Canadian observers weigh in on General Convention

Published June 19, 2006

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison takes a break outside General Convention.

Columbus, OhioA dozen or so visitors from the Anglican Church of Canada, including the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, are attending the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) in various capacities and view the triennial meeting from a unique perspective.

As their American colleagues wrestle with such difficult issues as the church’s attitudes towards homosexuality, conflict in the Middle East and the tragic history of American slavery, Canadians looking toward their General Synod in 2007 will also engage some of these issues, notably sexuality. ECUSA’s election of its first female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, is also roiling some conservative waters within the church both domestically and internationally.

Archbishop Hutchison addressed the convention’s two legislative bodies, the house of bishops and the house of deputies. He spoke to the bishops the day after the church chose Bishop Jefferts Schori, and shortly after Bishop Jack Iker, of Fort Worth (Tex.), who does not ordain women, said his diocese would seek “alternative primatial oversight” from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“I welcomed the new presiding bishop and expressed concern that some members of the house found that extremely difficult. I reminded them that in 2004 we (the Canadian church) had a female candidate for primate and I have every reason to believe it will happen again in 2007 (at General Synod),” he said. (The 2004 candidate was Bishop Victoria Matthew of Edmonton, who withdrew from the election due to illness. She has fully recovered.) Bishop Jefferts Schori’s election will probably not have a direct effect on next year’s primatial election in Canada, “but the fallout from it might give a few Canadians concern,” he said.

Canadian bishops met Bishop Jefferts Schori last April at a joint Canadian-American bishops’ meeting in Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, he noted. “From a Canadian point of view, this is not a big deal. The Rubicon was crossed when women bishops were ordained. This church has just put one in an administrative position,” he said. As for Bishop Jefferts Schori’s effect on the next meeting of the Anglican Communion’s 38 primates, which before now had been all-male, Archbishop Hutchison added, “I would hope it would have a positive influence, that men will be a little gentler in the presence of women, but I wouldn’t want to speculate on how bishops from traditional societies will receive this,” he said.

Archbishop Hutchison noted also that the Canadian church is “struggling with the Windsor Report (an international document that makes recommendations on how the worldwide church can remain in communion amid deep divisions over issues like sexuality) and we need to address that at synod. I also told them about the St. Michael Report (a report from the Canadian Primate’s Theological Commission which declared same-sex blessings a matter of doctrine, but not core doctrine) and how we need to deal with that. We are watching this convention very carefully and seeing if we can learn something from their process, although we are in a very different space (concerning sexuality issues),” he said in an interview.

The ECUSA convention is struggling with how to respond to the Windsor Report, which contains a request that the U.S. church not elevate additional gay or lesbian candidates to the episcopate and impose a moratorium on blessing rites for same-sex couples.

In Canada, a special committee received nearly 200 opinions about the Windsor Report from Canadian Anglicans, reflecting a broad spectrum of thought about the place of gay and lesbian people in the church. The Canadian house of bishops, at its spring, 2005 meeting, agreed “neither to encourage nor to initiate the use of (same-sex blessing) rites until General Synod has made a decision on the matter.” The statement did not change the status quo in the diocese of New Westminster, where seven of 78 parishes have been authorized to offer blessing ceremonies.

Archbishop Hutchison also thanked the American church for a donation of $250,000 US -$365,000 Cdn at the time, he noted – it made several years ago during a financial crisis caused by litigation surrounding a now-defunct system of boarding schools for native children. He also paid tribute to Dean George Werner, a personal friend, whose term as president of the house of deputies is ending, and presented a gift of an Inuit carving to retiring presiding bishop Frank Griswold.

Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, is sitting with the American house of bishops in their legislative sessions. He is the Canadian liaison who attends meetings of the church’s executive council, which governs the church between General Conventions. He is permitted to speak during the meeting, but has no vote.

Dean Peter Elliott of Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral is sitting in the house of deputies (clergy and lay delegates). Dean Elliott is also the prolocutor of General Synod, a position roughly equivalent to the Episcopal president of the house of deputies, Dean Werner; Dean Elliott, who has no vote, was invited by Dean Werner.

In an interview, Bishop Ingham and Dean Elliott commented upon the agonizing sexuality debate and analyzed similarities and differences between the two churches in relation to their governing meetings.

“What is decided here is going to impact on our General Synod. People are asking me what the Canadian church is going to do in response to the Windsor Report,” said Bishop Ingham.

Bishop Ingham said the next triennial General Synod, to be held next June in Winnipeg, may be more focused on the St. Michael Report, that expressed an opinion that same-sex blessings are a matter of doctrine, but not core doctrine. The distinction is important since a change in basic church doctrine would require the assent of two General Synods.

In Columbus, crafting a response to the Windsor Report is occupying days of lengthy committee and plenary deliberations and Bishop Ingham said that “my sense is that the Episcopal Church wants to send a signal that they are very much members of the (international) Anglican Communion. They are trying to find a way to affirm Windsor as far as possible without retreating from their decisions.” The 2003 General Convention approved the election of openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and acknowledged that same-sex blessing ceremonies are taking place in some dioceses.

Dean Elliott said he believes ECUSA is “working really hard to stay where they are. There are very fine minds and generous spirits here and they have great diligence in working it through and trying to find this balance.”

Compared to the Canadian synod, which usually attracts 400 to 450 delegates, exhibitors, journalists and guests, the American gathering is more overwhelming, with more than 7,000 people attending, including 1,400 voting bishops, clergy and lay delegates.

Two houses – bishops and deputies (clergy and lay) – meet separately and pass legislation separately, although they must pass it in the same form. If wording is changed in one house, it returns to the other for reconsideration. At the Canadian synod, bishops sit with their diocesan delegation in one house and resolutions are handled in a single setting.

“Because of the size of the house of bishops (about 300), they have adopted some rules of conduct and done a lot of work on relationships. I heard no ad hominem (personal) attacks. In the Canadian house we have sometimes had ad hominem attacks,” said Bishop Ingham.

The General Convention is considering more than 350 resolutions, most of which are debated by legislative committees that hold open hearings and deliberations and may make changes before they come to the plenary floor. The resolutions are also open for debate and change by the full houses. “There is less debate (in plenary) than in Canada because most of the decisions take place in the committees. We are not as heavy on legislation,” said Bishop Ingham.

Dean Elliott noticed that native people did not seem as heavily represented as in the Canadian church, where the General Synod has indigenous Anglicans seated at each diocesan table. The Canadian gathering also mandates the presence of youth representatives. There is a youth table on the floor of the deputies, but youth presence is most evident off the convention floor.

Bishop Ingham and Dean Elliott agreed that the General Convention’s schedule is more humane, with no evening legislative sessions. “We work people from eight a.m. to 10 p.m. and the exhaustion level builds up,” said Bishop Ingham. In addition, each U.S. delegation has alternates who may sit in for a deputy, giving people the possibility of a day off while maintaining full representation.

Archbishop Hutchison’s principal secretary, Archdeacon Paul Feheley and the general secretary of General Synod, Archdeacon Michael Pollesel, are also attending as observers.

Canadian Anglicans who are on the conservative side of the church’s views on homosexuality are representing the Essentials group in Columbus as observers. They include Canon Charles Masters and Canon Mark McDermott of the diocese of Niagara, Rev. Brett Cane of the Winnipeg-based diocese of Rupert’s Land and writer Michael Daley.

Canadian Anglican women are represented by Canon Alice Medcof, co-ordinator of the International Anglican Women’s Network; Kathleen Snow, president of the Mother’s Union in Canada; and Heather Carr, president of Anglican Church Women.


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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