A lot’ to show for his three years

By on May 1, 2007

Young people’s involvement in the church was a key priority for Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, pictured here with young Anglicans in the diocese of Caledonia.

“I’d really been looking forward to retirement,” Archbishop Andrew Hutchison said shortly after it was announced that he had been elected the 12th primate of the Anglican Church of Canada in 2004.

Then 65 and five years shy of the church’s mandatory retirement age for bishops, Archbishop Hutchison, who will step down next month upon the election of his successor, said he had agreed to be a candidate for the church’s top post because he felt he could be an interim primate in a time of great change.

A time of great change it has been. His may have been a brief primacy, but many agree that it was one that has, in the words of Dean Peter Elliott, General Synod prolocutor, “been distinguished by several notable accomplishments.”

Observers noted that, through creative time management (and at times, at great cost to his own health and personal time with his family), Archbishop Hutchison has managed to pack in an astonishing amount of work on behalf of the church in three years.

When Archbishop Hutchison was elected, many expected his primacy to be one “that would revolve around three years of turmoil, politics in the wider communion, and contentions within the house of bishops; a three-year mandate to hold it together and walk on a tightrope,” said Judy Steers, director of the church’s Ask & Imagine youth program and part-time co-ordinator of youth initiatives for General Synod. “In such a situation, how much progress, vision and forward motion could we anticipate? The answer, in Andrew’s primacy, was a lot.”

Most agree that among the accomplishments that have stood out are his commitment to engage young people in the life of the church, his work with indigenous Anglicans, his support for the Armed Forces chaplaincy, his efforts at providing greater visibility to the church, and his confident leadership amid conflict in the Anglican Communion. There has also been greater collegiality in the house of bishops, its members have said.

“Young people’s involvement in the church was a key priority for him and he brought his own energy and commitment to encourage the church at all levels to include young people and their concerns,” said Mr. Elliott.

During his visits to dioceses (he will have been to all 30 dioceses by May 11, when he visits Anglicans in Athabasca), Archbishop Hutchison always requested to meet with young Anglicans to hear their concerns. “You have made it possible for us to sit not at the kiddie table, but at the table for everyone,” said Catherine Torraville, a youth member of the Council of General Synod (CoGS), during a farewell dinner to the primate at a CoGS’ meeting in March.

Ms. Steers pointed out that her work would not have been possible without the primate’s “commitment to creating it and to finding a source of funding when there was no priority for such work within the budget.” (The funding for youth work came from proceeds of a fundraising dinner that Archbishop Hutchison held annually during his term.) She added: “His vision of ‘some kind of on-line connection point’ for youth has turned into an interactive Web site (Generation.anglican.ca) that is read across Canada and in over 40 countries around the world.”

Bishop Gordon Light of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior echoed that praise the primate’s enthusiasm for youth. “His passion to make room in the church for young people to have a strong voice has borne much fruit. And it has given us all both fresh vision and a renewed commitment to strengthen the ministry of youth.”

Bishop Light, who was Archbishop Hutchison’s classmate at Toronto’s Trinity College in the late 1960s, said he also admired the primate’s work with indigenous Anglicans, which led to the appointment of the first national indigenous bishop. “That has not been universally endorsed in all quarters, but it is a step towards putting flesh on the bones of General Synod’s commitment to encourage and support indigenous forms of church government and decision-making,” said Bishop Light. “Andrew’s readiness to dive into waters about which many are nervous reveals courageous leadership.”

Shortly after assuming the primacy, Archbishop Hutchison vowed to build on the legacy of his predecessor, Archbishop Michael Peers, who promoted healing and reconciliation with aboriginal Anglicans, particularly those affected by the residential schools. The Anglican church and other denominations operated some 80 schools with the federal government from the mid-19th century into the 1970s. The church, under Archbishop Hutchison’s leadership, pushed for better terms for residential school victims under the revised Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including (unsuccessfully) pressing the federal government to offer an apology to the victims (see related story).

Susan Winn, deputy prolocutor of General Synod, first came to know Archbishop Hutchison about 20 years ago when he became dean of the diocese of Montreal and rector of Christ Church Cathedral. “From my perspective as a Montreal Anglican beginning to step outside my own parish, our cathedral was in the hands of a man who knew his own mind,” she said. “Andrew has always been a good public figure, an ambassador for our church in any circumstance, in French or in English.” (In 1990, Archbishop Hutchison was elected bishop of the diocese of Montreal, a position he held until he was elected primate.)

It did not surprise Ms. Winn that Archbishop Hutchison “discovered a way to communicate with the people of the church throughout Canada,” through a series of Web casts, or online video broadcasts, entitled +Andrew: Conversations with the Primate. She recalled watching him being interviewed for one such broadcast, only hours after his election as primate. “He had stepped into his new role with assurance and aplomb,” she said.

Archbishop Hutchison, who is always impeccably dressed, has a deep baritone voice and ramrod-straight bearing. Observers note that he has used his skills as a communicator to bring critical issues like refugees and HIV/AIDS to the attention of the secular media; he has also been forthright in discussing the issue of sexuality that has bedevilled the Anglican Communion.

“He represented our church faithfully and with clarity at meetings of the Anglican Communion,” noted Mr. Elliott.

At the primates’ meetings, for instance, Archbishop Hutchison has been outspoken in his criticism of the “hypocrisy” of other churches in the communion, including the Church of England, which like Canada and the United States, have blessed same-sex unions but have not been quite as open and forthright about it and therefore, have been spared any sanctions unlike the North American churches.

The primate has also focused on the work of military chaplains, who he said, “are under enormous pressure and at risk and they need all the support they can get.” Archbishop Hutchison used proceeds of his primate’s dinner to help fund the office of the Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces, currently an unpaid position undertaken by an existing diocesan bishop.

Author

  • 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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