(News update: At 8 p.m. today, Archbishop Fred Hiltz led Council of General Synod in prayers for those killed, wounded and held hostage in the Paris attacks. According to several media outlets, at least 120 people were killed and scores wounded in six separate, co-ordinated attacks across the city. )
From its relationships with Indigenous peoples to its approach to coming talks on gay marriage to its possible “synergies” with the new federal government, and more, the Anglican Church of Canada has many reasons to be hopeful for the future, Archbishop Fred Hiltz told members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) at their fall meeting.
Hope, Hitz said in his “State of the Union” address to CoGS, was the dominant theme to have emerged from a number of meetings and other events the church engaged in this year. Among the most important of these, he said, were events related to the legacy of the Indian residential school system: the final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the release of its final report and 94 Calls to Action in June.
The vast implications of the Calls to Action, he said, seemed to manifest themselves especially powerfully at a meeting he attended with other Anglicans gathered this September to look at how the church ought to respond to them. The assembled group read the 94 calls one by one—”a very profound, prayerful experience for us all,” he said.
“By the time we finished reading the 94 calls, everyone was literally exhausted and we sat in silence. No one knew what to say or how to say it, and so we just sat within that silence. But we all knew that deep within that silence was a great hopefulness for this country, a great hopefulness for Indigenous people—a kind of hopefulness such as they have not experienced for a long, long time—and a great sense of hopefulness for the church itself.”
As the church lives out these Calls to Action, “we are going to change. We’re not going to be the church we are now,” he said.
One of the exciting challenges now facing the church, Hiltz said, is the development of new structures allowing its Indigenous members to be more self-determining—most notably, through the possible creation of a fifth ecclesiastical province.
A “common discourse,” Hiltz said, is now emerging on what shape such a new Indigenous province might take. The emerging view is that its structure should not simply mimic existing Anglican provinces, he said.
“If we were to do that, it would actually be very confining for the hope that Indigenous people have,” he said. “When we talk about some structure, whatever it will be, we are dreaming something new—something truly Iindigenous, not something of ours that just gets Indigenized,” he said. “We’re confident that what does emerge will not only liberate Indigenous peoples and help them in their quest of self-determination—honour that quest—but in fact, the whole church will be changed.”
While seeming to disavow any political partisanship, Hiltz said the new federal government also gave him much hope for the future.
“I’m not a politician—you all know that—but I tell you, this is a time of hope for this country,” he said. The Liberal government, he said, appears to have social priorities much in line with those of the church, as even some new departmental names seem to suggest—the former Department of Immigration and Citizenship will now be known as the Department of Citizenship, Refugees and Immigration. He applauded, too, the naming of an Aboriginal woman, Jody Wilson-Raybould, as the country’s new justice minister and attorney general.
“If that’s not hope, I don’t know what is,” Hiltz said of Wilson-Raybould’s appointment.
“I’m not wearing red today, but I think there is in this country a hopefulness that we’ve not seen for some time,” he said. The new cabinet seemed to collectively include a great deal of “respect, and proven expertise, and experience and abiding passion for community development, foreign aid and global concerns,” he added. “We actually as a country have some recovering to do with respect to our place among the nations, and I think there’s a time of hope that is before us.”
The primate also said that, despite the considerable sensitivity of the issue and the difficulty the church has had in the past coming to decisions around sexuality, he was optimistic about the discussions around the marriage canon expected at the General Synod next summer.
“What I’m feeling hopeful about is that everybody is asking for great care to be taken in terms of how we move into that conversation,” he said. “Nobody wants a fight. We’ve been there so many times as a church, and we’ve come away from General Synods having fought over sexuality, and felt disappointed and disillusioned knowing we’ve hurt one another.”
There seems to be a consensus, he said, that the upcoming General Synod needs to take an approach similar to that which was used at its 2010 meeting, and which seemed to result in much less divisive debate.
“We need to go back—and the bishops are saying this, CoGS is saying it—we need to go back to the kind of process we had at General Synod in 2010 in Halifax, where we with great intent and careful planning listened to one another,” he said.
Hiltz said he was also eagerly anticipating the meeting of Anglican Communion primates this January at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, despite rumblings from some quarters.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on around the invitation—around who will there and who won’t be, who may be asked to leave and who may be asked not to leave,” he said.
However, Hiltz continued, “I am uneasy with the rhetoric in the Communion that talks about how fragile the Communion is, or how broken it is—that’s not my read.”
Despite the many stresses affecting it, he said, “In fact, there are many, many healthy signs in the life and witness of the Anglican Communion.”
The primate also spoke about the Episcopal Church of Cuba, which has enjoyed close ties to the Anglican Church of Canada in recent decades as a result of the U.S. embargo of Cuba. As Anglican Cubans anticipate the complete lifting of this embargo, Hiltz said, they look forward to rejoining The Episcopal Church, but hope their relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada will not be cut completely.
At a recent meeting with officials from the Episcopal Church of Cuba, Hiltz said, he learned that in a declaration of what the Cuban church is and where it is headed, the Anglican Church of Canada is referred to “as like a mother, holding them in her arms during some of the darkest times.”
Finally, Hiltz said, he was also greatly encouraged by Pope Francis, “in the way he speaks of the church, in the way he speaks of our call to be a serving community, in his call to all of us to take care for our common humanity and our common home, this Earth.
“I’m personally feeling that we’re living in exciting times in the life of the church—within our own respective churches, in our relationship one with another and in our renewed sense of what we say ecumenically: the call for the church, like its Lord, to be in and for the world,” Hiltz concluded.
Hope was also a key theme in a short address given at the same joint session by ELCIC national bishop Susan Johnson.
ELCIC, Johnson said, appears now to have decidedly turned the page on a tumultuous stage in its recent history. This “upswing” the church is now enjoying, she said, was especially manifest at ELCIC’s national convention in Edmonton this summer, which she called “a joyous gathering of the family together.
Four years ago, she said, “we were a church that was going through a lot of struggle, a lot of divisiveness, a lot of pain. Our conventions had more of the tone of open anger and hostility.” [The ELCIC authorized congregations to offer same-sex marriages in 2011.]
But in Edmonton this summer, said Johnson, “the spirit with which we gave thoughtful consideration to motions, the spirit in which we worshipped and studied and—partied, the spirit in which we even disagreed with each other was amazing,” she said.
“Hope does not disappoint. It is a new day, and we are very excited.”
Johnson also reiterated the support ELCIC has already voiced for the Anglican Church of Canada as it wrestles with the question of whether to change the marriage canon to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages.
“We made a promise to you that no matter what decisions you make it will not affect our full communion relationship,” she said. “We are your partners and we will continue to be your partners moving forward. ”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include an address by ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson to the joint meeting.