Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, returned Monday, December 4 from a week-long trip to the U.K., during which time he met with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and discussed, among other things, preparations for the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2020.
Hiltz has been making the annual trip since 2007, a chance, he says, to share “matters pertinent to the life of the Anglican Church of Canada” with the archbishop, as well as to meet with the staff of the Anglican Communion office.
The theme of the conference will be “God’s Church for God’s World,” and will mark the 100th anniversary of the 1920 Lambeth Conference, which, Hiltz says, “was one of the first conferences where there were significant resolutions about the church’s presence in the world, and work in the world.” Hiltz says Welby is hoping the 2020 conference will “capture some of that spirit.”
Hiltz says that issues such as climate change, human trafficking, poverty and peace in the Middle East are among those that will “loom large” at the conference. Another such issue is same-sex marriage, which was discussed at the recent meeting of the primates in October, during which consequences were imposed on the Scottish Episcopal Church for voting earlier this year to allow same-sex marriage in church.
Hiltz says the challenge will be to “contain” the conversation: “Not to shut it down, but to contain it in such a way that it doesn’t take over the conference, that it doesn’t dominate everything and filter through every other conversation.”
The primate adds that both Welby and the primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, stated a desire at the Primates’ Meeting that these conversations would not “reopen…a huge discussion on the nature of marriage.” However, Hiltz concedes this is “a tall order.”
“How we give due respect…to theological perspective, to cultural perspective, to political and legal perspective—within the diversity of our world and the churches within the Anglican Communion, the majority of which are national churches—it’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Hiltz says that he senses a “yearning” within the church, and the wider Communion, “for us to find a way to live with our differences” in a respectful and gracious way. “That’s where the church needs to be moving. I think gone are the days when we spend huge amounts of time trying to convince the other of the truth we hold.”
Hiltz and Welby also discussed the potential for resolutions to be passed at the conference. The challenge is that “the resolutions are not binding,” says Hiltz. “Historically, we’ve had neither a desire nor a capacity to make them binding. So that’s very different, for instance, from the polity of Rome.”
While the 1998 Lambeth Conference passed a number of resolutions, some controversial, the 2008 conference passed none, he notes. “We kind of went from one extreme to the other,” says Hiltz. He adds that, “given some of the really important topics we’re going to be engaged in conversation about, it might be very appropriate that a resolution comes out of those conversations.”
Hiltz says he and Welby also talked about integrating the bishops with their spouses to a greater degree than in years past during the 2020 conference. “The thing around having the spouses and bishops’ program a bit more integrated is actually not a bad thing from the point of view that it’s a reflection of the fact that in many parts of the world, the spouses of the bishops have a really big role in their diocese,” says Hiltz. “In Africa, for instance, a lot of bishops’ spouses would be really strong leaders in Mothers’ Unions, so they tend to work alongside their husbands.”
Welby and Hiltz also discussed the regional Primates’ Meetings that will take place based on a decision made at the meeting in October. Primates in different regions will be gathering to share issues that they and their countries’ House of Bishops want to be on the agenda for the conference, which will in turn be shared with the Lambeth Design Group.
During his visit, Hiltz also delivered a sermon at Canterbury Cathedral on the first Sunday of advent. Audio of the sermon is available on the Canterbury Cathedral website.