Archbishop Donald Mtetemela, primate of the Anglican Church of Tanzania (left) and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (centre), greet Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, upon his arrival at Dar es Salaam Airport for the primates’ meeting held in Tanzania Feb. 15-19.
The Anglican primates’ directive for the U.S. church to unequivocally bar same-sex blessings and gay bishops is something that the Canadian church “will have to look at seriously,” according to Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Archbishop Hutchison acknowledged that while the Canadian church has not ordained a gay bishop nor decided as a national church to allow same-sex blessings, it could face the same consequences “if it were to follow the same path” as The Episcopal Church. The American church’s decision in 2003 to ordain Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, has triggered near-schism in the Anglican Communion.
“The American church is in a different position than we are. It’s the ordination of Bishop (Gene) Robinson (of New Hampshire) that was the main issue that triggered all of these and we’re not in that situation in Canada,” Archbishop Hutchison said in telephone interview with the Anglican Journal. “Furthermore, in the United States, same-sex blessings is something that has happened in a number of dioceses across the country. In Canada, there’s only one diocese where that’s happened and we’re still in the middle of a conversation. So it’s hard to say what the implications may be.”
But he added, “I suppose that if Canada were to follow the same path, which would be a radical move in the same direction as the United States, then we might look forward to a similar kind of response.”
He explained that the Canadian church was not discussed at the meeting because its governing body, General Synod, has yet to offer its response to the Windsor Report. The Canadian church is expected to offer its formal response to the report during its General Synod in Winnipeg this June. Also on the agenda is a resolution that would allow individual dioceses to decide whether to consent to the blessing of same-sex unions.
Asked what effect the primates’ decision regarding The Episcopal Church may have on the same-sex resolution to be presented to General Synod, the primate said, “That’s something that we’ll have to consider very carefully…(whether) it’s appropriate or not. But we’ll study that very carefully.”
Primates of the Anglican Communion on Feb. 19 gave the U.S. Episcopal Church until September 30 to “make an unequivocal common covenant” that its bishops will not allow same-sex blessings in their churches and that it would not consent to the election and consecration of a bishop living in a same-sex union “unless some new consensus on this matter emerges” across the Anglican world.
Failure to do so would mean that “the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remain damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion,” the communique warned. It did not specify what those “consequences” would be.
Archbishop Hutchison said the primates’ meeting, held Feb. 15-19 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, had been “complicated” but had given him “real hope.”
Asked if the communion of 38 Anglican provinces worldwide was still intact, he said, “It is, at this stage.” But, he added, “There are still some provinces that would say that their communion with The Episcopal Church is broken and until everything in this communique is complied with, they won’t see that the relationship has been healed.”
Archbishop Hutchison also said that the communique had been “a difficult document to put together in a complicated meeting. It was very late at night before we handed it in, in its final form.” He described it as “the best we could do as a body.”
Asked what made the meeting “complicated,” Archbishop Hutchison pointed to a number of factors. “(There were) 14 new primates aboard so that changes the dynamic. People who have never been involved in that discussion at that level were present. It was difficult in that before the meeting there were a few African primates who had taken a position that they wouldn’t sit at the table with (U.S. Presiding Bishop) Katharine (Jefferts Schori).” In the end, he said, “everybody did sit at the table; sorting out those dynamics was complicated and trying to make room for everybody to hold the Communion together is very complex.”
But he said that the meeting in Tanzania proved to be less difficult than the one held in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, in 2005. “There was a much more general will to keep the family together (in Tanzania) and the level of protest that was present in Dromantine, with 14 primates who didn’t want to pray with us was very much reduced at this meeting,” he said. Seven conservative primates boycotted a eucharist in Tanzania, calling it a move to dramatize the “brokenness” of the communion and their provinces’ “impaired relationship” with the U.S. church.
“This could have been the meeting that could have broken the whole thing apart,” he said, instead it was marked by “a general atmosphere of congeniality and friendship across party alliances.” He said the prescriptions offered to The Episcopal Church “and the willingness of the presiding bishop to take that proposal back to the House of Bishops” was what “saved the day.”
The primates also said they would establish a “pastoral council” that would “negotiate the necessary structures for pastoral care” to American bishops, dioceses and congregations that have moved to disassociate from the Episcopal Church following disputes over the place of homosexuals in the church. The council would also liaise with conservative primates of the communion who have exercised Episcopal oversight over parishes in the U.S., a move that has been criticized as an invasion of the American province’s jurisdiction.
The council would consist of up to five members: two to be nominated by the primates, two by the presiding bishop of the U.S., and a primate to be nominated by the Archbishop of Canterbury as chair.
“We believe that such a scheme is robust enough to function and provide sufficient space for those who are unable to accept the direct ministry of their bishop or the Presiding Bishop to have a secure place within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion until such as time as the covenant process is complete,” the primates said.
The primates urged U.S. conservative groups that have been lobbying the Archbishop of Canterbury for a “commissary” to lead them, to negotiate with the council “to find a place for them within these provisions.”