Get to know the primatial candidates

According to Canon III, the primate’s role is to “lead the Anglican Church of Canada in discerning and pursuing the mission of God.” Photo: Saskia Rowley
Published July 3, 2019

The five bishops nominated for primate of the Anglican Church of Canada share visions for the future

At the meeting of General Synod in July, the 14th primate of the Anglican Church of Canada will be chosen by votes of the Orders of Clergy and Laity. At their March meeting, the Order of Bishops nominated five bishops to stand for this election.

According to the Canon III, the primate’s role is to “lead the Anglican Church of Canada in discerning and pursuing the mission of God.”

The primate exercises “pastoral and spiritual leadership” throughout the national church by visiting parishes, dioceses and provinces, subject to the invitation of diocesan bishops.

The primate also represents the church internationally and ecumenically, and part of the primate’s ministry is to “speak and write prophetically to the Anglican Church of Canada”—and, on behalf of the church, to the world.

In the March issue of the Anglican Journal, current primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz noted that the primate’s authority is “not based on jurisdiction,” as the primate does not have the power to discipline (this power falls to the diocesan bishops and metropolitans). Instead, the primate is a “first among equals” and acts as a “locus of unity” for the church, Hiltz said.

“People feel like they see in the face and the heart of the primate—one hopes—a visible expression of their belonging to the wider church.”

The primate also serves as president of General Synod, chair of Council of General Synod and chair of the House of Bishops, as well as the CEO of General Synod staff. Primates serve until age 70 unless they resign the position.

The Anglican Journal asked the five primatial candidates to share how they would serve the church, and where they see God leading the Anglican Church of Canada.

To read the candidates’ complete responses to primatial nominee forms, visit the General Synod website.

Jane Alexander

Bishop of the diocese of Edmonton

Hometown: Stroud, U.K.; living in Edmonton since 1990
Ordination: Nov. 30, 1998 (deacon); Nov. 1, 2001 (priest)
Consecration: May 11, 2008
Favourite Hymn: “For all the Saints”
Favourite Scripture Passage: Matthew 25:35-40 (from The Message)

How would you serve the church as primate?

I would do my best to be a servant of the church, understanding the primacy as a role which relies on faithful relationships and shared vision for Christ’s church. It is also a role that is defined by the ordinals and for me finds its roots in the call to serve all people regardless of position or status, to interpret the needs and concerns of the world to the church, to speak into the confusion of the world the saving words of Christ, and to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ’s resurrection. I would endeavour to encourage a focus on intentional discipleship and growth of the church and to rejoice in the many ways people are finding to be church in the world. I would try to reflect back to the Canadian community what is happening in the Communion, and share in Communion the incredible work of the Canadian church.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

I think that God is leading us into a time of change where we have to be open to the many ways of being church outside of the traditional Sunday service. It is also a challenging time because our attendance figures show us that we need a very different strategy for reaching younger people and more flexibility in forming church communities for our local contexts. If we truly believe that God is doing a new thing (and I do), then God is leading us into a time of growth and opportunity. Change can be nerve-wracking, but I believe that the glory days of the church always lie ahead of us. I believe that God is calling us to re-examine our existing structures to see if they enhance or hinder the spread of the gospel.

Ronald (Ron) Cutler

Bishop of the diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada

Hometown: Montreal
Ordination: May 17, 1981 (deacon); Nov. 1, 1981 (priest)
Consecration: June 29, 2008
Favourite Hymn: Too many to pick one
Favourite Scripture Passage:  Ephesians 4:1-6

How would you serve the church as primate?

The primate needs to be a person of prayer and a person who will help the church to discern, among the many options and opportunities, what the church should be following in order to be faithful to God’s mission. The primate’s role is to promote and embody the mission which has been discerned. I also see this role as maintaining and strengthening relationships, especially as we move through a time of strongly held differences. I would seek to be a bridge between the many diverse elements of our church. One of the areas where relationships need continued attention is in the ongoing response to the TRC calls to action and the development of a self-determining Indigenous church. Holding different points of view while still living out of God’s love is a witness which the wider world needs to see. The only way we will be drawn together is by being drawn higher. The primate can remind us of what our best can be.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

We are living in a culture with at least two generations of people who know little or nothing of the Christian message and who have a distorted or non-existent understanding of Jesus. The Anglican Church of Canada will either live out of a sense of fear and defeat occasioned by the change going on around and within the church or embrace the opportunity to speak hope and liberation to a culture blinded with consumerism as the way to fulfilment. I believe that God is leading us along the latter path. The Kingdom of God speaks of wholeness, reconciliation, and continued growth in the knowledge of God. It is also a way filled with surprises. We have to model the extraordinary love of God for all people, and I have no doubt that God will lead us into some surprising places.

Gregory Keith Kerr-Wilson

Bishop of the diocese of Calgary and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land

Hometown: Born in Winnipeg, grew up in Saskatoon and Vancouver
Ordination: May 14, 1989 (deacon); May 13, 1990 (priest)
Consecration: May 23, 2006
Favourite Hymn: “I Bind Unto Myself Today”/“Be Thou My Vision”
Favourite Scripture Passage: Romans 12:1-2

How would you serve the church as primate?

I see carrying out the ministry of the primate by working collegially with the bishops and all of our members through the councils of the church and in a ministry of presence, teaching and encouragement—with a focus on articulating the gospel within our contemporary setting, celebrating our shared faith in Jesus, building bridges across conflicts and divides, and encouraging a focus on mission and outreach.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

While it is always dangerous to reduce the gospel to short slogans or sound bites, I would say that two of the core pieces which need to lead and fuel our life as a church are the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20/Mark 16:15). How we seek to fulfill them, however, is deeply influenced by the context in which we live out our faith as church and as Christians. While we have talked for quite some years now about how we no longer live in “Christendom,” I believe that we are still strongly and instinctually influenced by a Christendom mindset. I believe God is leading us into transformation “by the renewing of [our] minds”—understanding that neither we nor the gospel are at the centre of our society’s life and values any longer, and learning afresh, in our changed context, how to live and speak the word of life that we have received in Jesus Christ.

Linda Nicholls

Bishop of the diocese of Huron

Hometown: Grew up in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto; living in London, Ont.
Ordination: Nov. 3, 1985 (deacon); Nov. 15, 1986 (priest)
Consecration: Feb. 2, 2008
Favourite Hymn: “My song is love unknown
Favourite Scripture Passage: Romans 8:38-39

How would you serve the church as primate?

The primate is a servant of the Church, gathering the stories of the ministry of the church coast to coast to coast and across the Anglican Communion, discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst, and offering a vision that can embrace us and call us into new mission and ministry.

I would serve as a bridge builder among our dioceses and the Communion, a pastor and co-worker among the House of Bishops and a leader for the work of General Synod.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

The Anglican Church of Canada is gifted with diversity and a necessary interdependence. In a world that polarizes differences into exclusion and rejection, God is calling us to discover ways to deepen relationships, build bridges, listen to one another and find ways to witness together to living in grace and truth. The Marks of Mission continue to offer a framework for ministry within which we can respond to the variety of needs and contexts we experience.

We are especially being called to deepen our proclamation of the gospel and our discipleship.  The challenges of diminishing financial resources will require an evaluation of what is essential to do at a national level through General Synod and what areas will call us to do more locally and regionally. The other resources we need are present in our people, in their gifts, creativity and faith! Thanks be to God!

Michael Douglas Oulton

Bishop of the diocese of Ontario

Hometown: Port Elgin, N.B.
Ordained: Sept. 21, 1992 (deacon); April 1, 1993 (priest)
Consecrated: June 11, 2011
Favourite Hymn: “I feel the winds of God today”
Favourite Scripture Passage: 1 Samuel 16 (1-13), “The Anointing of David”

How would you serve the church as primate?

The power of this question is framing it with the verb “serve” rather than the verb “lead.” Those who are called to minister within the Church of Jesus Christ and through it to the world are called to be servant leaders. From the beginning of his ministry until his final hours, Jesus demonstrated that the power of the Kingdom of God is rooted in servant leadership. “The one who would be greatest among you must be servant of all.”

We are so much stronger, so much more effective, when we draw together to serve together. The ministry of reconciliation has grown to become the central aspect of my ministry. I believe the ministry of reconciliation to be vital, as we live and proclaim the gospel in these challenging days.

The power of the primacy is the voice of the primacy, calling us together, calling us to the high ground, so that others may see the light of the gospel from the high hill and join us in the mission to which we are called.

Where is God leading the Anglican Church of Canada?

I can think of no better way to describe the leading of God for our church than in the words of Isaiah to the people of Israel: “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the builder of streets to dwell in.” We live in a world where angry voices foment fear and division. The tragic result of this rhetoric is the sudden unleashing of destructive and violent forces.

Our church is called to be a beacon of hope, bearing a message of unity in the name of Christ. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are called to beckon others to join us in support of the vulnerable and to effect reconciliation, from the local communities we serve, to the relationships that govern the affairs of nations.


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