When the House of Bishops met at the Mount Carmel retreat centre in Niagara Falls, Ont., from Nov. 17 to 21, the agenda included discussion of some big issues-the controversial proposed amendment to the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriage, end-of-life issues and the role of the house itself in the church. They also discussed a call from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) for the church to allow room for new governance structures that would align better with aboriginal approaches to decision-making.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal after the meeting, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, acknowledged that “within this meeting and this house and this church, there’s a huge amount of anxiety” about the proposed amendment to the marriage canon. But at the end of their meeting, Hiltz said that he felt encouraged by the tenor of the bishops’ discussions.
Bishops Stephen Andrews (Algoma), William Anderson (Caledonia), Michael Hawkins (Saskatchewan), Michael Oulton (Ontario) and Melissa Skelton (New Westminster) were nominated to form a committee to guide their peers through new discussions of the marriage canon issue, which will culminate at General Synod 2016 when a resolution on the amendment will be considered.
While discussing what the role of the House of Bishops should be in the church, Hiltz said that the bishops used an aboriginal-style circle to share what each was feeling and their hopes for the house. He said that he was encouraged that so many spoke of their commitment to be a part of that body. There was “a recognition pretty much around the circle that, of course, we are diverse. We are not going to agree on everything, but we can do that in a way that doesn’t fracture the body and allow partisan strife to go too far,” he said. “We can hold that diversity and hold it well.”
Hiltz said he thought bishops ended that discussion with “a sense of deeper peace, some renewed clarity of purpose and some renewed vigour for exercising that leadership role for which we know we are ordained.” He explained that it feels to many of the bishops that they have spent quite a long time attending to their relationships within the house and they now feel urged by the spirit to focus their attention outward and to lead the church in the myriad of issues confronting it-“everything from evangelism to congregational development to medically assisted dying to poverty in Canada, the crisis in indigenous communities.”
The bishops discussed end-of-life issues and medically assisted dying, and Hiltz said he aims to work with other bishops and a task force to produce a statement on the issue before the Supreme Court of Canada releases a ruling on the issue, which is expected sometime this spring.
National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald and Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh made a presentation to the bishops on behalf of ACIP, which pointed out that the top-down style of church governance does not fit well with aboriginal ways of decision-making. The document called on the church to allow room for new structures that would be a part of a self-determining indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada.
Hiltz said responses from the bishops were similar to those from members of the Council of General Synod who heard the presentation at their meeting on Nov. 16, with “everything from goodwill to fear about what are the implications long-term.” But he noted that there was little time for discussion and bishops felt they needed time to digest the document. MacDonald invited the bishops to respond directly to ACIP leaders, and Hiltz suggested that discussion at provincial synods might also provide useful feedback for what ACIP members said is still a work in progress that will be shaped by their consultations with various groups in the church.