‘We just wish it would all go away’

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Chateauguay, Montreal
There is “general pessimism” among bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada about the potential for “any clear resolution” of the divisive issue of sexuality at the church’s upcoming General Synod in Halifax this June. This is one of the many observations recently made by two pastoral visitors from the U.K. who were deputized by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. They were invited to attend the four-day meeting of the House of Bishops last November in Niagara, Ont., at the request of Archbishop Williams. Archbishop Williams is seeking ways to heal divisions among member provinces of the Anglican Communion.No matter what decisions may be reached at the 2010 General Synod, however, the gathering is bound to be “a watershed both for the (Anglican Church of Canada) and for its wider relations with the Anglican Communion,” said Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare, Zimbabwe, and Bishop Colin Bennetts, the retired bishop of Coventry, in their report. “At its worst it could lead to internal anarchy. At its best it could help us all to appreciate and practice a properly Christian style of inclusiveness.”

Bishops Gandiya and Bennetts said that the last General Synod left the issue of same-sex blessings “unclear,” noting that while it did not approve same-sex blessings “nor did it rule against them.” Such uncertainty has resulted in a situation that is “complex, not to say confusing,” they said, with some dioceses independently approving same-sex blessings.

The visitors also noted “a widespread sense of weariness with the whole business of same-sex blessings,” as well as a “palpable desire to get on with the business of mission. One bishop said, ‘We have no heart for any more arguing and certainly have no more energy left; we just wish it would all go away!”

The visitors noted that many bishops they met had “an infectious enthusiasm for the Gospel and the Kingdom, such that we could not but feel that their dioceses also must reflect that same spiritual vitality.” They said they were “very encouraged” by the general desire that the church be more mission-focused. “The acknowledgment of numerical decline was matched by a very positive approach to church growth, a strong commitment to ministry among indigenous people and a determination to deliver better, more integrated forms of theological education both for ordinands and for laity.”

If Canadian Anglicans can find a way to break through the impasse over sexuality “it could well become a vibrant model of the kind of renewed Christian community that has much to teach the wider church,” they said.

The visitors said they were also reminded frequently by bishops that “Canada is not the USA.” While the United States is seen as a melting pot culture where religious and ethnic groups are synthesized into “Americans,” Canadians “genuinely value and seek to live with diversity.” Differences between the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church were underscored, including the area of Christology. “We sensed that in Canada there was a general consensus on the nature of orthodoxy, with fewer extreme views of the kind that have led to some of the aberrations south of the border,” the report said. “Even the bishops who were strongly progressive in the matter of same-sex blessings insisted that they stood firmly within the creedal mainstream.” This, the report said, is “an encouraging sign that it allows for a more obviously Christ-centred approach to issues that currently divide the Communion, to say nothing of the wider church.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, described the report as “good,” and said it “accurately reflected what they’d see and heard.”

The report also said:

  • the Anglican Church of Canada “punches way above its numerical weight when it comes to involvement in affairs of the Communion… They really do want to play their full part and play it well.” Its commitment to the Communion “is much more than an exercise of duty” but is “accompanied by, and springs from, a genuine sense of affection which the visitors found deeply moving.”
  • Reiterated an earlier observation made by the visitors that the meeting of bishops was “relaxed and relational,” and that while this has merits, “one casualty of this user-friendly meeting was perhaps a certain lack of theological depth.” It noted that “very few of the items discussed were approached via theological first principles, the stress being much more on pragmatic outcomes.” While this may be “unduly critical,” the visitors said, “we do not believe that the House is not without its theological heavyweights.” Rather, they simply question “whether their expertise is made as widely available as it might be…”
  • the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, is one of the church’s “greatest assets.” The visitors said they were “amazed” at the similarities between Archbishop Hiltz and Archbishop Williams, noting that the primate presided over the bishops’ meeting “with humility, sensitivity and passion.”
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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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