A wide-ranging agenda for House of Bishops

Competencies for ordination are an emerging item on the agenda of the house of bishops. Photo: Zvonimir Atietic
Competencies for ordination are an emerging item on the agenda of the house of bishops. Photo: Zvonimir Atietic
Published November 30, 2011

When Anglican and Lutheran bishops of every theological stripe met in Niagara Falls recently, topics ran the gamut from open table and confirmation to human resources and standards of competency for clergy.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, gave the Anglican Journal an overview of what dominated the bishops’ discussions over the course of the Nov. 20-24 meeting.

Confirmation Acknowledging 10 years of full communion between the two churches, the meeting tackled the issue of confirmation. “In the Lutheran church the pastors confirm the candidates, but in the Anglican church all the confirmations are done by the bishops,” said Archbishop Hiltz, “and that can be a problem in shared-ministry congregations.”

With that in mind, the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission prepared a document with guidelines for bishops, priests and pastors on confirmation in mixed congregations. The guidelines have been approved by the Lutheran church. “After some discussion, we agreed to strike a small group to review the document in depth in the context of the theology of confirmation,” said the Archbishop, adding that at the spring 2012 meeting the bishops will discuss this issue in a more focused manner.

Marriage The clergy will continue to perform the sacrament of marriage. “Solidly, across the House of Bishops, we feel there is a continuing place for the clergy in solemnizing marriages. Not one bishop expressed an interest in cessation,” said Hiltz, noting that for some the possibility may have been raised as a way around the issue of blessing same-sex marriages.

And discussions will continue about how the clergy can continue to support the couples they marry. “Marriage is a wonderful pastoral opportunity for the church to show Christian hospitality from the moment a couple comes to the door wanting their love to be blessed in the presence of God,” he said.

But as with baptism, there is growing acknowledgement of the need to support and follow up on married couples after their preparation and vows. As for continuing hospitality, some parishes are already holding annual dinners for all couples married there in a given year or for couples who have taken marriage preparation classes together. “Beyond the day of their marriage, they know they have priest and a church community that care about them,” he said. “And we emerged from that conversation feeling really good.”

Anglican covenant Section IV continues to be the sticking point in this document, designed to deal with dissent within the Anglican Communion. “There are no difficulties with sections I to III. The language sounds very relational and very Anglican,” said the archbishop. “Section IV also starts off relational but begins to sound juridical, and that creates a problem.” While upholding autonomy, this section also makes it clear that the exercise of autonomy has consequences. “My personal concern is what happens when the direction you move in is not in accordance with the standards of the communion. You’re out. It does not end on a note of restoration or hope, so I say it falls short of the Gospel,” Archbishop Hiltz said. A guide to navigating the covenant was posted last June on the church’s national website.

Open table As they did last spring, the bishops, as the guardians of the faith, continue to uphold the ancient teaching of the church that the Eucharist is the meal of the baptized. That said, the bishops discussed the matter of Christian hospitality and formation and ways in which the church can otherwise welcome people. “We continued the conversation about Christian hospitality in the broadest sense, which cannot be confined to a wafer and a sip of wine,” said the archbishop. A small group of bishops agreed to produce a guideline on open table and Christian hospitality. “We’re not finished with that conversation yet, but our hope is that this document will be perceived and adopted by the bishops as a national guideline,” he said.

Human resources “As soon as you step into office as a bishop, you are shepherd to the church and pastor to its clergy but you are also an employer who is responsible for administering discipline and handling human resources,” the archbishop said. The lively session on human resources addressed such topics as how to help people train for ministry and how to help a parish in crisis or a cleric in crisis. “What do you do if you have a priest going on employment insurance or long-term disability?” Bishops came forward with practical suggestions from their experience in individual dioceses. “It was like a great potluck—everything was on the table—and for the next few sessions, we’ll reserve a block of time for the HR smorgasbord,” he said.

This session in particular gave bishops an opportunity to show mutual support and encouragement in their difficult roles as employers.

Competency The church needs guidelines on the type of clergy it must attract to move forward purposefully, and so competencies for ordination are an emerging item on the bishops’ agenda. “We are looking to produce a national document on the competencies of candidates that we need across the church–everything from knowledge of the biblical story, our Anglican heritage, the cultural context, understanding of mission and the church’s roles, as well as personal characteristics such as stability, health and the capacity to communicate,” he said. Ordination is available to a church scholar, of course, but if a cleric is serving in a parish, other things take priority. “There’s the story of the candidate who walked into a bishop’s office and said, ‘I like everything you do, but I really don’t like people,'” the primate said.

Archbishop Hiltz said that one of the highlights of the meeting was an address by the Rev. Michael Lapsley, director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories in Cape Town, South Africa, where he helps faith communities deal with the psychological wounds inflicted by violence. Lapsley lost his arms, an eye and some of his hearing thanks to a letter bomb sent to him as a young activist priest. The archbishop said that Lapsley’s story struck an especially compelling chord in light of our history with the Indian residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.




  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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