Archbishop Andrew Hutchison fields questions from media during the fall meeting of the House of Bishops in Saskatoon. It was his first time chairing the meeting since his election as primate last May.
Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, at their regular fall meeting, cited a new spirit of reconciliation and co-operation among themselves and approved a plan that allows bishops to cross diocesan boundaries when parishes do not agree with the issue of same-sex blessings.
“The house of bishops is saying to the Canadian church, ‘We did something and we agreed.’ And that is wonderful news,” said Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Canadian church and chair of the meeting.
A number of bishops commented on the change in the group, mentioning the release of the Windsor Report on unity in the Anglican Communion as a factor and complimenting the warm leadership of Archbishop Hutchison, chairing his first bishops’ meeting as primate since his election last May. “There’s a different feeling at this meeting,” said Bishop George Bruce of Ontario.
The question of “alternate episcopal oversight,” now called “shared episcopal ministry,” had sharply divided the bishops at their spring meeting in Regina, where they were unable to reach a decision. This time, the gathering of 38 bishops, held Nov. 1-4, accepted a revised version of the plan rejected in the spring.
The major points:
- The metropolitans, or archbishops, of the Canadian church’s four provinces may draw up a list of current and retired bishops, from various theological perspectives, who are willing to participate in shared episcopal ministry. Bishops from outside Canada may be included, but they must abide by these terms. A bishop chosen from the list by the parish and diocesan bishop would be designated as episcopal assistant to the metropolitan.
- If a diocese agrees to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships, the synod should allow for a conscience clause and should consider shared episcopal ministry. The costs of a visiting bishop would be borne by the inviting diocese and parish.
- The dissenting parish and rector should first meet with their bishop in a spirit of reconciliation. A parish may elect to have a visiting bishop after a two-thirds majority vote at a meeting of full members of the parish who have the right to be present and to vote at its annual meeting.
- The parish retains its voice and vote at synod and must maintain its current and future financial commitments to the diocese.
- The decision will be reviewed at least every three years.
- The visiting bishop will not have jurisdiction in the diocese but would be part of the process on appointments, episcopal visits, confirmations, pastoral care of clergy, advice on potential ordinands, and may participate in ordinations.
- If the parish is in the diocese of the metropolitan, the senior bishop by consecration would fulfill the role given to the metropolitan.
- The arrangement is always to be understood as temporary. Changes in parish or diocesan leadership are appropriate times for renewed efforts toward the ultimate goal of full restoration of the relationship between the parish and the bishop.
Two bishops voted against the document, for different reasons. Larry Robertson, suffragan (assistant) bishop of the Arctic, told Anglican Journal he believes the document “assumes and promotes” the blessing of same-sex unions and “I can’t accept it.” Keewatin ‘s David Ashdown said he is still uncomfortable with the concept of crossing diocesan lines.
Other bishops who voted for the agreement said it is clear, assumes maturity and generosity on all sides, refers to all theological points of view and is an excellent complement to the Windsor Report.
The bishops voted unanimously to recognize the Windsor Report as an important document, commend it to the Canadian church for study and urge Canadian Anglicans to respond to it.
However, while the group generally welcomed the report, written by a panel appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, it also came in for sharp criticism. After discussing it in small groups, Bishop George Elliott of Toronto said his group felt the document had a “tone of colonialism that was difficult to stomach” and contained “little acknowledgement of the gay and lesbian people in our church.” Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon said his group felt the tone was “a mother speaking to her children,” but that the report raises good questions about boundaries and how Anglicans can talk about the contentious question of homosexuality.
Archbishop David Crawley of Kootenay wondered if there was “any possibility of editing this thing?” One part, in particular, he felt was “quite frightful,” a paragraph asking dioceses to consider, when they elect bishops, whether the bishop would be acceptable to the rest of the Communion. “There are at least six people in this room right now who are not. Three have been divorced and remarried and three are women,” he said, referring to Anglican provinces that do not recognize the remarriage of divorced persons nor women bishops.
The concept of a binding Anglican covenant and a document of shared principles also caused concern, given the Anglican tradition that national churches are independent entities loosely bound by ties to the Church of England. “Any discussion around a covenant needs a whole lot of work,” said Bishop James Cowan of British Columbia.
Archbishop Hutchison said he will attend a meeting of the church’s primates in February “equipped with the voice of my church” and has already told the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, that “any move in the direction of central authority or an attempt to limit our independence is likely to be very strongly resisted in Canada.”
Archbishop Hutchison’s relationship with his fellow bishops has not been uniformly smooth. Reflecting upon his time in office, just five months since his election in June, he noted that a private letter he had sent his colleagues was leaked to a conservative Anglican Web site and that he “hit the ceiling” when he saw it. “It was a personal letter to you, with information about my family life and my cell phone number,” he said. “The bishop who leaked that letter has not owned up to it. I have asked for an apology and it has not been forthcoming. We have to do something about the quality of our life as a house.”
However, the spirit of reconciliation at this bishops’ meeting was further advanced as bishops from two ends of the political spectrum agreed to sit on the group’s agenda committee: Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, whose diocese has voted to accept the blessing of gay unions, and conservative bishop William Anderson of Caledonia.
In addition, Bishop Ingham told the Journal that he will lift an order of inhibition against Bishop Buckle when Bishop Buckle becomes acting metropolitan (senior bishop) of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon on Dec. 1 upon the retirement of Archbishop Crawley. “The church is looking for important signs of reconciliation. At this meeting, it feels like the corner has been turned. This period has called us back to our roots and people are seeing that relationships are more important than issues,” Bishop Ingham said. He inhibited, or barred, Bishop Buckle from performing priestly functions in New Westminster after the latter accepted an offer to minister to a group of conservative parishes.
Bishop Buckle, meanwhile, announced that he has agreed to be chaplain to a newly-formed group called Zacchaeus, based in Vancouver, made up of people with a homosexual orientation who are either celibate by choice or who have experienced a reorientation to heterosexuality because of their Christian faith. Bishop Ingham agreed that it was important all voices be heard.
In other business, the bishops urged that work continue on finding ways to compensate the Canadian church’s native clergy who currently serve without pay. As reported in the November Journal, an impasse has developed over the issue of how many dioceses might participate in a plan to compensate clergy.
The bishops also expressed concern that an appeal letter for a capital campaign from the Sisters of St. John the Divine was going sent to all their parishes, when dioceses have policies that prohibit mass fundraising mailings from church entities without diocesan approval. They were even more concerned that the letter was signed by the former primate, Archbishop Michael Peers. Archbishop Bruce Stavert of Quebec, chair of the campaign committee, promised to relay the message to the sisterhood.
Archbishop Hutchison also announced he has named Bishop Peter Coffin of Ottawa to succeed him as Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces and has named retired Archbishop Terence Finlay to the new, voluntary, position of the primate’s special representative for native residential schools.