In the months leading up to General Synod’s July 7-12 meeting, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has devoted much of his time to strengthening the Canadian church’s internal and ecumenical relationships at home and abroad.
In Canada, Hiltz made significant visits to two B.C. dioceses, Caledonia and Kootenay, for events related to the church’s work on reconciliation and ecumenism.
On April 27, Hiltz joined Bishop William Anderson of the diocese of Caledonia and National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald in Greenville, B.C., in reiterating the Anglican Church of Canada’s apology for the harm done by the Indian Residential School system to the Nisga’a people of the Nass Valley.
While the apology was first offered in 1993 by then primate Archbishop Michael Peers, Hiltz said many of the Nisga’a people were unaware that such an apology had been made.
“What they wanted was for Mark and I to come and re-state the apology,” Hiltz said in an interview. “I thought it had been translated into Nisga’a, but it had not been.”
It was Hiltz’ first visit to the diocese of Caledonia as primate, and the apology in Greenville was followed by visits to congregations in Terrace, Prince George and Dawson Creek.
“I think [Anderson] and I would both say it was a good visit,” he said.
In addition to the reiteration of the apology, Hiltz also spoke about the concrete work the church has done in Caledonia to work toward reconciliation. Anderson told the Anglican Journal that people found the primates’ words “encouraging,” and said the apology was a “very important event for folks in this area.”
It was Hiltz’ first visit as primate to Caledonia, a diocese that is well known in the Canadian church for its conservative views on human sexuality. Anderson acknowledged that it was the overriding importance of having the apology reiterated in the Nass valley that led to his inviting Hiltz to visit his diocese.
“It is not any great secret that the primate and I do not see eye to eye on the issue of same-sex blessings and what it is doing to the church,” he said. “[But] I wasn’t about to let the pastoral needs of [the Nisga’a] be overshadowed by a theological dispute.”
Despite their differences in opinion, Anderson said that he enjoyed the time he spent with Hiltz, both at Greenville and on a subsequent trip through the far-flung eastern regions of the diocese, and stressed the importance of maintaining such relations.
“If you don’t [visit each other], relationships break down over time,” said Anderson. “It’s not so much just the structure stuff, as the unstructured conversations that go on when you’re on a trip like this that can help build relationships.”
Slow progress on reunification
From June 1-4, Hiltz was in Havana, Cuba for a meeting of the Metropolitan Council of Cuba (MCC). The MCC, which includes representatives from Cuba, TEC, Canada and the Church in the Province of the West Indies, met to discuss how a reunion between TEC and Cuba might be engineered. It was the first time U.S. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry attended an MCC meeting since he was elected in June 2015.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba may be normalizing, but there is still much to be done before the Episcopal Church of Cuba can re-join its U.S.-based parent, Hiltz said.
“It was helpful for the TEC representatives, including the presiding bishop, because it gave them some sense of both how the church in Canada has accompanied the church in Cuba, and the financial outlay [it has involved],” said Hiltz. He noted that the General Synod of the Canadian Church sends between $75,000 and $80,000 a year to supplement clergy stipends, theological education and youth work.
The Episcopal Church of Cuba, formed in 1901 as a missionary district of TEC, counts around 10,000 members. Following the turmoil created by the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the challenges it posed to communication and travel, the Cuban church became an autonomous diocese in the Anglican Communion, under the Metropolitan Council’s oversight.
Since then, Canada has played an important role in co-ordinating support for Anglicans in Cuba.
In 2015, however, with diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba re-established, the Cuban church voted to re-join TEC. While TEC has launched a task force to explore questions around reunificationn, it has yet to hold its first working meeting, and Curry said that reunification would be unlikely by the time TEC holds its General Convention in 2018.
“It’s both an exciting and an anxious time for [the Cubans],” said Hiltz. “What is exciting is that they will become, again, part of a province…[but] the biggest anxiety they have is [about] what happens with their relationship with Canada.”
Hiltz said credit for the meeting’s sense of direction and focus was due to a report prepared by Andrea Mann, the Canadian church’s director of global relations, which outlined the history of the partnership between Canadian and Cuban Anglican churches.
‘A very good spirit’
On June 11, the primate joined United Church moderator the Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell in Vermeer, B.C. in the diocese of Kootenay, for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Windermere Valley Shared Ministry, the first blended Anglican-United Church congregation in Canada.
The shared ministry dates back to when Ted Scott was bishop of Kootenay. Scott, who would go on to become the 10th primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, championed ecumenical shared ministry alongside his United Church counterpart the Rev. Elliott Birdsall. The Windermere model was the starting point for what are now more than 100 ecumenical shared ministries across the country.
“There was a very good spirit about the whole thing,” Hiltz said of the celebrations, which began on June 10 with an evening of songs of peace and freedom. “It was kind of like being back in the ’60s, but it was kind of cool.”