The primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, takes part in a smudging ceremony conducted by native elder Linda Bloom before leading a procession of delegates into St. John’s Cathedral for the opening of the 38th session of General Synod.
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, opened the 38th session of General Synod by asking delegates to obey their conscience “and with it the ethic of respect for the conscience of those who disagree with your own” when deciding what he called “one of the most difficult items for our discernment” – the issue of whether the church should allow the blessing of same-sex unions.
“We are taught that the first principle of moral theology is obedience to conscience, and I ask each one of you to embrace that principle, and with it the ethic of respect for the conscience of those who disagree with your own,” said Archbishop Hutchison. “The second principle of moral theology is to inform your conscience to bring it, if possible, into line with the teaching of the church.”
Setting the tone for the issue that has deeply divided not just Anglicans in Canada but around the world, Archbishop Hutchison asked Canadian Anglicans “to remember your baptismal commitment to ‘seek and serve Christ in all persons’ and to ‘respect the dignity of every human being'” in their discussions. He urged them to remember that while the decision that will be reached on the matter of same-sex blessings “will not be unanimous” it “should not be a communion-breaking issue.”
Archbishop Hutchison presided at synod’s opening service, held at St. John’s Cathedral, the oldest Anglican parish west of the Great Lakes. The site marks the birthplace of the Anglican Church in western Canada.
Archbishop Hutchison declared the meeting open when chancellor Ronald Stevenson announced that a quorum had been achieved with the registration of 40 bishops, 110 members of clergy and 135 laity. Thereafter, the trumpets played and the choir burst into a spirited rendition of “Glory to God on High.”
The General Synod, which meets every three years, is the Anglican Church of Canada’s chief governing body and consists of bishops, clergy and lay people elected as delegates locally in each of the church’s 30 dioceses.
Before the evening service, delegates gathered in a circle along the west banks of the Red River for a smudging ceremony. As a gentle breeze stirred, Linda Bloom, an Anglican elder, burned what Aboriginal people consider the four sacred medicines of tobacco, sage, sweet grass and cedar. She explained that a smudging ceremony asks “for positive things to come and negative things to leave.”
Archbishop Hutchison reminded delegates that “high on the list” of their priorities for discernment was the election of his successor – the 13th primate, who will “serve as an instrument of our unity across Canada,” and “be a voice of representation and advocacy for us in the world.”
In his address, Archbishop Hutchison told delegates that General Synod’s theme, Draw the Circle Wide, Draw it Wider Still, “is consistent with the intention of the Lord of the Church to draw all people to himself.” Anglicans have drawn the circle wider, he said, “geographically certainly, as we are now present in 164 countries of the world, but also spiritually, culturally and socially.” He reminded delegates that “from the time of the Elizabethan Settlement we have been an inclusive church, holding together the convictions of both Puritans and Episcopalians in a single ecclesial body.”
He expressed the hope that as Canadian Anglicans “seek to widen the circle of God’s love” they “will be faithful to the great legacy we have received as people of the via media – the middle way.” It is, he said, “perhaps our greatest gift to the global church – our ability to hold together in one family such a remarkable range of diversity.” He added: “To other churches that are confessional, or governed by a central magisterium that may seem untidy, and at times even become fractious; but that is who we are.”
In his presidential address, Archbishop Hutchison touched on his three years of primacy and various aspects of the life of the Canadian church, including its partnerships with other Anglicans around the world. He urged delegates to review the church’s previous decision in the last triennium to reduce staff devoted to global partnerships because of budgetary constraints. “If ‘Serving God’s World’ is to be our theme, then our global partnerships should remain of high priority,” he said. He added: “It is important to note that despite the politics of the primates, our partnerships throughout the Communion remain strong and healthy at the level of the dioceses.”
He noted the presence at General Synod of several church leaders and partners from the Anglican Communion, among them the Archbishop of York and Primate of England, John Sentamu; the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon; and the chair of the house of deputies of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Bonnie Anderson.
During the service, delegates also listened to remarks delivered by local dignitaries, among them the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, John Harvard; Councillor Brenda Leipsic, deputy mayor of the city of Winnipeg and MLA Douglas Martindale, who brought greetings from Premier Gary Doer.
Lt. Gov. Harvard noted that the Anglican Church of Canada is “closely connected with the history of the province,” noting that it has helped sustain Manitobans “through floods, droughts and depression.”