Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he was “encouraged” by the proposal for a “professionally mediated conversation” involving North American churches at odds over the issue of sexuality and said he was prepared to be a part of it.
In a telephone interview at the end of the primates’ meeting, held Feb. 1 to 5 in Alexandria, Egypt, Archbishop Hiltz also said that it appeared relationships among church leaders, which had been ruptured because of bitter divisions over the issue, were being repaired. “I think we’re on the way toward healing within the communion,” he said, describing the mood at the meeting as “generous and gracious.” The past two meetings in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, had been chilly and emotionally-charged, with some primates either boycotting the eucharist or refusing to take holy communion with their fellow church leaders as a symbol of the Anglican Communion’s “brokenness.”
Archbishop Hiltz said that although he was disappointed that there had not been a “focused conversation” among primates involved in cross-border interventions right at the meeting, he was nonetheless “encouraged” that the primates chose to adopt a recommendation made by the Windsor Continuation Group for a mediated dialogue.
In a communique issued Feb. 5, the primates said that they had no consensus on how to deal with the Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of Anglicans who have left The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada because of differences over the place of gays and lesbians in the church. This coalition wants to be recognized as a separate province in the Anglican Communion.
The primates agreed, however, that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams should initiate a dialogue “which engages all parties at the earliest opportunity.”
Archbishop Hiltz said he was “realistic enough to know that a mediated conversation will only be successfully initiated if everyone is committed to coming to the table at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.” He added that his last words to Archbishop Williams were, “Archbishop, I am prepared to come to that table, and represent the Anglican Church of Canada, and my hope is that everyone else who would be invited to that table would respond in that same fashion.”
The Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), which has been working with the Common Cause Partnership, issued a statement saying that they “appreciate the primates’ recognition that members of the Common Cause Partnership and the Anglican Church in North America are fully Anglican and their unanimous support for the Windsor Continuation Group’s recommendation that the Archbishop of Canterbury initiate professional mediation to address the difficult issues in North America.” (ANiC is composed of parishes, clergy and individuals who have left the Anglican Church of Canada because they are opposed to such issues as same-sex blessings.)
ANiC said it was grateful that these leaders also addressed the “continuing deep differences” in the communion, acknowledging the ‘depth of conscientious conviction involved’ and that ‘the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1:10 in its entirety remains’ the undisputed position of the Anglican Communion on sexuality.'”
Archbishop Hiltz said that, while there was “a range of opinions” among primates about the new province being proposed by the Common Cause Partnership, “there’s no doubt that a strong majority had little interest or energy for any notion of a parallel jurisdiction.” He said the opinions ranged from his own position of “absolutely not,” to those who said, “well, for the sake of those who feel that they haven’t got a home in the Anglican Church of Canada or The Episcopal Church maybe we should be creating some kind of a provisional measure for them.”
The primate said he responded by saying that such a provision, called shared episcopal ministry, was in place in the Canadian church.
(This provision allows a bishop from other jurisdiction who is opposed to same-sex blessings to provide certain services, possibly even confirmations, in similarly-minded parishes of another diocese, as long as he or she seeks permission from the diocesan bishop of the area.)
Archbishop Hiltz said that a number of primates indicated that the proposed new province was “not in keeping with our way of forming provinces; we’ve traditionally, in the Anglican Communion, created provinces out of a sense of mission, not orthodoxy, not a test of faith.”
He noted that there had been “a lot more energy, in terms of discussion, around the possibilities of mediated conversation leading to reconciliation.”
The primate also said that there wasn’t “overwhelming reaction in terms of dismay or anger” when he talked about the Canadian house of bishops’ position regarding the moratoria on same-sex blessings, cross-border interventions and the election to the episcopate of bishops in same-gender unions.
“I said that the statement is what it is – it’s an honest reflection of the conversation that the house of bishops had,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “I think that some of the primates probably were intrigued by the fact that we, as a province, were – if not the first, among the first – to actually have a serious conversation around the house around moratoria and the call for gracious restraint, and the first ones to actually put it in writing.”
The Canadian house of bishops said in October that a “large majority” of its members could affirm “a continued commitment to the greatest extent possible” to a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions but also recognized that this would pose difficulty for some dioceses “that in conscience have made decisions on these matters.”
Archbishop Hiltz said that at the primates’ meeting “there was a good effort on the part of everyone to speak very openly and frankly, but to do it as graciously as we possibly could.” He said that what helped “set the tone, if I can put it that way, for the more delicate conversations” was the invitation by Archbishop Williams for five primates to speak about how the current state of the Anglican Communion is affecting the mission and priorities of the church in their own contexts. Archbishop Hiltz was among those invited to make a presentation, along with the primates of churches in the United States, Myanmar, Uganda, and South Africa.
“If you look at the list you can imagine the diversity in terms of the matter of the blessing of same-sex unions. But it was very clear from all the presentations that were made that, no matter what’s going on in the communion around the issue, the mission of the church is going forward in all those places in some very exciting kinds of ways,” he said. “That was noted by all the primates, that not one of us who presented was able to say that this issue has greatly impacted in a negative way our commitment and our capacity to get on with the mission of the church.”
Archbishop Hiltz said he had given an example of how each of the Five Marks of Mission “is being lived out in the Canadian context.”
While sexuality was discussed at the primates’ meeting, Archbishop Hiltz underscored that it had not been “a one-issue meeting.” He said that, although the meeting was not framed around the Five Marks of Mission, a lot of their work reflected their commitment to it. He noted the discussions and the statements issued by primates on the situation in Gaza, Zimbabwe, and the Sudan, and on global issues such as global warming, development and relief work, and the church’s response to the deepening global economic crisis.
“Our time was balanced by attention to these other things that we need to be giving attention to as well,” he said.
Archbishop Hiltz, who attended the meeting for the first time (along with seven other new primates), said he could say “in all honesty, that some of the goodwill and hope for the communion and a commitment to deepen, and in some cases, repair broken relationships” which had been present at last year’s Lambeth Conference, was felt at the primates’ meeting.
He described their meeting “as some kind of a reunion,” adding that new primates like himself “were certainly welcomed and made to feel at home in that group.” “We conducted our business in such a way that we were able to, as I sometimes say, lay the cards on the table and say, ‘you know this is the real issue, this is the real pain, this is the real consequence of what you’re doing or what I’m doing.'” Primates demonstrated ” a commitment to really respectfully listen to one another and I found out that once we came out of sessions lots of people who would be quite polarized on the issue were making efforts to talk to one other.”
Asked whether anyone had boycotted the eucharist or the group shots as one newspaper has reported, he said, “To my knowledge everyone participated in the photograph sessions, and to my knowledge everyone that was present for the services of the holy communion received the sacraments.”
Archbishop Hiltz said he will prepare a reflection about the recently-concluded meeting for Canadian Anglicans.