Bishops pick four candidates for primate

Published May 1, 2004


Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada meeting in mid-April selected four nominees for the office of primate, or national archbishop: Victoria Matthews of the diocese of Edmonton, Ronald Ferris of Algoma, Andrew Hutchison of Montreal and Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee. A fifth candidate, Bishop Fred Hiltz of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, declined the nomination.

The 310 delegates who will attend the General Synod governing convention in St. Catharines, Ont., from May 28 to June 4 are scheduled to elect the new primate on May 31. In a 2 1/2 -hour closed session, the 38 bishops chose 20 names as the initial pool of candidates, according to Bishop Don Phillips of Rupert’s Land, acting as secretary to the house of bishops.

Bishop Hiltz was the first name to receive more than half the votes of the house. However, he said in an interview afterwards, he told his colleagues he could not accept. “I have been struggling with this for months. The call to the primacy was on the one hand rather exciting but I was not sure whether I have the gifts to be primate. People have identified a capacity to draw people together as one of my strengths but I am less confident in other areas. For instance, there is an expectation around speaking engagements in different places around the world that makes me tremble,” he said. He said he also feels a deep commitment to his diocese. He has been diocesan bishop only since 2001; a suffragan (assistant) bishop has only just been elected; the diocese is undergoing a renewal process and is about to launch a $1.5-million capital campaign, he noted. In addition, his wife, Lynne, was not enthusiastic about a move to Toronto.

The bishops continued to vote according to the election rules until three names had each received more than 50 per cent support, then voted to continue to a fourth round. After the fourth candidate was named, they voted not to go to a fifth round.

Archbishop Hutchison, in an interview, said he initially felt “nervous” about being named as a candidate. The primacy “is an enormous challenge at this point in our history,” he noted. There are divisions within the church over homosexuality, indigenous peoples, Scripture interpretation and finances.

Archbishop Hutchison is the oldest candidate, at 65, and the mandatory retirement age is 70.

“I let my name stand because it may be seen as appropriate by the electors to consider an interim primacy. This might provide time for a number of things to be dealt with by the church,” he said.

Bishop Lawrence, who will be 63 as of May 31, said his nomination came as a surprise. “I had no idea that I would be in this space,” he said in an interview. He could be expected to serve for six years – two three-year periods between General Synods, he said, since a resignation between synods triggers an expensive special election.

“We’ve had two very lengthy primacies (archbishops Michael Peers for 18 years and Edward Scott for 15 years). One of the things people might be looking at is do they want to elect someone for an extended tenure or someone for a limited time as a bridge from the past to the future?”

Bishop Ferris, who is 58, said he was “honoured” to be chosen, but also admitted the prospect of election to the primacy is “scary,” since it would involve intense “new learning, new tasks, new relationships.”

Bishop Matthews, who is 50, passed a sleepless night after the nomination process, but said she “felt very much at peace” with the prospects. “I embrace the theology that the Holy Spirit works through the church and if the church asks you to do something, you try to say yes.” If elected, she would be the first female primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion of churches affiliated with the Church of England.

The nominees’ biographical information and photographs will be sent to the delegates to General Synod. Bishops do not get another chance to choose the primate at General Synod, unless the synod fails to elect a primate and appeals to the house of bishops for additional nominees.

The former primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, retired at the end of February, 2004, having served since 1986. His predecessor, Archbishop Edward (Ted) Scott, served from 1971 to 1986.

Archbishop David Crawley of the diocese of Kootenay has been serving as acting primate in the interim. He had previously said that he did not wish his name to stand for the office of primate.

The primate is the head of the Anglican Church of Canada, and is based at the church’s national office in Toronto.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

Related Posts

Skip to content