Archbishop Andrew Hutchison has expressed hope that the primates’ meeting, which he was scheduled to attend in Belfast Feb. 20-26, would have a “moderating influence” on the current debate over the issue of homosexuality, which has deeply divided the Anglican Communion.
(The Journal went to press before the primates’ meeting. For breaking news during the gathering, visit the newspaper’s Web site.)
“When talking across thousands of miles electronically and by e-mail and so on, the quality of that exchange is quite different from when we’re sitting face-to-face as human beings,” he said in an interview prior to his departure.
He also said he hoped that other primates “will have consulted their churches” about the Windsor Report released last October by the Lambeth Commission, which was formed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to seek ways of finding “the highest communion” possible amid deep disagreements over the blessing of same-sex unions in the diocese of New Westminster, and the ordination of gay bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Primates from 38 self-governing provinces in 164 countries are expected to discuss the Windsor Report in their meeting.
“My hope and prayer is that most of the primates will have done that (conducted consultations) and don’t simply come and say, ‘here’s where we stand’ without having consulted anyone,” he said. “The primacy operates quite differently in some countries. There are some primates who have enormous personal authority, jurisdiction and power in a way that we don’t. We’re very consultative. When I speak it has to be the voice of the church.”
Shortly after the publication of the Windsor Report, the primate invited Canadian Anglicans to respond to the report through a group composed of clergy, lay leaders and staff from the national office. The response group was scheduled to brief the primate about the submissions a week before his departure to Belfast. “There’s an enormous range of opinion and I wouldn’t risk a guess yet on what the church is going to come up with,” said Archbishop Hutchison.
However, Archbishop Hutchison said, he would likely express his concern over a proposal in the Windsor Report for a covenant among members of the Anglican Communion “saying that they wouldn’t effect any significant changes without having consulted formally or informally the instruments of unity and so on.”
He said that Canadian Anglicans have “varying views” on this issue. “There have been e-mails (saying), ‘what a good idea, we should be doing that.’ But there have also been e-mails, ‘not in a thousand years. We must maintain our independence and not have our affairs directed from London or Nigeria,'” he said.
Personally, he said, “I have a very high regard for the independence of our churches and it differs from country to country, the way they work things out. But I also have a profound respect for Anglican tradition and its theological and ecclesiological tradition and that certainly needs to be taken seriously.”
The response group would not say what kind of submissions it received and what recommendations it would give to the primate. A communiqu© it issued after a January meeting stated simply that it had received 171 responses — nine of them from dioceses, 87 from laity, 51 from clergy, 13 from groups of clergy and laity, and 11 could not be identified as to which order they belong to. In terms of ecclesiastical (church) provinces, 17 came from Canada, 58 from Ontario, 34 from Rupert’s Land, 36 from British Columbia and Yukon; 20 could not be identified by geography.
Many of the responses commented specifically on the Windsor Report, said the primate’s principal secretary, Archdeacon Paul Feheley, who was among those who provided staff support to the group. “Some dealt more specifically about whether we should bless same-sex unions or not.”
He said that while not entirely exclusive, those who expressed conservative opinions were “more Scripture-based” and often quoted the Bible, while the more liberal ones tended to be “more experience-based” and wrote from the point of view of one who is either gay, knew someone who is gay or who has a gay family member.
Asked whether the responses received were representative of Canadian Anglican views, Mr. Feheley said. “It’s often hard to say what represents a good number … There was a sense that this represented well the reflections of the country of Canada because of where they came from. Is every nuanced opinion represented? Probably not, but it was a pretty wide range of opinions.”
The group, chaired by Patricia Bays (Ottawa), included Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones (Toronto), Bishop Peter Coffin (Ottawa), Rev. Tim Connor (Huron), Bishop James Cowan (British Columbia), Cynthia Haines-Turner (Western Newfoundland), Bishop Colin Johnson (Toronto), and Rev. Linda Nicholls (Toronto).