Conference speakers call for courage and inclusivity

Published May 1, 2007

Peter Coffin, bishop of Ottawa (left), speaks to Archbishop Michael Peers who, in his first public speech since retiring in 2004 as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, addressed The Whole Message Conference. Archbishop Peers said that since the time of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, “working out doctrine became an issue of dealing with the controversies of the moment.”

Archbishop Michael Peers, the former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, made his first public speech in three years at a national conference in Ottawa on inclusiveness but stayed away from the controversy over same-sex unions.

“When I retired I promised my successor I was not going to make his life more difficult,” he told the almost 200 people at The Whole Message Conference at the Church of St. John the Evangelist April 13-14. “I’m not going to talk about anything that happened since the first of February 2004 (the date of his retirement) because that’s when I became history.”

Wearing an ornamented native blanket presented to him 20 years ago when he was made honorary chief of the Nisga’a of the Nass River Valley in British Columbia, the archbishop was drummed from the back of the church to the chancel by three aboriginal women. He told his audience he also wore the blanket at the Lambeth Conference in 1998. “The Prince of Wales said to me, ‘Are you the Pearly King?'” said Archbishop Peers. “I said, ‘No, your honour, I’m a chieftain.'”

In his talk, the archbishop sketched the development of “faith” and “order” starting with Constantine, the first Christian emperor, under whose aegis “the church got together and slugged out the Nicene Creed.” From then on in the church, he said, “working out doctrine became an issue of dealing with the controversies of the moment.”

Among the presenters at the conference, aimed at promoting a fully-inclusive Anglican church, was retired Archbishop of Toronto, Terence Finlay; retired former Bishop of Connecticut, Arthur Walmsley; McGill University theology professor, Rev. Patricia Kirkpatrick; the chair of the Windsor Report Response Group, Patricia Bays; John Thorp of Huron University College in London, Ont.; and Robert Moore, a member of the Primate’s Theological Commission.

Archbishop Finlay called for prayers for the General Synod in Winnipeg in June and for the election of the next primate. “We are moving into a very serious time in the life of the community and in our own church,” he told the gathering. “Some people genuinely hold contrary thoughts of you, but there are others who are out to destroy our church.” More people should refute claims that the church is falling apart, he said. “I think this has been perpetrated by people who are trying to increase the level of fear and disarray among General Synod delegates.”

As well, asked Archbishop Finlay, “If the primates can alter the membership of the Anglican Consultative (Council) by a two-thirds vote and vote us out, does that mean that the right wing under (Bishop) Don Harvey becomes the recognized Canadian province of the Anglican Communion? That’s really scary.” (Bishop Harvey retired as Bishop of Newfoundland and Labrador three years ago and has become moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada, which has positioned itself as a “lifeboat” for Anglicans in the event the Anglican Church of Canada is no longer recognized as the Canadian arm of the global Anglican Communion.)

In his plenary talk, Bishop Walmsley said the church is in “a defining moment” and that people need to stand up and say, “the Anglicanism that we know and believe in is seriously compromised by the effort to create a kind of magisterium through the primates, which is alien to our culture.”

If harmony is what is being sought, then it will not be found “within the confines of patriarchy-defined theologies of the past,” said Prof. Kirkpatrick, a biblical scholar. Those theologies “gave very little consideration of the perspectives of women and certainly other disenfranchised groups spoken of in a biblical tradition,” she said in her speech.

The audience applauded when the professor told them, “The phrase, ‘practising homosexual’ is nonsense. Indeed, it serves only to diminish and humiliate the personhood of the one it seeks to describe.”

Art Babych is editor of Crosstalk, the newspaper of the diocese of Ottawa.


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