It would have been premature and beyond his authority to stand together with The Episcopal Church (TEC) over same-sex marriage at the Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury last week, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said in a reflection released Tuesday, January 19.
Hiltz suggested some people have said he should have come out more strongly in defence of TEC.
“I am aware of sharp criticism over what some regard to have been a failure on my part to stand in solidarity with The Episcopal Church in openly rejecting the relational consequences it bears as a result of The Primates’ Meeting, or in accepting similar consequences for our own Church,” Hiltz said.
To have voluntarily accepted the same measures for the Anglican Church of Canada, Hiltz said, would have meant overstepping his authority as primate, since General Synod has not yet voted on the matter. “I was not and am not prepared to take any action that would pre-empt the outcome of our deliberations at General Synod in July,” he said.
TEC was censured by a majority of senior archbishops because of its General Convention’s decision in 2015 to allow same-sex marriages. In a communiqué released at the end of the January 11-15 meeting, the primates said they were “requiring” the temporary banning of TEC from ecumenical and interfaith bodies, internal standing committees and from “decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
In response to this criticism, Hiltz said first that he empathized with U.S. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who, he said, now faces “a firestorm of reaction in the United States.” TEC, Hiltz said, will now need some time to respond to the primates’ statement through its National Executive Council. A response to the statement may also be forthcoming from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), Hiltz added.
The ACC, which meets this April, is the main representative body of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
“I know The Episcopal Church to be very committed to the work and witness of the Communion as a whole, and I recognize the frustration they will feel in not serving in a representative way on our Ecumenical Dialogues, for example,” Hiltz said. “I recognize that if The Episcopal Church is not allowed to vote on a matter of doctrine or polity that the life of the Communion is diminished. I am grateful, however, that they will still have a voice in the discussions of such matters.”
Hiltz said he had also “covenanted” with Curry to keep him and TEC in his prayers, and asked for Anglicans across Canada to do the same.
Hiltz added that he was “deeply impressed” by the way Curry had conducted himself at the meeting. “He was a stellar example of leadership under pressure, of courage with grace.”
Hiltz also apologized for the suffering he said the primates’ statement has caused the church’s non-heterosexual members, who had been made to feel “like the sacrificial offering on the altar of the Church’s unity.”
“Since returning home, I am especially mindful of the pain the LGBTQ community within our Church is feeling,” he said. “I am very sorry…I recognize that many are angry and deeply disillusioned with the very Church in which they endeavour to live out their lives as disciples of Jesus. I know that for some it is in fact very difficult to remain within its fellowship, and that it will take a great resolve of will and courage to do so.”
He called on the Canadian church to reaffirm its commitment to reject laws anywhere in the world against “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer or questioning people,” and asked for prayers “for the LGBTQ people in the midst of the hurt they are bearing and the hope to which they cling for the recognition and sacramental blessing of their relationships.”
Hiltz also acknowledged that divisiveness had surfaced at the Primates’ Meeting.
“While being ordered for communion, we recognize that in the face of deep difference of theological conviction over certain matters of faith and doctrine the bonds of affection between us can be strained, sometimes sadly so, to the point of people speaking of a state of impaired communion,” he said. “This meeting of the Primates was particularly challenging with respect to the tending of our relationships in light of the developments in The Episcopal Church.”
However, the meeting was less plagued by strife than many had predicted, he said.
“This meeting could have been marked by calls for exclusion of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and me,” he said. “It was not. It could have been marked by walk-outs as some had anticipated. It was not. It could have been marked by ranting and raving. It was not. Instead it was marked by perseverance to remain in dialogue that was frank but respectful. It was marked by a generosity of grace and patience, with one another.”
Primates also renewed their commitment “to consult broadly in the seeking of advice and counsel,” when addressing matters of doctrine “that could be controversial in nature,” Hiltz said. At the same time, he said, primates were reminded of the principle stated in the Windsor Continuation Group that “when the Primates speak collectively, or in a united or unanimous manner, their advice—while it is no more than advice—nevertheless needs to be received with a readiness to undertake reflection and accommodation.”
Hiltz also underscored the other matters the primates had discussed, such as poverty, war and the environment. Primates from across the Communion described the effects that climate change is causing, he said, and he himself spoke about the effects of a warming climate on the people of Canada’s North.
“As we have been often reminded, climate change is really about climate justice,” Hiltz said. “It’s about our commitment to the fifth Mark of Mission—to safeguard the integrity of creation.”
Other primates voiced their concerns about mounting religious violence in countries such as Nigeria. “On this matter and others, including our response to corruption in governments and our response to the global refugee crisis, the point was made that faith communities, governments and civil society must find ways to speak and act together,” he said.
The primates, Hiltz said, were “deeply blessed” by the presence at the meeting of Canadian Catholic theologian and humanitarian Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a worldwide network helping developmentally disabled people. Vanier preached to the primates on the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet—then knelt down and washed the feet of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Hiltz said. The others followed suit.
“Justin prayed for him and then knelt to wash the feet of the Primate sitting next to him. So around the circle this quiet act of humble service was replicated,” Hiltz said. “All one could hear was the gentle splash of water being poured over feet and the voice of prayer…It was a wonderful way to bring this meeting of the Primates to a close.”