If federal officials agree, Canadian Anglican dioceses will soon be able to stop raising money for the fund that has paid damages resulting from lawsuits alleging abuse at boarding schools for native students.
Ellie Johnson, director of the Anglican Church of Canada’s partnerships department, told the church’s bishops at their regular fall meeting that she has written to Associate Deputy Minister for Indian Affairs Suzanne Tining. “I asked if we could put in abeyance our schedule for fundraising, pending the outcome of the new agreement with the government,” she said. Ms. Johnson said she has had a verbal assurance from staff that the request is likely to be approved.
The status of the residential school situation was one topic discussed by about 35 bishops, meeting here from Oct. 23 to 26. They also talked about what they would like to see at the 2008 Lambeth Conference (which gathers all Anglican bishops) and they approved a change in the process for nominations in the next election of a primate; they also passed a statement concerning issues of human sexuality at the next General Synod. They heard presentations on the national church’s budget and the nomination of a national native bishop and they discussed the St. Michael Report on the matter of blessing same-sex couples.
Concerning the residential school situation, Ms. Johnson noted that most of the Canadian church’s 30 dioceses have paid in full their commitments under a new agreement with the government that is expected to reduce the church’s liability cap to about $16 million from $25 million. The larger amount was the result of a 2003 agreement that was revised early this year. Currently, the fund has collected about $18.7 million. The revised agreement must be approved by nine courts and is expected to be in effect by next June.
The bishops also discussed issues of human sexuality, but the tone of the debate was more collegial than it was several years ago. The twice-a-year meetings have in the last couple of years allowed more time for prayer, Bible study and informal, interpersonal relations.
Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton asked her colleagues to discuss whether they “buy” the conclusions of the St. Michael Report, a document produced by the Primate’s Theological Commission at the request of General Synod. It concluded that the blessing of same-sex relationships is a matter of doctrine, since it touches upon marriage, but not core doctrine such as the concept of the trinity.
“The question is, can we live with difference?” asked Bishop Colin Johnson of Toronto. Bishop Larry Robertson of the Arctic reported back that in his discussion group, some were comfortable with a “local option” (permitting dioceses to decide on a parish-by-parish basis) but some were not. “We need to have something clear to ask at General Synod,” he said. (The next General Synod governing convention will take place in Winnipeg in June, 2007.)
Bishops approved a statement drafted by the bishops of the ecclesiastical (church) province of Ontario that stated “further inaction (at General Synod) or the perception of stalling may result in widespread disobedience in many parts of our province and possibly further impair our relationship with the Anglican Communion.”
They agreed that “doctrinally, there is no common mind in the church concerning the grounds for giving or withholding the blessing of same-sex unions,” but that many with in the church believe “passionately that those doctrines have already been decided.” Further argument, they said, “is unlikely to move people from their positions at this time.”
The statement advised against a change in the marriage canon, or church law, but urged General Synod “to find an appropriate course of action for our situation.” They also asked the church “to show pastoral understanding and sensitivity to all same-sex couples, including those civilly married.” The bishops urged an avoidance of the passage of contradictory motions and attention and sensitivity to “energy levels and emotions around important issues.”
Sexuality will likely also arise as an issue at the next Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of the world’s Anglican bishops, which will be held in Canterbury, England at the University of Kent from July 16 to Aug. 4, 2008.
Sue Parks, conference manager, joined the bishops and outlined the schedule and logistics for the bishops, noting that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has directed that there be fewer legislative-style plenary sessions and resolutions. The last Lambeth Conference, in 1998, saw vitriolic debate on the issue of homosexuality and the passage of a resolution that declared homosexuality “incompatible with Scripture,” but also committed the church to listen to the experiences of gay people.
Ms. Parks, who has visited seven countries to ask bishops what they would like out of the Lambeth Conference, heard from the Canadians that they want time to build relationships.
“We need to talk about Islam. We need to be brought up to speed on the Sudan and genocide across the globe. We need a face-to-face conversation with those who think we are the enemy (concerning sexuality issues),” said Bishop Matthews. Canada should also be telling its story, said Bishop Patrick Yu, suffragan of Toronto. “We have stories to tell about our ecumenical links, external and internal. Also, Scripture is a huge resource and a huge source of conflict. How do we use Scripture?” he said.
In other news, the process of choosing a national bishop that would minister to aboriginal Anglicans has resulted in the selection of a name. Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk of the Arctic said the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, will announce the appointment this month.
The members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples “have made a nomination to me and requested that it not be announced until early December,” reported Archbishop Hutchison. “It is somebody already in episcopal orders. I have met with that person, who is prepared to accept it. There are details to pay attention to, from his side and ours, such as a remuneration package and location,” he said.
The national church’s budget, and a recommendation from a planning group that the Anglican Book Centre’s storefront operation be closed in favor of an Internet- and telephone-based operation, was discussed. Bishops asked whether additional options for the bookstore could be explored.
The bishops also changed the rules governing the nomination of candidates for the primate, the church’s national archbishop. Next spring’s house of bishops meeting will select names for the primatial election at General Synod.
Under the new guidelines, bishops will nominate candidates several months before April’s bishops’ meeting and send them to the primate, who will maintain a confidential list, but notify nominees that they are under consideration. The change was adopted to give candidates more time to consult with family and consider their nomination.
Early in the meeting, in a closed session, the bishops considered a proposal from the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land that future meetings be closed to the media. The proposal was changed to keep meetings open, but allow the group’s agenda committee to identify issues that could be discussed in closed session.