Anglican Church of Canada

Think tank guided church through tough issues

Bishop Linda Nicholls (Diocese of Toronto) has chaired the Primate's Theological Commission since 2008.

For 15 years the Primate’s Theological Commission (PTC) has helped Canadian Anglicans think more clearly about their faith. The current team of 12 theologians will hold their last meeting from Jan. 20 to 23 in Niagara Falls, Ont. After that, the commission will be on hiatus as the Primate discerns how best to approach future theological work.

Bishop Linda Nicholls (Diocese of Toronto) has chaired the Primate’s Theological Commission since 2008.

Looking back

The PTC’s past work has been influential. Since 1995 it has served as a kind of think tank, offering theological insights for the Anglican Church of Canada to mull over—on sex, culture, nature, and even farming.

It all began with the Book of Alternative Services. As theologians and liturgists were putting together this material in the early 1990s, they realized that important questions kept arising, such as, “how is God feminine?” and “what does it mean to have an Indigenous theology?”

To dig deeper, General Synod in 1995 asked the Primate to appoint a diverse group of 10 Anglicans to the PTC. Chaired at the time by Bishop Victoria Matthews (formerly of Edmonton, now of Christchurch, N.Z.) they first met in November 1996 to talk about their own questions and current influences.

After several exploratory meetings—including a sojourn in Saskatchewan to discuss creation—the commission focused its attention on three workbooks. The Wrestling with God series (2001-2004) wove together fundamental theological questions with reflections, poetry, and hymns.

In 2003, 12 new members were appointed to the commission, with Bishop Matthews continuing as chair. The PTC made plans to study the theological basis for interfaith dialogue.

Work on same-sex blessings

But something else was in store. In 2004, General Synod was faced with the question of how to deal with the blessing of same-sex unions. It decided to defer the decision until 2007, and requested in the meantime that the PTC examine whether such blessings were a matter of doctrine. The PTC put its nose to the grindstone and produced—in less than a year—the St. Michael Report, which determined that the blessings are a matter of doctrine. This kicked off a flurry of focused discussion across the church.

At General Synod 2007, it was clear that the PTC needed to do more work on this controversial topic. General Synod delegates narrowly decided not to allow parishes to bless same-sex unions, but asked the PTC to help them discern next steps by reflecting on these key topics: whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a faithful, Spirit-led development of Christian doctrine; Scripture’s witness to the integrity of every human person; and the question of the sanctity of human relationships.

The PTC worked faithfully on these questions, but no consensus emerged. The Galilee Report, issued in May 2009, described the commission’s current thinking and conclusions. At the January 2010 meeting the PTC will examine responses to the Galilee Report and prepare a final report to the Primate.

What’s in store?

The life of the commission beyond 2010 has yet to be decided. The Primate may appoint new members, form ad hoc commissions as topics arise, or take another tack. Whatever is to come, the present chair and the Primate agree that the PTC’s first 15 years were a success.

“It was an incredible privilege to chair this particular group of people,” said the new chair, Bishop Linda Nicholls (Diocese of Toronto), who was appointed in 2008. “It is a delight to sit around the table with such a diverse group of Canadian Anglicans. It’s not always an easy table to sit at because there are some strong differences in how people approach our theological heritage, but there is also a willingness to stay at the table, a willingness to say tough things but stay at the table.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate, offered these thoughts:  “We sometimes pray that the church will never be destitute of scholars and people who spend a lifetime reading, learning, reflecting, writing and sharing their wealth of experience and expertise with the church for the good of the church. That’s what the Primate’s Theological Commission has done,” he said.

“When you gather theologians from all over the church and you wrestle to see that your perspective is as important as the other person’s, this demonstrates the genius and beauty of Anglican tradition and ethos.”

Current membership of the Primate’s Theological Commission:

The Right Rev. Linda Nicholls, chair (Diocese of Toronto)

The Right Rev. Stephen Andrews (Diocese of Algoma)

The Right Rev. Benjamin Arreak (Diocese of the Arctic)

Dr. Walter Deller (Diocese of Saskatoon)

The Most. Rev Fred Hiltz, Primate

The Rev. Jamie Howison (Diocese of Rupert’s Land)

The Rev. Paul Jennings (Diocese of Montreal)

The Rev. Trudy Lebans (Diocese of New Westminster)

The Rev. Dr. Joanne Mercer (Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador)

Dr. Robert Moore (Diocese of Ottawa)

The Rev. Dr. Gary Thorne (Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island)

Ms. Madeleine Urion (Diocese of Edmonton)

The Rev. Dr. Lisa Wang (Diocese of Toronto)