Bishops discuss Joint Assembly, marriage canon

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, at the Joint Assembly in Ottawa during the summer. Photo: Art Babych
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, at the Joint Assembly in Ottawa during the summer. Photo: Art Babych
By on November 7, 2013

When the House of Bishops met in Quebec City from Oct. 24 to 29, they and bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada reviewed the results of last July’s Joint Assembly in Ottawa-the first time the two Canadian churches have ever combined the meetings of their national governing bodies. Anglican bishops also spent time discussing concerns about a controversial resolution passed by the Anglican General Synod in Ottawa that calls for a motion to be drafted to change the marriage canon in the Anglican Church of Canada.

In an interview with the Anglican Journal following the meeting, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the Anglican bishops agreed that the General Synod’s affirmation of the creation of a new diocese in northern Ontario was ” a very sacred, joyful moment” and a highlight of the synod.

Overall, the bishops considered the length of the assembly-condensed to five days from what has typically been eight or nine, to be more in line with the usual length of the Lutheran national convention-too short. “There was so much to do and just not enough time, they felt, for us to be able to do it,” Hiltz said. Some of the bishops raised questions about what kind of expectations there are for a General Synod meeting, he said. “Do we have expectations that we are going to do a lot of business, pass a lot of resolutions, or do we have an expectation that we are going into general synod to celebrate and reconnect and strengthen who we are as the Anglican Church of Canada?” he said.

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Resolution on the Marriage Canon

That question might be particularly relevant when it comes to controversial matters such as the resolution passed by General Synod in Ottawa, which asks the Council of General Synod to draft a motion to be considered by the next General Synod, when it meets in 2016, to amend the marriage canon to allow same-sex couples to marry, with a conscience clause that gives any clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese that objects the option of not participating. The primate said he had heard from bishops across the theological spectrum that they had experienced “a sense of peace” about the issue after General Synod 2010 published its pastoral statement, following its meeting in Halifax, which they did not experience after the resolution was passed this summer in Ottawa.

The issue is not for the House of Bishops to resolve; it is a matter for the Council of General Synod and the order of bishops in General Synod, Hiltz acknowledged, but he said he opened the discussion with the bishops, understanding that there are tensions and concerns around the issue.

“There’s been a huge effort in the life of the church to talk about this as a pastoral response, not a change of doctrine, and now it feels like the ground has shifted,” Hiltz said. The change to a question of doctrine creates difficulties in dioceses where bishops “have worked really hard to hold all voices and all people together,” and where some people are asking how this shift happened. The motion, he noted, came from individual members of General Synod, not the Council of General Synod or a diocese.

While the issue has been divisive, the primate said he did not have a sense of lines hardening within the House of Bishops. “We reminded one another that, because it is a doctrinal matter, it will take two successive general synods to do anything in terms of a final decision anyway, and between the first and second reading it would be discussed in provinces and dioceses.” The bishops considered the international reaction and said, “we ought not have this conversation in isolation, that we should be consulting with other parts of the Communion,” said Hiltz, who will relay the bishops’ input to CoGS.

News from the Arctic

The bishops heard from Bishop David Parsons and Bishop Darren McCartney about the shortage of clergy in the diocese of the Arctic as well the debt crisis for St. Jude’s Cathedral, which has been asked by the receiver to pay the $3 million owing on the building after the construction company declared bankruptcy. “David and Darren are doing everything they can to reach out and create relationships with dioceses in Canada, and more broadly to encourage people to come and serve a time in the Arctic or to be trained for ministry in the Arctic,” said the primate.

In that context, they told the house that they had just returned from the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Nairobi, where they said they had gone in the interests of creating some partnerships. That news met with some consternation among the other bishops. “As one of our bishops put it, when the stated purpose of GAFCON is evangelistic revival in the life of the church, who could argue that?” said Hiltz. “But when there’s another kind of agenda going on that says the church in the West or in North America preaches a false gospel…or they are saying the instruments of Communion are so ineffective that we have to begin to create our own, then that creates a lot of angst and frustration, and in some cases, anger,” said the primate.

Planned retreat

The bishops have agreed to meet prior to their spring meeting for a retreat, although the date and location have yet to be decided. “We want a space of time where our priorities will be…theological reflection, prayer for the church, prayer for one another, healing where that is necessary within our community,” the primate said.

Working with the Lutherans

The bishops heard a presentation from the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission. The bishops asked the commission to help work out differences between the churches, particularly around issues such as polity, the authority of bishops and confirmation, said Hiltz. He added that there was a call to work more closely on theological education and social justice issues, possibly through Lutheran World Relief and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. The bishops also asked the commission to help find ways for the Anglican-Lutheran joint declaration on the issues of homelessness and responsible resource extraction to be put into action.

Message from the Middle East

Bishop Suheil Dawani travelled from the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. He did not comment on the Israel-Palestine resolution, but he expressed great concern about diminishing numbers of Christians in the Holy Land, who he says are a moderating presence in the region, said Hiltz.

Dawani thanked the Anglican Church of Canada for the gift of the Rev. Canon John Organ, a Canadian priest who serves as the bishop’s chaplain, a ministry supported by General Synod.

The primate said that the diocese supports 34 institutions and is in need of secure, long-term funding. “Most of the people that are in the care of our hospitals there, our schools there, our vocational centres there, are not Christian,” said Hiltz. “It’s beautiful and people recognize it. Here are these Christians, and they have all these facilities and they educate and care for us regardless of race, religion, culture, creed. It’s a huge witness.”

Bishop Dawani encouraged Canadians to come and see the Holy Land, and the archbishop noted that bishops from the ecclesiastical province of Canada are planning to travel to Jerusalem in February.

Lenten and Easter study

Growing out of conversations on the subject of Christian hospitality, the primate also noted that there are plans to invite the whole church to participate in conversations about what it means to be a community of disciples during Lent and Eastertide. A collection of resources on the theme of “Becoming the Story We Tell” will be available online in early 2014.

House and Spouse

As happens once every three years, the bishops were accompanied by their spouses, and “House and Spouse” events took place from Oct. 24 to Oct. 27. “It’s a way of recognizing that the role of spouses is really important in terms of supporting bishops in their ministry,” said the primate. “It also gives spouses an opportunity to connect with one another…because a lot of spouses, in my experience and observation, spend a lot of time alone because the bishops are on the road so much.”

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  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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