SPECIAL REPORT: HOUSE OF BISHOPS
Bishops view Le Centre de Commerce Mondial during walking tour of Old Montreal. Photo: Harvey Shepherd
A “pastoral statement” on sexuality issued last June at General Synod 2010 in Halifax may be moving the Anglican Church of Canada away from conflict and closer to dialogue and discernment, says Archbishop Fred Hiltz.
In an interview here at the joint meeting of the Anglican House of Bishops and the Lutheran Conference of Bishops, the primate said responses to the statement have been quite favourable, both in Canada and from Anglican churches around the world.
What responses there were, that is.
The primate acknowledged that responses have also been relatively rare, both in Canada and from other primates across the Anglican Communion.
The pastoral statement says there is “no common mind” in the church on the blessing of same-sex marriages but “we are sustained through struggle, patient listening and speaking from the mind and heart together” as a discernment process continues.
In the interview, the primate based his comments partly on a “cross country checkup,” closed to the media, in which bishops described responses to the pastoral statement in their dioceses. The 42 Anglican bishops present met jointly with the six bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, who reported on issues of sexuality in their areas.
According to a communique issued after the bishops’ meeting, “Generally, what we heard was that the statement was widely distributed, but that it has elicited very little response. We feel that this indicates that while issues of sexuality are not fully resolved, the church continues to address other areas of mission and ministry.”
The primate said there have been a wide range of responses to the pastoral statement, from those who considered it “an amazing piece of work” to others who found it profoundly disappointing. But a majority of those who responded found it an honest reflection of the place the church has reached.
“It represents a shift from fighting it out to the bitter end and parting as enemies and strangers to reaching a place of dialogue and discernment and remaining together as friends in Christ,” he told the Anglican Journal. He added that there is also some merit in the more pragmatic view that the statement “bought us some time.”
The primate also welcomed the Oct. 15 announcement by Bishop Barry Clarke of Montreal to move the diocese of Montreal forward with a plan for “shared episcopal ministry.” Under this arrangement, parishes not comfortable with accommodating same-sex blessings requests could have access to oversight from a bishop as well as a diocesan bishop more in tune with their own views. “It enables a parish to remain in the diocese and the Anglican Church of Canada, which is obviously important to all of us,” said Archbishop Hiltz.
At the closing eucharist, National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada urged bishops not to “give in to fear or worry about where the church is going but to take heart in the examples of Saints Simon and Jude and be faithful.”