The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has asked the primates of five provinces, Canada, US Episcopal Church, Uganda, Pakistan, and South Africa, to offer reflections on the impact that the current Anglican conflict over sexuality has had on the mission and priorities of their churches during the primates’ meeting in Alexandria, Egypt.
In an interview, Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada has said he is putting together a package of information to be handed out at the meeting which will reflect the message that “we’re a church that’s renewing its commitment to God’s mission in the world, and that there’s more to the Canadian church than discussions about sexuality; that mission is front and centre.”
Archbishop Hiltz said that he found it “odd” and “interesting” that two of the most discussed issues at last year’s Lambeth Conference – the proposed moratoria and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – do not specifically appear as agenda items in the meeting. Also not on the agenda is the proposed new North American province founded by conservative Canadian Anglicans and Episcopalians, which is being backed by some primates. Reports say the Anglican Church of North America, led by deposed Pittsburgh bishop Bob Duncan who now styles himself as their Archbishop, will present a new constitution and canons to the Primates in an attempt to secure recognition as the 39th province of the Communion. It isn’t clear whether Bishop Duncan will do this in person.
Archbishop Hiltz said he planned to raise the issue of cross-border interventions. “The bishops made it really clear to me that they want me to speak about the issue with clarity and conviction that no bishop in the Canadian church is happy or will tolerate these interventions, no matter where they stand on the blessing of same-sex unions,” he said. “I will have to find a way to get that on the table if others don’t.”
Archbishop Hiltz is one of 10 new primates attending the meeting for the first time. He said he was “a bit anxious” but also “looking forward” to the gathering.
The primates will discuss the following issues: Christian responses to the current global financial crisis, developments around the proposed Anglican Covenant, the proposed alliance of Anglican relief and development agencies, the impact of global warming, an introduction to the agenda for the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in May, and the work of the theological working group for the Anglican Communion.
Windsor Continuation Group
The primates will also receive a new report from the Windsor Continuation Group, which has been charged with addressing issues arising from the Windsor Report, including the proposed moratoria on same-sex blessings, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions.
The Anglican Church of Canada has been wrestling with whether or not to bless same-sex unions. One diocese, New Westminster, has allowed some parishes to offer same-sex blessings since 2002; the synods of three other dioceses – Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara – have asked their bishops to allow it as well.
In the autumn the Canadian house of bishops issued a statement that a “large majority” of its members could affirm “a continued commitment to the greatest extent possible” to a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions but also recognized that this would pose difficulty for dioceses “that in conscience have made decisions on these matters.”
While some bishops have indicated that they would take some “incremental steps” in allowing same-sex blessings, they were still exercising “gracious restraint,” he said. “None of the bishops to date are saying ‘across the board, it can happen.’ They’ve been gracious in trying to listen to the rest of the church. We’re not moving that quickly, we’re somewhere in the middle here. While all that is happening, we still have the continuing intervention of primates and bishops from other jurisdictions who are showing no restraint.”