Primate hopes marriage canon debates will be respectful

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Rev. Joanne Mercer (diocese of Central Newfoundland), Penny Noel (diocese of Montreal) and Valerie Bennett (diocese of Montreal) at a banquet prepared by St. John the Evangelist parishioners for Provincial Synod.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Rev. Joanne Mercer (diocese of Central Newfoundland), Penny Noel (diocese of Montreal) and Valerie Bennett (diocese of Montreal) at a banquet prepared by St. John the Evangelist parishioners for Provincial Synod.
Published June 27, 2015

Archbishop Fred Hiltz said he is aware that there is anxiety among Anglicans about how the 2016 General Synod will deal with a motion amending the marriage canon (church law) to allow the marriage of same-sex couples.

Hiltz expressed hope that the debates that will precede any decision will be conducted with respect and patience.

He is praying, he added, that people will “know the leading of the Holy Spirit” and that there will be “grace in the midst of what will be a very difficult and challenging conversation.”

Hiltz discussed the marriage canon and other issues that will come up at the triennial General Synod when he spoke on June 26 as an observer at the Provincial Synod of the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada.

“I know there’s anxiety. There are people who already are saying ‘if General Synod says this, then here’s the plan,'” said Hiltz. “But I need to remind people that because this is a doctrinal matter, if General Synod were to approve this on first reading, it requires a second reading” by the following General Synod, in 2019. It will also be sent to provincial synods for information, he said. “There’s a three-year window for conversations before 2019.”

If the motion to amend the marriage canon is not approved “then for a time the conversation is done in some form or another,” said Hiltz.

In July 2013, General Synod – the church’s governing body – approved Resolution C003, which asked Council of General Synod (CoGS) to prepare and present a motion to change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.”

It also asked that this motion include “a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in our authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.”

The resolution also asked that there be a broad consultation about the preparation of the motion. A commission on the marriage canon was subsequently established by CoGS; its findings are expected to be released this September.

In line with the theme, “You shall be my witnesses,” the 2016 General Synod will be “mission-focused,” said Hiltz. “We will look at the mission of God in the world and how the church endeavours to serve it.” [The triennial gathering will take place in Toronto from July 7-13, 2016.]

Hiltz also updated the Provincial Synod about the Anglican Council of Indigenous People’s call for greater determination within the Anglican Church of Canada. “We may be looking at a fifth province or a federation of Indigenous members,” he said.

Meanwhile, in another session where he was asked to offer a reflection, Hiltz focused on Jesus’ call to “feed my lambs,” tying it to issues around poverty, child welfare and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s “Calls to Action” on issues around Aboriginal justice, education, health, missing residential schools children and missing and murdered Aboriginal women, among others.

Hiltz said he found it disconcerting that with federal elections coming up he has not heard any political party talking “boldly and prophetically” about the TRC’s Calls to Action and its challenge for Canada to forge a new relationship with Indigenous people.

The church, said Hiltz, has an advocacy role to play in this regard. “I hope this church will rise to the occasion and not see these (Calls to Action) as political statements but as priorities for the church.”

It is “staggering,” said Hiltz, when one considers that today, more Aboriginal children are in government care than there were at the Indian residential schools, which operated for over a century.

Hiltz also noted that MPs have failed in their commitment made in 1989 to end child poverty by 2010. “The poverty rate then was 15.8 per cent and it’s 19.1 per cent today,” he said, noting that among Aboriginal children, the rate is 40 per cent. About 1.3 million children live in poverty in Canada, he added.

Once again, political parties have renewed their pledge to end child poverty, said Hiltz, as he urged Anglicans to take a stand. “Are we going to turn this into an election issue?”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. If the amendment to the marriage canon is approved on first reading, it will be sent to provincial synods for information, not approval.


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