.
"I would hope that the Anglican Churches in the Americas can come to a common understanding of our mission work together going forward from the conference," House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson recently told ENS.
Anderson is one of the group's organizers. The other is Francisco de Assis da Silva, provincial secretary of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil.
Anderson said she hopes that conference participants "will be able to renew and strengthen our relationships with each other, to celebrate, worship and pray together and to come away from the event with a renewed commitment to and a deeper understanding of our shared call to mission."
"We can do a lot more together than we can by ourselves," Anderson added.
Silva said he hopes that the conference will create "a new moment in the relationship between our provinces based on the common concern on issues of justice and service to the world."
"In this serious moment in which other parts of the Communion spend so much money and efforts discussing questions about sexuality, we need to show that Anglicans in Americas can contribute very much to change the focus of our witness, giving attention to what is really relevant," he told ENS.
Dorothy Davies-Flindall, a lay member of the conference design group from the Anglican Church of Canada, agreed.
"I have high hopes for this conference. I believe that it is an opportunity for growth in unity; that it will encourage awareness of the kind of community we are called to be, each of us and all together," she said. "I believe that we can learn from each other how our structures and our relationships may help us to be empowered beyond ourselves to be transformed and to transform lives."
Davies-Flindall said the conference will be important for the Canadian province because "we have been working to determine what is our direction -- how can we come to reconciliation."
"This will be a place to tell our story and hear it anew ourselves," she continued. "It can challenge us to the broad prophetic view. Together we may engage in a strong act of vision, of a dream of joy and well being and of reconciliation with creation, with each other and with God."
Silva said that his province has faced the same sort of conflict that others have experienced in the midst of the current tensions in the Anglican Communion.
"It will be very fortifying for us share our sufferings and build a network of solidarity between us that takes the Five Marks of Mission as a focus," he said, predicting that the gathering will be for sharing dreams, plans and relationships.
Representatives of five of eight potential member provinces have joined in telephone conference calls to discuss and plan the gathering. Those provinces include the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of the Central America Region, the Anglican Church of Mexico, and the Episcopal Church.
Anderson, General Convention Secretary Gregory Straub and Sandra McPhee, chair of the Executive Councilâs International Concerns Committee, formed the Episcopal Churchâs delegation to those conference calls.
The Church in the Province of the West Indies, the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of the Americas, and the Episcopal Church of Cuba were invited to join the conference calls.
"Even though [representatives from the Southern Cone and West Indies] haven't participated in our design team conference calls, they have communicated with me and continue to receive progress reports about the design of the conference," Anderson said. "We continue to hope that they will participate in the conference."
Cuba's interim bishop, Miguel Tamayo, wrote an email that was read at the most recent conference call on May 8 that the Episcopal Church in Cuba is "100 percent on board with this event," Anderson said.
The idea for the mission gathering grew out of a November 2006 proposal for an Anglican regional convocation of the Americas that Anderson made to the Episcopal Church's Executive Council. Resolution INC005 from that Council meeting authorized a work group, appointed by Anderson and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, to develop the idea. The resolution said that the goal of such convocation would be "to equip better our churches for mutuality and interdependence in Godâs mission."
The Council group began meeting early in 2007 and later wrote to primates and provincial secretaries of the Anglican provinces in the Western Hemisphere inquiring of their interest in beginning âa regional conversation as to how our provinces can better support each other in our faithfulness to Godâs mission in the Americas,â according to notes from the conference calls.
Conversation continued when some of the convocation's potential members attended the October 2007 meetings of Executive Council and the church's Standing Commission on World Mission. The participants in those discussions agreed to continue to meet as the Anglican Churches in the Americas and asked Anderson to continue to be the group's organizer. She in turn asked Silva to join her. Lay members of the provinces have since joined the design group.
Each province will be invited to send two clergy and four lay representatives to the gathering, along with its primate and provincial secretary or designated representatives. The estimated cost for travel, lodging and hotel is approximately $1,400 per person or $11,200 per province. A subcommittee of the design team is working to identify possible funds to make scholarship money available to those who will need it.
Anderson said the Anglican Churches of the Americas has the potential to "strengthen the witness of the Anglican Church in the Americas and unite the provinces."
Davies-Flindall notes that the provinces "have a great deal in common in terms of our history and cultures -- a history of colonialism, of dispossessed indigenous people and their search for their place in Anglicanism."
"We are called first of all to be agents of transformation locally, but we can learn from each other how we can best do that and perhaps where we may be called to mission beyond the local," she said. "And we are, of course, all members of the larger Anglican family, and families need to come together for strength, for awareness and to be reminded of God's promises and our commitment."
Silva agreed, saying that the Americas face issues ranging "from poverty to exclusion of immigrants, from violence against women to violence against children, from environment aggression to the monopoly of great companies and many others challenges that we live."
"All that needs to be faced with a joint and articulated action of our Churches," he said.