When Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby met with the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, he was “very interested” in the work of the Anglican Church of Canada’s commission on the marriage canon because of the reality that the Church of England will have to wrestle with the issue of same-sex marriage following its legislation in the U.K.
“Notwithstanding the declared position of the Church of England at this moment, he [Welby] is very conscious, of course, that there’s going to be a fair amount of pressure from within the Church of England to at least have some discussion around that [same-sex marriage],” said Hiltz in an interview with the Anglican Journal. “He hoped that we would stay in touch over the work of the commission, [because] inside the Church of England, they will need to have the same conversation.”
Welby was also very interested in the issue of reconciliation as it relates to the history of the Canadian church’s relations with indigenous people and its involvement in the Indian Residential School System. “As he said now, in the Church of England, things are coming to light in terms of abuse in church schools…they’re kind of at that early stage,” and Welby wanted to know how the Canadian church responded. “They’re compelled [to respond] and they will not stand in anyone’s way,” said Hiltz, adding that Welby was interested in the church’s 1993 apology to former residential school students for the harm and pain inflicted through the schools.
On the issue of the marriage canon, Hiltz said Welby was “very appreciative” that the commission will conduct a broad consultation across the Anglican Communion and with its ecumenical partners on the matter of changing the Canadian Anglican church’s marriage canon (church law) to allow same-sex marriage.
When it met in 2013, General Synod-the church’s governing body-passed a resolution to bring a motion concerning same-sex marriage to its next meeting in 2016. Resolution C003 asked the Council of General Synod (CoGS)-the church’s governing body between General Synods-to prepare and present a motion to change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.”
During their two-hour meeting April 8, Hiltz said Welby was interested in how the church has dealt with the conflict over human sexuality, in particular, how the 2010 General Synod in Halifax dealt with the issue in a non-parliamentary manner and how there has been “continuing conversation” about the matter. Hiltz quoted Welby as having said, “You’re actually on the frontline of where we’re going to be eventually. You’ve been on a journey; it hasn’t been an easy [one]- it has been conflicted at times, but you stuck with it.”
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Welby said he found Hiltz “a particularly helpful, thoughtful and challenging interlocutor, and someone who seems to be able to unlock and unpick issues that were weighing on my mind.”
Welby had also inquired about how the church was prepared to deal with the impact of the resolution in 2016-regardless of its outcome.
“It’s just a reality that when things move, one way or another, that there would be some dioceses or parishes looking for some model of episcopal leadership,” said Hiltz, adding that he informed him about the church’s shared episcopal ministry model. “I told him that it’s in place, [but] it has only been enacted and effective in one diocese-Montreal.”
Hiltz said he informed Welby about the Canadian church’s long history of “bending over backwards to hold people in dialogue, to create provisions for everybody to stay in the fold…”
Overall, Hiltz described Welby’s visit as “good,” saying that he thought it provided the Archbishop of Canterbury “a sense of the commitment of the Canadian church to the Communion.”
Hiltz said that the dinner he hosted for Welby was an opportunity for him to meet “a host of people from Canada who are so deeply committed to the various works of the Anglican Communion…to get a sense [that they] have a broad, global view of the church.”
About 70 people who gathered at the dinner, held at St. James’ Cathedral Centre, included Canadian Anglicans who serve or have served in various capacities the Anglican Communion and its networks.
“One of the blessings of the visit is that he has heard things about all of us and says we’re very diverse, even within our church…,” said Hiltz. “He was leaving us knowing of our deep commitment to preserving the unity of the church as best we can, being prophetic as best we can, being committed to the life and witness of the Communion.”