(Left) Outgoing primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, presents Bishop Fred Hiltz to General Synod delegates as the newy-elected primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
In his first news conference as primate-elect, Fred Hiltz declined to declare his own position on whether the church should allow same-gender couples to have their relationships blessed.
Secular and church media, both from Canada and overseas, tried to pin the primate-elect down on where he stood on the controversial issue which is scheduled to be debated – and perhaps decided – by General Synod on June 23.
But Bishop Hiltz would only voice his support for the “synodical process,” or the church’s legal procedures, adding that he believed that the church needed to follow its processes and listen to the recommendations both of the Canadian church’s St. Michael Report (which examined the issue of whether same-sex blessings were a matter of doctrine) and the international Windsor Report, which recommended ways of keeping the Anglican Communion together in spite of deep divisions.
“We need, as a church, to look at all the dimensions,” said Bishop Hiltz, naming Scriptural study and matters of pastoral care as examples. “I have personal views, but I am conscious of the office I hold as a bishop and as a primate-elect. I don’t think it’s appropriate to declare my position … The conversation must go forward in the way that the church has decided it should go forward.”
Bishop Hiltz also explained why he allowed his name to go forward as a candidate for primate, after declining the nomination by his fellow bishops three years ago. He said he had only been a diocesan bishop for just over a year, and his diocese had just launched a number of initiatives, including a capital campaign and fundraising for its share of the church’s residential schools legal settlement; it had also just elected Sue Moxley as suffragan (assistant) bishop. Three years later, he said, the diocese’s initiatives are on surer footing and Bishop Moxley now has more experience.
He added, “From a personal point of view, I paid a little more attention to ‘where is the voice of the Holy Spirit?'”
Questioned about the possibility of cross-border intervention in the Canadian church by overseas bishops – particularly if General Synod votes in favour of same-sex blessings – Bishop Hiltz replied, “I would not want to see them interfering. That contravenes the recommendations of the Windsor Report. I would want to be talking to the bishops in those dioceses where it was happening.”
The bishop added he was concerned about the possibility of churches breaking away if same-sex blessings became a reality. But, he said, “I would do everything to encourage people to stay – inviting them to the table. I believe it’s the Lord’s will that we remain at the table and in conversation.”