Saying that he hoped to “dispel rumour or misunderstanding,” Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has written to his fellow leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion explaining the developments around the blessing of same-sex unions, which has embroiled Canadian Anglicans in conflict.
In his four-page letter, which was sent to the other 33 Anglican primates and four moderators of the Anglican Communion’s United Churches on Jan. 9, Archbishop Hiltz underscored that the Canadian church has not yet agreed upon a definitive position on the issue. “It is important to note that the Anglican Church of Canada has not altered its doctrine of marriage as outlined in our prayer books and canons (church laws).”
However, he put the situation in context: Canadian Anglicans, he noted, “do live in a country where the federal government in 2005 approved legislation that allows the marriage of same-gender couples.”
Archbishop Hiltz also reaffirmed the Canadian church’s “commitment to full membership and participation in the life, witness and structures of the Anglican Communion.” He also called on Anglican leaders to respect each other’s boundaries and desist from intervening in the affairs of other provinces.
In providing the “up-to-date picture” of the conversation regarding the blessing of same-sex unions, the primate cited ongoing conversations about the issue in various Canadian dioceses and his approval of General Synod’s request that the Primate’s Theological Commission consult with dioceses and parishes on two questions: The theological question of whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine; and Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person and the question of the sanctity of human relationships.
Archbishop Hiltz also reported on the decision by the synods of three Canadian dioceses – Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara – requesting their bishops to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions despite the 2007 General Synod’s defeat of a resolution “affirming the authority and jurisdiction” of dioceses to offer them. Those resolutions, he said, were a way of testing the mind of the local church and “the results speak of a pastoral need that cannot be ignored,” he said. “In each case the bishop has indicated that he will consult widely before making a decision.”
The primate said it was “regrettable” that some Canadian Anglicans have chosen to leave the church despite the fact that the house of bishops had made “adequate and appropriate provision for the pastoral care and episcopal support of all members of our church.”
Archbishop Hiltz also said that he was praying that at the Lambeth Conference, scheduled for July 16-Aug. 4 in Canterbury, England, all bishops would be granted the grace to “maintain a capacity for respectful dialogue” and “a tolerance for diversity of opinion.”
Meanwhile, in recent months, several Canadian Anglican bishops requested meetings with clergy in their dioceses who had attended a conference in late November that announced a new church structure for conservative parishes that disagree with their bishops on the subject of homosexuality. At the conference, held Nov. 22-23, leaders of the Anglican Network in Canada announced that the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, would welcome parishes wishing to leave the Anglican Church of Canada. The Southern Cone includes Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
The bishops who met with the clergy were, in some cases, seeking clarification of their intentions. At the November conference, the network moderator, Don Harvey, the retired bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, announced roles for two Anglican priests: Canon Charlie Masters as archdeacon of the network and Rev. George Sinclair as prolocutor.
Bishop Ralph Spence of Niagara said he met with Mr. Masters to ask how could he hold a top network position and be rector of St. George’s, Lowville, Ont.
Mr. Masters explained that, despite the announcement, he had not accepted the position. Subsequently, however, a U.S. group called Common Cause, which gathered conservative Anglican/Episcopalian groups under one umbrella, at a meeting Dec. 17-18 in Orlando, Fla., announced that Mr. Masters had been named general secretary of its leadership council. Bishop Spence said he intended to meet again with Mr. Masters.
Bishop Spence and his successor, Bishop Michael Bird, met separately with a half dozen clergy who had been present at the network conference in Burlington, Ont. “We told them their ministry was highly valued,” said Bishop Spence. “They have a prophetic voice. It may not be the majority, but it is an opinion we respect and we want them to be part of the family.”
In Ottawa, Bishop John Chapman met with Mr. Sinclair, who also told his bishop that he had not accepted the position with the network. “There was no discipline. At this point, technically, there is nothing to discipline,” said Bishop Chapman.
Mr. Sinclair’s church, St. Alban the Martyr, is listed as a network member, but as of early January, no active Canadian Anglican church had voted to secede and join the Province of the Southern Cone.
The diocese of Ottawa’s position is that its churches cannot leave, said Bishop Chapman. “Individuals can elect to go to another church, but parishes are part of the diocese of Ottawa. Vestries are not allowed to consider (seceding) as a corporate body,” he said. If a vestry were to pass such a motion, “it would be ruled out of order,” he added. “St. Alban’s will always be part of the diocese of Ottawa,” he said.
In Montreal, Bishop Barry Clarke said there has been no discipline of priests, but several parishes have inquired about alternate episcopal oversight should he acquiesce with synod’s decision on same-sex blessings.
In related news:
- Bishop Cy Pitman, of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, said he expects clergy “involved in the (Essentials) Network and working to the establishment of a parallel jurisdiction to the Anglican Church of Canada would do the honourable thing and resign their positions, relinquishing their licences to exercise ordained ministry in this church.” In a letter to diocesan clergy dated Dec. 18, 2007, he summoned all clergy to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s on Jan. 21 to renew their ordination vows (a practice introduced by his predecessor, Bishop Harvey, and performed each Maundy Thursday) and receive new licences. He also reiterated church policy that “no one from another diocese or another province is to be asked to exercise any ministry in any of our parishes except by the direct invitation of the diocesan bishop.”
- An international group of about 50 Anglican leaders met in Chicago Dec. 5-7 to “build international coalitions and develop a strategy for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the church,” according to an announcement. Canadian bishop Michael Ingham, of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, attended. The group called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to invite Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire (who lives with a male partner) as a full participant to the 2008 Lambeth Conference.