Canadian bishops to ponder implications of ‘next steps’ after Lambeth

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Members of the Canadian house of bishops gather for an impromptu photo session at the 2008 Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury, England.
Members of the Canadian house of bishops gather for an impromptu photo session at the 2008 Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury, England.

The Canadian house of bishops will discuss next month how best to respond to renewed proposals for a moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of openly gay persons to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions.

In a related development, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he has requested Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to facilitate a meeting between him, the primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, Gregory Venables, U.S. presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the primate of Brazil, Mauricio de Andrade, to discuss cross-border interventions.

The three primates – Archbishop Hiltz, Archbishop de Andrade, and Bishop Jefferts Schori – have repeatedly asked Archbishop Venables to stop meddling in the internal affairs of their provinces. Archbishop Venables has, of his own accord, been providing episcopal oversight to churches that are in serious theological dispute with their respective provinces over the issue of sexuality. Archbishop Williams has said he will do his best to facilitate the request.

In an interview, Archbishop Hiltz said the Canadian bishops will have “a very focused conversation” around how they understand the call for moratoria. He said there are conflicting interpretations on what the moratorium means, with some thinking it means not having any new blessings, and some interpreting it as retroactive, which would require a synod like New Westminster to rescind its 2002 motion that allowed same-sex blessings in their diocese. He added that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent letter to bishops about the moratoria was also “significant.” Archbishop Williams had acknowledged that, while the call for moratoria received support from “a strong majority” at the conference, he was nonetheless aware of the “conscientious difficulties this posed for some.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the diocesan bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, “rightly pointed out that it’s not for him to rescind the motion; the synod has to debate the issue.” The primate said that he’d be “very surprised if they rescind that motion.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the call for moratoria would also be “a huge pastoral challenge” for bishops of four dioceses that have pending requests from their synods for the approval of same-sex blessings “given the kind of strong majority votes those synods” had.

He also said that the question of reciprocity remains. Bishops who are being asked to hold off on same-sex blessings are bound to ask, “Am I going to see a similar act of graciousness on the part of a primate or a bishop who intervenes from another province?” said Archbishop Hiltz. He said that there is clear evidence that the interventions are not going to cease. Already, conservative primates who boycotted the conference and formed a council for the Global Anglicans Future Conference (GAFCON) have announced plans for church plantings and the possibility of creating a new province in North America.

“It’s very complex because (they) feel their intervention is a pastoral response,” he said.

Archbishop Hiltz said that he was “not surprised” by GAFCON’s rejection of the proposals to address the conflict over sexuality. “It almost feels to me that whatever accusations or charges they lay against us, they appear to me to function very much a separatist group,” he said.

Asked about GAFCON’s plan to set up a North American province, he said “the province has to be in communion with the See of Canterbury and it’s the Anglican Consultative Council that determines (whether a province can be set up), not a group of primates and bishops, not even the Archbishop of Canterbury.” He said that the Archbishop of Canterbury had already expressed earlier that he only recognizes one Anglican ecclesial body in Canada, and that is the Anglican Church of Canada.

Archbishop Hiltz said that while he can’t predict what the bishops will do, he is aware of that they are wrestling with the “tensions between the local and global.” The dioceses of Ottawa and Montreal – whose synods a year ago approved a motion requesting their bishops to allow same-sex blessings- are having synods on Oct. 24 and 25, a few days before the house of bishops meeting scheduled Oct. 27 to 31. The two other dioceses – Niagara and Huron – will have their synods in November and May, respectively.

“Their local constituency has spoken, an overwhelming majority in some cases,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “While some would say it was even inappropriate for them to even debate the issue after the outcome at General Synod…the synod was an opportunity to hear the mind and heart of the church local, and the pastoral needs are significant there than they are in other places as evidenced by the vote.”

At the same time, Archbishop Hiltz said, “behind them and around them is the wider picture.” The question posed by the St. Michael Report (issued by the Primate’s Theological Commission in 2005) still remains, he said. “Do we hold unity as the ultimate value and so we cling to that at the risk of making a pastoral response that is called for unnecessary in the local context, or is it the other way – the gospel imperative is so important in this pastoral context that we proceed at the risk of unity?”

Archbishop Hiltz said that while the recent Lambeth Conference didn’t resolve anything, “I think a lot of us came away a lot more aware of the context in which people are wrestling with the issue.” He said that Anglicans around the world operate in very diverse contexts. While countries like Canada allow gays and lesbians to be civilly married, there are other parts of the Anglican Communion where “if it’s found out that you’re homosexual, your life is on the line – you could be imprisoned or killed,” he said.

“What we do in Canada has the potential to impact other places,” he said. He added that bishops from other provinces also became acutely aware of what the situation in the Canadian church is.

The diocesan bishop of Montreal, Barry Clarke, has told the diocesan paper, Montreal Anglican, that he is “still in a process of prayerful thought” and “still in a space of listening to the diocese” on the issue of whether to allow priests to bless same-sex marriages under certain circumstances.

He said that his deeply moving experiences at Lambeth have also left him “deeply conscious of other voices in the wider Anglican Communion” on this and other issues.

The diocesan bishop of Ottawa, John Chapman, told the diocesan newspaper, Crosstalk, “I came home from Lambeth no further along than I was before I left.”

Bishop Chapman, who spoke on the issue of moratoria at the Lambeth Conference, said he would only consider a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions if its duration is reasonable. He noted that there had been no conversation on how long the moratorium would last. “I posed the question at Lambeth – moratorium? Until when? The next Lambeth?” He said he is waiting to hear what the Anglican Consultative Council and other bodies have to say about the matter.

Bishop Chapman also said that there was no consensus about the moratoria. “It was sort of a virtual majority (those in favour of a moratorium) that carried the day on that, but it certainly wasn’t consensus as there was consensus on the communion continuing towards healthy inter-faith relationships, to continue to ecumenical dialogue with a goal toward church unity,” he said.

On the question of what he hoped to achieve by meeting with Archbishop Venables, Archbishop Hiltz said, “What I would hope is that we could hear one another.”

He added; “What would I say in that meeting? Let me try and hear why it is you feel you need to continue to work to intervene in the life of the Anglican Church of Canada?” He said that he would try and explain that the Anglican Church of Canada has in place a shared episcopal ministry for those who disagree with more liberal actions of their dioceses around sexuality, and for those on the liberal side who feel marginalized by the lack of inclusiveness, a provision for pastoral generosity, “whereby those who are civilly married can come and ask for prayers, join prayers of people in eucharist.”

 

 

 

 

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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