Primate expresses ‘frustration’ that Canadian church’s voice hasn’t been heard at Lambeth hearings

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Canterbury, England
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has expressed “frustration” that the Canadian church has not been given an opportunity to present its situation with regards to the blessing of same-sex unions during hearings conducted by a body formed to determine the next course of action for the Anglican Communion to salvage its fractured unity.

Archbishop Hiltz, who is attending the once-a-decade conference of the world’s Anglican bishops here, said that it would be “a huge challenge” to merge what has been happening in bishops’ discussion groups, called indaba, with what the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) has been recommending as the way forward for the Communion.

“I think what we’re running into is a kind of difficult rubbing between the indaba process which has been in large measure very conversational, very relational” and the work of the WCG, which is “seeking to find structures and procedures whereby we can remain in communion with one another,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “How the two can interface for the well-being is a huge challenge at this moment.”

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Hiltz said, “The frustration that I have and I think other Canadians have is that I asked point blank in the second session around the Windsor Continuation Group for Canada to be heard in this conference.” He added, “My understanding of a hearing is obviously different from their understanding of a hearing. My understanding is if you’re going to have a hearing, you sit and listen and you allow a church, a province to tell its story. What I said in the hearing was, will you please accord to the province of Canada the same courtesy that was extended to them at the ACC meeting in Nottingham?”

Archbishop Hiltz said he found it “very frustrating” that he had made the request at a hearing of the WCG, which had been formed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to follow through on recommendations of the Windsor Report, but that “nobody makes a response to it.” He said this was “quite unfair to the Canadian church.”

The WCG on July 28 presented bishops with proposals to create a pastoral forum that would provide a “safe space” for conservative Anglicans who have left their churches, a “future” and “retrospective” moratorium on same-sex blessings, and a moratorium on the ordination of openly gay homosexuals and cross-border interventions by provinces.

Archbishop Hiltz noted that while the Canadian delegation wasn’t allowed to attend the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council “we were acceded the opportunity to at least tell our story – this is where we are, this is how we got here; here are the continuing challenges that we’re trying to address, which is fair and reasonable.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that he had challenged the conference in one of his indaba groups to be honest about where each province really is on the place of homosexuals in the church.

“If we’re going to call ourselves a family of churches – let’s have all the members of the family be honest. My understanding is that blessings of same sex unions take place in the Church of England frequently. Let’s be honest about that. How did they arrive at those decisions or are they happening but are described as non-official, not really recognized by the church. What I’m calling for is honesty.”

He noted that requests made by The Episcopal Church in the U.S. for an opportunity to explain how it arrived at a decision to consecrate Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, have similarly been ignored.

The Canadian church has repeatedly stated that it has not adopted a definitive position on the issue of same-sex blessings. “It is important to note that the Anglican Church of Canada has not altered its doctrine of marriage as outlined in our prayer books and canons (church laws),” Archbishop Hiltz had earlier said in a letter to his fellow primates. He had also said that while the dioceses of Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara and Huron have each passed a resolution urging the blessing of same-sex unions “where at least one party is baptized,” their bishops have withheld consent pending wider consultations.

Archbishop Hilt indicated that Canadian bishops are also smarting from calls being made for churches on both sides of the theological spectrum to exercise “more generosity,” a recurring theme in Archbishop of Canterbury’s addresses to the conference. “I see a generosity of spirit in the Canadian church that it’s difficult to get that voice heard in this conference,” he said.

He said that he has told his indaba group “that it’s my observation that in Canada there’s been a spirit of generosity that underlies our whole approach to the conversation. We have synods that have themes like ‘Lift every voice.’ We have dialogue processes that are genuinely committed to making sure that all the voices are part of the conversation. We’ve got a Primate’s Theological Commission.” He said that the church’s faith, worship and ministry department has been conducting “meaningful and faithful conversations about human sexuality” as mandated by General Synod, the church’s governing body. “We’ve got a model for shared episcopal ministry – if that’s not grounded in generosity, I don’t know what is.” (Shared episcopal ministry allows bishops to cross diocesan boundaries when parishes do not agree with the issue of same-sex blessings.)

From a liberal perspective, he said, that Canadian bishops have reached out to gays and lesbians with the release of a statement on pastoral generosity “whereby those who are civilly married can come and ask for prayers, join prayers of people in eucharist.” He added: “We made it clear we’re not at a point where we can or ought to describe that as nuptial blessing but there’s generosity at least in saying, ‘Okay, here’s a way in which we try to reach out to gays and lesbians.'”

Archbishop Hiltz said “it’s very difficult” to predict what the outcome of the bishops’ conversations would be. The next two days, prior to the last day of the conference on Aug. 3, have been devoted to the discussion on the proposed Anglican Covenant and the Windsor Process.

“There’s a huge amount of goodwill here on the part of people but there’s a pile of posturing that’s going on at this point,” he said. “My sense is that in spite of hearings and all that sort of thing, it feels to me like people are still talking past one another.” He said that while in his indaba group he found that people were “really trying hard to listen, to hear from whence the other person is coming from,” he did not experience “that same kind of respectful listening in the hearing process.”

He said that “people are trying hard to get along and to be respectful but I think the reality is that we’re in the closing few days of the conference and we’re dealing at this point with the most controversial thing in this conference.” He added: “People are feeling all kinds of pressure to have their own views heard, to save the communion, to keep it together. Others are under the pressure of saying they wouldn’t act until they consult with others. All the kind of expectations and pressures that people brought to the conference are now really coming into focus in these last few days. These are going to be challenging days.”

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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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