Hiltz to update other primates on state of Canadian church

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Archbishop Fred Hiltz

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has asked the primates (national archbishops) of five provinces, including the Anglican Church of Canada, to reflect on the impact that the current Anglican conflict over sexuality has had on the mission and priorities of their churches.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that he and the primates of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Uganda, Pakistan, and South Africa, have been invited to offer their reflections during the primates’ meeting scheduled Feb. 1 to 5 in Alexandria, Egypt.

“We’re fortunate in that we can say that the five marks of mission have become a real focus in the Canadian church and are sort of becoming household language in terms of how we talk about our work as a church, both here in Canada and through our partnerships around the world,” said Archbishop Hiltz in an interview. (The five marks of mission, which were formulated by the Anglican Consultative Council, are: to proclaim the good news of the kingdom; to teach, baptize and nurture new believers; to respond to human need by loving service; to seek to transform the unjust structures of society; and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.)

Archbishop Hiltz said he was putting together a package of information to be handed out at the meeting which will reflect the message that “we’re a church that’s renewing its commitment to God’s mission in the world, and that there’s more to the Canadian church than discussions about sexuality; that mission is front and centre.”

The Anglican Church of Canada has been wrestling with whether or not to bless same-sex unions. One diocese, New Westminster, has allowed some parishes to offer same-sex blessings since 2002; the synods of four other dioceses – Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara and Huron- plus the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (the former diocese of Cariboo) have asked their bishops to allow it as well. 


The primates will meet behind closed doors at the Helnan Palestine Hotel and will discuss the following issues: Christian responses to the current global financial crisis, developments around the proposed Anglican Covenant, the proposed alliance of Anglican relief and development agencies, the impact of global warming, an introduction to the agenda for the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in May, and the work of the theological working group for the Anglican Communion.

The primates will also receive a new report from the Windsor Continuation Group, which has been charged with addressing issues arising from the Windsor Report, including the proposed moratoria on same-sex blessings, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions.

Archbishop Hiltz said that he found it “odd” and “interesting” that two of the most discussed issues at last year’s Lambeth Conference – the proposed moratoria and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – do not specifically appear as agenda items in the meeting. Also not on the agenda is the proposed new North American province founded by conservative Canadian Anglicans and Episcopalians, which is being backed by some primates.

He said that primates were invited to make submissions “about the kinds of things we thought should be on the agenda and, apparently, they put the agenda based on the number of times a particular matter is raised.” He surmised that “maybe only a few people put moratoria and MDGs.” He added that he himself wanted to discuss “the whole nature of the primacy.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that he planned to raise the issue of the moratoria and the MDGs. He noted that the Canadian church’s house of bishops had issued its response to the call for moratoria, and he, along with other ecumenical leaders, had raised the profile of the MDGs at a walk in Ottawa last year.

The house of bishops last fall issued a statement that a “large majority” of its members could affirm “a continued commitment to the greatest extent possible” to a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions but also recognized that this would pose difficulty for dioceses “that in conscience have made decisions on these matters.”

Archbishop Hiltz said he planned to specifically raise the issue of cross-border interventions. “The bishops made it really clear to me that they want me to speak about the issue with clarity and conviction that no bishop in the Canadian church is happy or will tolerate these interventions, no matter where they stand on the blessing of same-sex unions,” he said. “I will have to find a way to get that on the table if others don’t.”

While some bishops have indicated that they would take some “incremental steps” in allowing same-sex blessings, they were still exercising “gracious restraint,” he said. “None of the bishops to date are saying ‘across the board, it can happen.’ They’ve been gracious in trying to listen to the rest of the church. We’re not moving that quickly, we’re somewhere in the middle here. While all that is happening, we still have the continuing intervention of primates and bishops from other jurisdictions who are showing no restraint.”

Three retired bishops and at least 14 parishes have left the Anglican Church of Canada and placed themselves under the authority of Archbishop Gregory Venables, the primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

The primate said he hopes that he can have “some constructive conversations with some folks that are at the frontline of cross-border interventions or if they’re not on the frontline, they’re certainly supportive.”

Archbishop Hiltz, who will be among 10 new primates attending the meeting for the first time, said he was “a bit anxious” but also “looking forward” to the gathering.

“What I’m looking forward to is getting to know the other primates a little better,” he said. He said that he wanted to hear “where we are as a Communion, post-Lambeth; what the other primates have to say about the call for moratoria and how are their churches responding to that; and what other provinces are doing about the MDGs.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the five marks of mission have motivated much of the church’s work leading up to its General Synod in 2010. “It’s undergirding the work of the primacy review task force which is saying that as we look at the roles and responsibilities of the primacy, ‘what leadership do we need in a primate for a church that’s engaged in mission?,'” he cited. “Even the governance work, interestingly enough, has been motivated in their tasks by mission and probably the most exciting file is around indigenous ministries and honouring the desire of aboriginal people to be more self-determining when it comes to decisions about ministry.”

He said that the package he will share with his fellow primates will include information about the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s 50th anniversary plans, Vision 2019 and the plans for General Synod 2010, his New Year’s address in Ottawa, and the statement issued by the house of bishops last fall.

The primates’ meeting will open Feb. 1 with a quiet morning led by Archbishop Williams, followed by a worship service at St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral in Alexandria. The gathering will also include visits to the Alexandria School of Theology and the city library where Archbishop Williams will deliver a lecture.

(Editor’s note: The fifth paragraph of this article has been revised.)

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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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