Two Canadian Anglicans will join the roster of Anglican Communion representatives to two international-level ecumenical dialogues that are being revived after a long hiatus.
The Rev. Dr. Tim Perry, diocese of Algoma, has been named to the Anglican-Reformed International Commission, while Archdeacon Edward Simonton, diocese of Quebec, will serve in the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, with the endorsement of the standing committee of the Anglican Consultative Council, appointed the two priests from a list of nominees submitted by provinces of the Anglican Communion, a family of churches in more than 165 countries.
“I am quite surprised and very happy…It’s nice to be able to involved in this kind of dialogue,” said Perry in a telephone interview. Perry has had a long interest and background in reformed theology – he wrote his PhD on a reformed theologian and taught a seminary level course on John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Perry, who earned a doctorate from Durham University, in the U.K., serves as rector of the Church of the Epiphany and is a lecturer at Thorneloe University, both in Sudbury, Ont.
An author of many books, including He Ascended into Heaven: Learn to Live an Ascension Shaped Life and Mary for Evangelicals: Toward an Understanding of the Mother of Our Lord, Perry served as scholar in residence and honorary assistant at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg.
Simonton described his appointment as a great honour. “I’m pleased to be able to serve on an international level and pleased that some of the work that I was able to do before will have an actual ecumenical result coming from it from my academic work,” he said in a telephone interview.
A recipient of the Anglican Foundation of Canada’s Scholarship of St. Basil the Great, Simonton recently spent time with the Syrian Orthodox churches in India. “I have been, for many years, interested in the Oriental Orthodox [churches] primarily for political reasons, because the ignorance level about [them] is huge,” he said. “People just don’t know who they are, they just haven’t heard about the Armenian Orthodox or the Syrian Orthodox. They are just unaware of the existence of the most ancient churches in Christendom.” As a result, said Simonton, the West has done very little about the political unrest in the Middle East, as they relate to the persecution of Syrian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox churches and the cultural genocide of Armenians in Turkey.
Simonton is rector of Saint George’s Church in Lennoxville and archdeacon of Saint Francis, both in Quebec. A graduate of University of Edingburgh in Scotland and the University of Cambridge, U.K. , he is completing a doctor of ministry degree at the University of the South, Sewanee, in the U.S.
Established in 2001, the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Commission dialogue was suspended in 2004 at the request of Oriental Orthodox churches, who felt they needed to “step back from the table, not in a permanent way,” at a time when the Anglican Communion was struggling with issues around human sexuality.
“It was around that time that the diocese of New Westminster was having its conversations around same-sex blessings and Gene Robinson was elected [bishop] in the [diocese] of New Hampshire,” explained Archdeacon Bruce Myers, General Synod co-ordinator for ecumenical relations and interfaith relations. “We respected the decision and left it up to the to decide when the time would be right to start our conversation again.”
Last year, the Oriental Orthodox family of churches approached the Anglican Communion to say it would like to begin talking “in an intentional way,” again. Myers believes the dialogue is resuming not because the Oriental Orthodox churches’ position on homosexuality has changed. “I think part of their impetus to restart the conversation is the reality on the ground for a lot of Oriental Orthodox people in the world – Syria, Egypt, Iraq – where these churches have been for hundreds and hundreds of years and are facing persecution and oppression like they’ve never seen before, or at least, haven’t seen in a long, long time,” said Myers. “Our restarting of the conversation is, at least, as much about standing in solidarity with them and supporting them in a very visible way as another world Christian communion, as it is about trying to make more visible the unity of the church through theological dialogue.”
During its first meeting in 2001, the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox Commission addressed the questions of Christology (doctrine of Christ) and Pneumatology (doctrine of the life and work of the Holy Spirit). It later produced an agreed statement on Christology. The dialogue is scheduled to meet this October in Cairo, Egypt.
The Anglican-Reformed International Commission, which last met in 1984, is set to meet in Hanover, Germany, in early 2015. “The dialogue will explore issues that emerge in areas where Reformed and Anglican churches work closely together, discuss what it means to be a communion of churches, and review the reception of the dialogue’s 1984 final report, God’s Reign and our Unity,” said a press statement issued by the Anglican Church of Canada.
The dialogue took a 30-year break, “not because of any rupture or disagreement,” or “for any particular reason,” said Myers. “It was decided that it was a conversation that could take a break… there was a sense that (it) needed to continue.”
Both appointees underscored the importance of these dialogues.
“It’s important because it reflects part of our Anglican and reformed heritage as reformation churches,” said Perry of the Anglican-Reformed International Commission. “As churches in the Magisterial Reformation we should be talking to each other.” Both churches also share a lot in common, he said. “Most reformed theologians would say that the traditional Anglican Confession, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, are, in many ways, reformed confession. There are a whole lot of family resemblances and so these conversations should be happening.” The dialogue is not as well-known, said Perry, simply because of history and the fact that it was on hold for three decades until now. “Hopefully, its profile will grow,” he added.
“It’s about not being parochial. The fact is that the Anglican Communion is the second most widespread church in the world after the Roman Catholic church and as a result, we’re a world player,” said Simonton. “We cannot exist in isolation from dialogue with Roman Catholics, with our reformed brethren and with the ancient churches of the East. To do so is to live in ignorance and isolation and as a result, our theology, our sense of identity and our history is severely skewed.”
Ecumenical dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox churches become even more important given the history of the church in the Middle East, said Simonton. He pointed to past scholarship as well as the recent publication of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The History of Christianity, the first 3,000 years, which “rectifies and rebalances a historical look at where Christians come from by pointing out that we were persecuted under the Roman empire but not under the Persian empire.” Christianity in the first century flourished in the Far East, and “for a long time, it looked as though the center of Christianity would be Baghdad and Christianity would primarily have existed in India, China and the Middle East,” said Simonton.
“You can’t ignore the development of the fact that we are an Eastern religion and it has massive implications for dialogue with other faiths,” added Simonton. He said that while people find Muslim worship very alien in terms of its adherents’ religious garb and prostrations when praying, the fact is “all those were taken from Christians.” He noted how the Oriental Orthodox prays with prostrations, use similar music and dress in a similar way as Muslims. “As a result, you realize that Islam as not as alien as we think it is.”
Asked what he was most looking forward to at his first meeting, Perry said, “I’m really going as a blank slate. I don’t really know what to expect… I don’t have any expectations.”
Simonton said he would like to be “supportive of our Eastern brethren during a time of huge political stress in their communities.” While technically the meeting is theological in nature, there is also a call to be a witness to and to be in solidarity with those whom one is in dialogue with, he said.
Perry and Simonton will join three other Canadian Anglicans already serving on other international ecumenical dialogues: Bishop Linda Nicholls, diocese of Toronto, is a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. The Rev. Canon Philip Hobson and Natasha Klukach are members of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue.
The Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, also a Canadian-Anglican, is co-secretary to all the international dialogues in her role as the Anglican Communion’s director of Unity, Faith and Order.
Asked why a growing number of Canadian-Anglicans seem to be appointed to the Communion’s international dialogues and serve in Anglican Communion bodies, Myers said some people have suggested that it could well be the fact that for the last 50 years, the Anglican Church of Canada has demonstrated “a willingness to be in conversation with as many different kinds of people as possible.” Some have also pointed to the Canadian temperament, of being seen as “an objective and neutral presence” in the world, as factors that contribute to their efficacy in dialogues, he added. “We don’t bring the same history or baggage as people from other countries, there’s an inherent value in that.