Get to know the primatial candidates


Brenda Still

According to Canon III, the primate’s role is to “lead the Anglican Church of Canada in discerning and pursuing the mission of God.” Photo: Saskia Rowley

The five bishops nominated for primate of the Anglican Church of Canada share visions for the future

At the meeting of General Synod in July, the 14th primate of the Anglican Church of Canada will be chosen by votes of the Orders of Clergy and Laity. At their March meeting, the Order of Bishops nominated five bishops to stand for this election.

According to the Canon III, the primate’s role is to “lead the Anglican Church of Canada in discerning and pursuing the mission of God.”

The primate exercises “pastoral and spiritual leadership” throughout the national church by visiting parishes, dioceses and provinces, subject to the invitation of diocesan bishops.

The primate also represents the church internationally and ecumenically, and part of the primate’s ministry is to “speak and write prophetically to the Anglican Church of Canada”—and, on behalf of the church, to the world.

In the March issue of the Anglican Journal, current primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz noted that the primate’s authority is “not based on jurisdiction,” as the primate does not have the power to discipline (this power falls to the diocesan bishops and metropolitans). Instead, the primate is a “first among equals” and acts as a “locus of unity” for the church, Hiltz said.

“People feel like they see in the face and the heart of the primate—one hopes—a visible expression of their belonging to the wider church.”

The primate also serves as president of General Synod, chair of Council of General Synod and chair of the House of Bishops, as well as the CEO of General Synod staff. Primates serve until age 70 unless they resign the position.

The Anglican Journal asked the five primatial candidates to share how they would serve the church, and where they see God leading the Anglican Church of Canada.

To read the candidates’ complete responses to primatial nominee forms, visit the General Synod website.

Jane Alexander

Bishop of the diocese of Edmonton

Hometown: Stroud, U.K.; living in Edmonton since 1990
Ordination: Nov. 30, 1998 (deacon); Nov. 1, 2001 (priest)
Consecration: May 11, 2008
Favourite Hymn: “For all the Saints”
Favourite Scripture Passage: Matthew 25:35-40 (from The Message)

How would you serve the church as primate?

I would do my best to be a servant of the church, understanding the primacy as a role which relies on faithful relationships and shared vision for Christ’s church. It is also a role that is defined by the ordinals and for me finds its roots in the call to serve all people regardless of position or status, to interpret the needs and concerns of the world to the church, to speak into the confusion of the world the saving words of Christ, and to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection. I would endeavour to encourage a focus on intentional discipleship and growth of the church and to rejoice in the many ways people are finding to be church in the world. I would try to reflect back to the Canadian community what is happening in the Communion, and share in Communion the incredible work of the Canadian church.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

I think that God is leading us into a time of change where we have to be open to the many ways of being church outside of the traditional Sunday service. It is also a challenging time because our attendance figures show us that we need a very different strategy for reaching younger people and more flexibility in forming church communities for our local contexts. If we truly believe that God is doing a new thing (and I do), then God is leading us into a time of growth and opportunity. Change can be nerve-wracking, but I believe that the glory days of the church always lie ahead of us. I believe that God is calling us to re-examine our existing structures to see if they enhance or hinder the spread of the gospel.

Ronald (Ron) Cutler

Bishop of the diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada

Hometown: Montreal
Ordination: May 17, 1981 (deacon); Nov. 1, 1981 (priest)
Consecration: June 29, 2008
Favourite Hymn: Too many to pick one
Favourite Scripture Passage:  Ephesians 4:1-6

How would you serve the church as primate?

The primate needs to be a person of prayer and a person who will help the church to discern, among the many options and opportunities, what the church should be following in order to be faithful to God’s mission. The primate’s role is to promote and embody the mission which has been discerned. I also see this role as maintaining and strengthening relationships, especially as we move through a time of strongly held differences. I would seek to be a bridge between the many diverse elements of our church. One of the areas where relationships need continued attention is in the ongoing response to the TRC calls to action and the development of a self-determining Indigenous church. Holding different points of view while still living out of God’s love is a witness which the wider world needs to see. The only way we will be drawn together is by being drawn higher. The primate can remind us of what our best can be.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

We are living in a culture with at least two generations of people who know little or nothing of the Christian message and who have a distorted or non-existent understanding of Jesus. The Anglican Church of Canada will either live out of a sense of fear and defeat occasioned by the change going on around and within the church or embrace the opportunity to speak hope and liberation to a culture blinded with consumerism as the way to fulfilment. I believe that God is leading us along the latter path. The Kingdom of God speaks of wholeness, reconciliation, and continued growth in the knowledge of God. It is also a way filled with surprises. We have to model the extraordinary love of God for all people, and I have no doubt that God will lead us into some surprising places.

Gregory Keith Kerr-Wilson

Bishop of the diocese of Calgary and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land

Hometown: Born in Winnipeg, grew up in Saskatoon and Vancouver
Ordination: May 14, 1989 (deacon); May 13, 1990 (priest)
Consecration: May 23, 2006
Favourite Hymn: “I Bind Unto Myself Today”/“Be Thou My Vision”
Favourite Scripture Passage: Romans 12:1-2

How would you serve the church as primate?

I see carrying out the ministry of the primate by working collegially with the bishops and all of our members through the councils of the church and in a ministry of presence, teaching and encouragement—with a focus on articulating the gospel within our contemporary setting, celebrating our shared faith in Jesus, building bridges across conflicts and divides, and encouraging a focus on mission and outreach.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

While it is always dangerous to reduce the gospel to short slogans or sound bites, I would say that two of the core pieces which need to lead and fuel our life as a church are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20/Mark 16:15). How we seek to fulfill them, however, is deeply influenced by the context in which we live out our faith as church and as Christians. While we have talked for quite some years now about how we no longer live in “Christendom,” I believe that we are still strongly and instinctually influenced by a Christendom mindset. I believe God is leading us into transformation “by the renewing of [our] minds”—understanding that neither we nor the gospel are at the centre of our society’s life and values any longer, and learning afresh, in our changed context, how to live and speak the word of life that we have received in Jesus Christ.

Linda Nicholls

Bishop of the diocese of Huron

Hometown: Grew up in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto; living in London, Ont.
Ordination: Nov. 3, 1985 (deacon); Nov. 15, 1986 (priest)
Consecration: Feb. 2, 2008
Favourite Hymn: “My song is love unknown
Favourite Scripture Passage: Romans 8:38-39

How would you serve the church as primate?

The primate is a servant of the Church, gathering the stories of the ministry of the church coast to coast to coast and across the Anglican Communion, discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst, and offering a vision that can embrace us and call us into new mission and ministry.

I would serve as a bridge builder among our dioceses and the Communion, a pastor and co-worker among the House of Bishops and a leader for the work of General Synod.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

The Anglican Church of Canada is gifted with diversity and a necessary interdependence. In a world that polarizes differences into exclusion and rejection, God is calling us to discover ways to deepen relationships, build bridges, listen to one another and find ways to witness together to living in grace and truth. The Marks of Mission continue to offer a framework for ministry within which we can respond to the variety of needs and contexts we experience.

We are especially being called to deepen our proclamation of the gospel and our discipleship.  The challenges of diminishing financial resources will require an evaluation of what is essential to do at a national level through General Synod and what areas will call us to do more locally and regionally. The other resources we need are present in our people, in their gifts, creativity and faith! Thanks be to God!

Michael Douglas Oulton

Bishop of the diocese of Ontario

Hometown: Port Elgin, N.B.
Ordained: Sept. 21, 1992 (deacon); April 1, 1993 (priest)
Consecrated: June 11, 2011
Favourite Hymn: “I feel the winds of God today”
Favourite Scripture Passage: 1 Samuel 16 (1-13), “The Anointing of David”

How would you serve the church as primate?

The power of this question is framing it with the verb “serve” rather than the verb “lead.” Those who are called to minister within the Church of Jesus Christ and through it to the world are called to be servant leaders. From the beginning of his ministry until his final hours, Jesus demonstrated that the power of the Kingdom of God is rooted in servant leadership. “The one who would be greatest among you must be servant of all.”

We are so much stronger, so much more effective, when we draw together to serve together. The ministry of reconciliation has grown to become the central aspect of my ministry. I believe the ministry of reconciliation to be vital, as we live and proclaim the gospel in these challenging days.

The power of the primacy is the voice of the primacy, calling us together, calling us to the high ground, so that others may see the light of the gospel from the high hill and join us in the mission to which we are called.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

I can think of no better way to describe the leading of God for our church than in the words of Isaiah to the people of Israel: “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the builder of streets to dwell in.” We live in a world where angry voices foment fear and division. The tragic result of this rhetoric is the sudden unleashing of destructive and violent forces.

Our church is called to be a beacon of hope, bearing a message of unity in the name of Christ. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are called to beckon others to join us in support of the vulnerable and to effect reconciliation, from the local communities we serve, to the relationships that govern the affairs of nations.

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3 Responses

  1. Having experience as a bishop is not enough: We need a bishop with experience of being a priest so for whoever is elected to be able to really understand the reality of most of our parishes and local churches. We need someone with more than just 10 or less years experience as a priest.

  2. I appreciate that each nominee acknowledges the serious challenges we face. Yet not one of them even mentions an encouraging milestone that we are rapidly approaching. The year 2049 will be the 500th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer, effectively of Anglicanism as such. It troubles me a bit that this did not rate even a passing comment. I wonder if we are failing to recognize an opportunity, perhaps even a Divine Calling, for this Church to witness to its Faith in a way that would truly be worthy of us.
    The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that we profess in the Creed cannot die, for it is the very Body of him who conquered death. But nowhere is it written that the same assurance of perpetuity extends to institutional branches of the Church … well, like us, for instance.
    In a very commendable way, Anglicanism has played the difficult ‘via media’ role assigned to it by history. We have much to celebrate. But as we approach our 500th anniversary, one wonders if prolonging our institutional life has become the only vision we have left. 500 years of Anglicanism! 500 years … fully one quarter of the entire span of Christian history! 500 years of being estranged from other Christians! 500 years of contributing to the cacophony of competing Christian voices, and thereby of hindering our own best efforts to communicate the Faith to an unbelieving world! Dare I pose a difficult question? Is it not possible our reformation mandate has been fulfilled by now?
    The Prophets of old were not being negative or faithless when they warned of imminent danger if their generation refused to hear the Word of the Lord. Is it possible there is a ‘Word of the Lord’ for us behind the problems that continue to unravel us?
    Is God really calling us to have yet another life-saving Fund Raising Campaign? Given our commitment to ‘Reconciliation’, how long can we countenance the tragically dismembered state of the Body of Christ? What do we mean in our Liturgy when we pray, “Let your Church be the wheat which bears its fruit in dying” (BAS p. 213)? How long can we ignore Jesus’ warning that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life, for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8: 35)?
    What could we accomplish ‘for God’s sake’ if we loaded ourselves into a Trojan Horse and placed ourselves within a Christian community that has a better hope of longevity, and that might benefit from some good old Anglican reasonableness? Perhaps 2049 would be an appropriate time for Anglicans to say, “Enough already! We refuse to participate any longer in the scandalous Sin of Separation” … ie: to say with our Lord, “Father, into your hands we commend our spirit” (Luke 23: 46). What if we had the courage to say, “No one takes our life from us, but we lay it down of our own accord” (John 10: 18)?
    What if, without negotiations, apologies, concessions or conditions, and without “enmity and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord” (BCP p. 40), we simply served Rome notice that as of January 1, 2050 we will unilaterally heal 500 years of estrangement by wrapping up our Anglican operation, and then by attending Mass en masse with the genuine expectation of being graciously welcomed and incorporated?
    I know this sounds outrageous. But, so does the vision of spending the next thirty years desperately clinging to life by our fingernails and finally succumbing with a whimper of defeat. An old maxim holds true: “If you have nothing more to live for than to go on living, you will not live; and if you have nothing worth dying for, you will die.”
    But such a Grand Gesture needs to begin now, with the election of a Primate who can vision beyond the date of his or her own retirement, and who can motivate us to walk fearlessly in the footsteps of our Lord.
    The Ven. Dale R. Huston

  3. Regarding Father Huston’s proposal, may I dare to doubt that any of the reformers would today feel their mandate for reform has been accomplished given a culture of systemic cover up?

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