The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) has assured the Catholic bishops of Canada that the council is not an interest group, but an ecclesial entity that aims to find consensus rather than taking a position by majority vote.
The CCC is “a common table for us to meet as Christians to pray and to listen to one another and to the Holy Spirit before we speak to the nation and to the world,” said Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, the council’s president and former director for Unity, Faith and Order for the Anglican Communion.
Speaking to the bishops at the annual plenary assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in Cornwall, Ont., September 27, Barnett-Cowan noted concerns had been expressed by the CCCB last fall about the decision-making process of the organization.
The CCC pioneered the use of a “forum” method of decision-making, in part so that bodies such as the CCCB could join the council, she said. But finding consensus “does not lend itself to quick responses,” said Barnett-Cowan, who served for several years as ecumenical officer for the Anglican Church of Canada.
A prime example is the way that the churches responded to the issue of physician-assisted death. “The CCCB and several other churches were clear that there could be no justification for such an intervention in human life,” she noted. But other member churches had more “nuanced positions, considering the pastoral situations of individuals,” she added. The result was that the CCC was unable to speak with one voice “except on one particular critical aspect,” of palliative care, said Barnett-Cowan. “The council was able to say unequivocally that all Canadians must have access to excellent and affordable palliative care,” she said. In arriving at its decision, “the governing board took care to listen to an excellent presentation from the CCCB on the issues involved,” she said.
In her presentation, Barnett-Cowan thanked the CCCB for its “strong support” of the CCC for more than 30 years, and said it was one of the first Episcopal conferences in the world to join a council of churches. “You have been unwavering in your commitment in terms of finances, personnel, communication, agenda setting, and indeed, in constructive criticism,” she said.
Together, the 25 member-churches of the CCCB represent 85% of Christians in Canada. The CCC president also said the council is looking forward to two anniversaries next year—the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, and the 500th anniversary of what many consider the start of the Reformation. “May this anniversary year be a greater spur to our ecumenical commitment to one another,” said Barnett-Cowan.
Ecumenical partners from several churches accepted the invitation to attend part of the September 26-30 plenary assembly as observers. The coadjutor bishop of the diocese of Quebec, Bruce Myers, formerly the ecumenical officer for the Anglican Church of Canada, attended the gathering as an observer.
Others took part in a panel discussion on preparations for the commemoration of the 5th Centenary of the Protestant Reformation. They included Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada National Bishop Susan Johnson, the Rev. Robert Bugbee, president of Lutheran Church-Canada, and Rev. Stephen Kendall, principal clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.