Looking back, looking forward

Published December 1, 2003

What a year. December draws to a close 12 of the most exhilarating, astonishing and groundbreaking months in recent memory for the Anglican Communion. All of us might wisely use Advent and Christmas to rest and reflect on the church’s immediate past and its future, since the next year promises to be just as dramatic as the last. In Canada, 2004 will have barely begun when, on Feb. 1, Archbishop Michael Peers, the primate, retires after a remarkable 18 years as the head of the Canadian church. Nearly four months after that, the triennial meeting of General Synod will commence in St. Catharines, Ont., with the election of Archbishop Peers’ successor. While all meetings of General Synod are newsworthy, Synod 2004 will likely attract considerable attention, not for its crucial decisions on a strategic plan for the church, nor even for its discussion of the evolving relationship between aboriginal and non-native Anglicans, but rather for the debate and decision on whether Canadian dioceses and parishes should have the option of offering blessings for same-sex couples. After months of painful discord over the 2002 decision by the diocese of New Westminster to allow parishes to bless homosexual couples, 2003 ended on a somewhat optimistic note. Following a request by the house of bishops, three parties who all had much to lose backed down from their positions to allow a new process (including a task force and a mediator) the chance to work. Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon first told dissenting parishes in New Westminster that he was withdrawing his offer to act as their bishop. In short order, Archbishop David Crawley announced he was dropping charges against Bishop Buckle for exercising episcopal ministry in a diocese that was not his own and Bishop Michael Ingham said the diocese of New Westminster would stay charges of “disobedient and disrespectful conduct” against seven dissenting clergy. Now, a task force of Canadian bishops will work with all parties to try to find a way forward. The entire house of bishops is to be commended for its frank and, more importantly, open debate on same-sex blessings at its October meeting, which garnered considerable attention from the secular press. The bishops could have held the debate behind closed doors, but they chose to open up the process to the media, and by extension, to the wider church. It was not an easy meeting, emotions ran high, but the church was given the opportunity to observe a model of restraint in the midst of disagreement ? with an outcome that was remarkably proactive. Elsewhere in the church, media attention was more intense. Days after the Canadian bishops wrapped up their meeting, an openly gay man was consecrated as co-adjutor bishop of New Hampshire . In an address to the congregation, Bishop Gene Robinson urged Anglicans to harness the global media attention, and use it to spread the good news of the church. “The eyes of the world are upon us,” said Bishop Robinson. “We couldn’t buy this kind of publicity, so let’s use it for God. So many people don’t know the love of God, so let’s tell them about how God has saved us by reaching out to all who are hungry for God.” This is a powerful message: here is a tremendous opportunity for the church, ordinary churchgoers included, to share the relevance of the Anglican faith. Or, put another way, a teaching moment. Quite apart from the attention devoted to matters of sexuality, average Anglicans might consider what it is about their church that makes it special and share it with anyone and everyone who asks. Additionally, while the Canadian bishops’ task force goes about its business, an international commission will be working on the larger question of how the Anglican Communion can remain intact when it is faced with profound differences of opinion, particularly in matters of sexuality. The commission, led by the church’s longest-serving primate, Robin Eames of Ireland , will draw together representatives from across the Anglican spectrum, including Canadian canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of General Synod’s faith, worship and ministry department. Let’s pray in the coming months that the Canadian task force and the international commission face their duties with honesty, courage and, most importantly, hearts and minds that are open to the possibility of change.


Keep on reading

Skip to content