When the House of Bishops met in Niagara Falls, Ont., from April 13 to 17, they discussed some contentious issues, including possible amendments to the marriage canon and a call from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) for significant changes to church structures. But, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said there was, nevertheless, “a spirit of hopefulness” at the gathering.
The bishops devoted one day to in-camera discussions of the resolution passed at General Synod 2013 that asked that the church amend the marriage canon to allow for same-gender marriages.
“The focus for the day was prayerful consideration of the whole matter of amendment of the marriage canon from the perspective of the role and responsibilities of the bishops as chief pastors,” Hiltz said in an interview.
Hiltz said the bishops discussed how they could “care for the church in this time of conversation-that is not an easy conversation, to say the least,” both leading up to the next General Synod in 2016 and following it. “Everybody listened to one another with a lot of attention and mutual respect,” Hiltz said. “And we’re committed, clearly, to continuing that kind of conversation at the next two meetings.”
The discussion was facilitated by an ad hoc group of bishops-Bishop Melissa Skelton of the diocese of New Westminster, Bishop Stephen Andrews of the diocese of Algoma, Bishop William Anderson of the diocese of Caledonia and Bishop Michael Hawkins of the diocese of Saskatchewan.
Archbishop John Privett of the diocese of Kootenay and Bishop Linda Nicholls from the diocese of Toronto, who are both members of the marriage canon commission, also gave bishops an update on their work. They reported progress on producing the commission’s final report on the issue, saying they expect to wind up their work in time to present the report and a draft resolution to the Council of General Synod in fall 2015.
In an interview, Nicholls said she would not be able to comment on the content of the bishops’ discussions since they were in-camera. But, overall, she said, the meeting had “a good sense of fellowship.” She added: “I think the House has found a way to meet together, and have good conversation together, and be honest about the struggles we have…We are all facing struggles, and our Bible studies together have been critical to that.”
Meanwhile, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh presented a revised document from ACIP that calls for greater self-determination for Indigenous ministries within the Anglican Church of Canada.
The bishops discussed the document, “Where We Are Today: Twenty Years after the Covenant, an Indigenous Call to Church Leadership,” in terms of what they thought needed more clarification, what they found encouraging and what they found challenging. MacDonald and Mamakwa noted their comments, but Hiltz said the input may not change the text of the document, which ACIP has approved for presentation at the Sacred Circle gathering of the church’s Indigenous ministries in August.
The document included calls for changes in church structures that would be more in keeping with Indigenous ways of decision-making and for an investigation into how money is spent in the name of Indigenous ministry. Hiltz reported that there was “real interest in and support” for getting conversations started about those matters and figuring out who needs to be at the table for them.
Hiltz observed that what underlies much of these discussions is the question: “What is everybody’s understanding of self-determination?” This is a conversation that needs to continue, he said. The premise starting with the Covenant in 1994 was for Indigenous self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada, but Hiltz said that “when you look at a significant call for change in structures and reconsidering the whole notion of borders and so on,” people are not sure what self-determination will mean in terms of concrete changes. “If you were to map the Anglican Church of Canada, given all these developments around self-determination, what might it actually look like 20 years from now?”
In an interview, MacDonald said that all of the Indigenous bishops felt that ACIP’s call to the church was positively received at the meeting. That was helped by reassurances that the intention has always been to remain within the Anglican Church of Canada and not to establish a separate or parallel Indigenous church, he said.
The bishops also appreciated the explanatory video about self-determination that was prepared by ACIP, working with Anglican Video, MacDonald said.
Another significant development at the meeting was the endorsement by the House of the #22days campaign, calling Anglicans to commit to working toward healing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples during the 22 days from the start of the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa on May 31 to National Aboriginal Day on June 21.
Hiltz noted that Bishop Robert Hardwick of the diocese of Qu’Appelle shared plans to ring church bells for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, and the other bishops decided that could be done in all of their dioceses, adding it into the official call to the church issued by the primate and Bishop MacDonald.
In another development, a new bishops training program, spearheaded by the metropolitan bishops, will be launched this fall. Hiltz said newly elected bishops will participate in the program, but it is designed so that other bishops who want more information about a particular topic can also join in. One of the components of the program will be bringing bishops to the national office in Toronto. “It’s just a really good opportunity for folks to meet some of the staff here that really stand ready and willing to help them with the magnitude and latitude of their [new] role,” Hiltz said mentioning departments such as communications, pensions and human resources.
The bishops listened to an update from Faith, Worship and Ministry director Eileen Scully and the chair of its committee, Canon Andrew Asbil, on the work of the liturgy task force, which is developing new or alternate liturgies for trial in worship services. Hiltz said the bishops expressed a desire to be close to or participate in its work, as chief liturgical officers in their dioceses. Hiltz said their feedback to the task force was affirming, but added that “part of it, of course, is they don’t want to be surprised or blind-sided” by the new material produced and on which they may have to decide whether to give their permission for its use.
Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, updated the bishops on planning for General Synod 2016, on the vote by the synod of the Episcopal Church of Cuba to take steps to return to The Episcopal Church and on plans to provide a resource to help Canadian Anglicans navigate the upcoming federal election campaign this year from a faith perspective. Hiltz said that Anglicans may be particularly interested in asking what the parties’ platforms are on issues such as homelessness, child poverty, restoring right relations with Indigenous people, the climate and promoting peace and stability.
At a celebratory dinner, the bishops also said thanks and farewell to retiring bishops Barry Clarke of the diocese of Montreal and James Njegovan of the diocese of Brandon, as well as celebrating the upcoming marriages of Clarke, Skelton and Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate.