Primate muses about term, life after retirement

Published May 1, 2007

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, with Archdeacon Paul Feheley, his principal secretary, at the 2005 primate’s meeting in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, which asked the Canadian and U.S. churches to “voluntarily withdraw” from a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council following disagreements over sexuality.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison says his three years as primate, or nation-al bishop, of the Anglican Church of Canada have “moved so quickly, it doesn’t seem like there’s time to reflect.”

However, the 12th primate of the Canadian church was able to take an hour out of his schedule in early April to sit down in his light-filled office in Toronto and look back at a brief but event-filled term in office.

Having been called by the church and God, what skills have served him well? “I have a passion for communications and an interest in people. I’ve always been able to connect with people with a wide range of views. Underlying that is a theological theme of reconciliation,” he said, quoting Corinthians 2:18: “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”

Reviewing the major issues of his primacy, Archbishop Hutchison recalled that sexuality matters were attracting “acrimonious debate.” Church leaders were “highly emotional” and some correspondence, “unimaginable” and “very personal,” he said. Now, “with a few exceptions, it is not overwhelmingly that kind of correspondence.”

What has changed? “It’s a comment on where we were and where we are – a toning-down as people have learned to listen to each other more carefully and more respectfully,” he said. The change started with the fall, 2004 meeting of the house of bishops, “which set the tone for improvement across the whole life of the church,” said Archbishop Hutchison. “That, and the tone of discussion at Council of General Synod (CoGS), has been quite different in this triennium.”

The primate chairs meetings of both groups (CoGS governs the church between triennial General Synods) and his contribution, he said, was to communicate the concept that “what we all need is to be heard and respected.” After his election as primate, he visited the church’s key conservative group, called Essentials, at their meeting tent. “I said that I don’t necessarily agree with you but you are a voice in this church. ” he said. He has met with the gay support group Integrity and the Zacchaeus fellowship, which is a group of people who experience same-sex attraction but “hold to the church’s historic view on sexuality,” according to its Web site.

Internationally, he said he saw some improvement in the sexuality debate, with fewer primates at their last meeting in February, 2007 refusing to take communion with their colleagues, compared to the 2005 meeting. A move toward developing an Anglican covenant that would apply to all national churches is receiving a “strong push,” he noted. “There is a conservative bloc led by a minority of primates who are pretty uncompromising in their demand for conformity” partly due to a reaction against colonialism, he said. Whether it will be accepted by all churches worldwide remains to be seen, he said.

Another major issue that was resolved during his term was the issue of the church’s legal liability for abuse suffered by former students at native boarding schools. He acknowledged that his predecessor, Archbishop Michael Peers, went through most of the turmoil concerning the issue.

Archbishop Hutchison, was, however, instrumental in bringing to fruition the appointment of the Canadian church’s first national indigenous bishop, with pastoral oversight for all native Anglicans. “The Sacred Circle (native meeting in 2005) was a major breakthrough,” he remarked. “There was a new wholeness (in church-native relations).”

One thing he said he has found difficult is dealing with financial matters. Although certain Anglican entities such as the Anglican Foundation and Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund are fiscally healthy, the national office has had to cope with declining operating funds. “Something that did not go terribly well during the triennium was financial development. We embraced a program called Letting Down the Nets without funding it. General Synod had no reserves yet saw a need for it and it had to raise money to pay for its own life.

“It has done excellent work working with dioceses (on financial development) but there was an unrealistic hope at Synod 2004 that we would see very substantial financial results from (it) and that has not materialized,” he said. His successor, he said, is expected to oversee the establishment of a new financial development office.

Young people’s involvement in the church was a priority for the primate. “I didn’t know what a blog was,” when elected, he said, but Archbishop Hutchison now maintains an on-line diary, or blog, on, a Canadian-Anglican youth Web site.

Before being elected primate, Archbishop Hutchison served as bishop ordinary to the Canadian Forces, with pastoral oversight of Anglican chaplains, and carried that concern for military chaplains into his national office. “It takes an extraordinary person to go through all that theological training and then put on a uniform and go through basic training,” said the primate. “It is a ministry radically different from civilian clergy. Ninety-nine percent of the ministry is on the job. (In combat) they are dealing with the physically and psychologically wounded and the bereaved. Chaplains here deal with the enormous stress on the families of the service personnel.” The bishop ordinary role is essential for Anglican padres since “all the ministries on base are ecumenical and it is hard to maintain Anglican identity,” he said.

The national and international travel required of the primate has meant that he and his wife, Lois, “have had very little family life.” Mrs. Hutchison has accompanied him on several trips but some of the meetings he attends “are less than spouse-friendly,” he said.

This time, he intends to make retirement stick and after he leaves office at the end of June, will move with his wife to their already-purchased house on Shawnigan Lake, B.C., where his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live. “It will be a total change in lifestyle. I have a woodworking shop in mind and I enjoy gardening and cooking. I am very much looking forward to that,” he said.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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