A message from the House of Bishops

The bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada met at the Mount Carmel Retreat Centre in Niagara Falls, Ont., Nov. 20 to 24. They have released the following statement.

Our fall meeting once again brought together members of the Anglican House of Bishops and the Lutheran Conference of Bishops, assembled for five days—Nov. 20 to Nov. 24—at Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls, Ont. Much of our time was spent in joint meetings and there was also time for the two houses to meet separately. We spent considerable time in Bible study and worship.

The opening Eucharist for our gathering was held Sunday evening, with the Anglican Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz presiding and Lutheran National Bishop Susan Johnson preaching. After the Eucharist, Archbishop Hiltz and Bishop Johnson gave updates on the state of the two churches.

It was noted, during a joint session, that we are celebrating the 10thanniversary of full communion between our two churches and that work and planning is underway for a joint meeting of National Convention and General Synod in Ottawa in 2013. It was also noted that although a proposal for the two churches to share a national office in Ottawa has been abandoned, the matter of sharing office space somewhere remains on the table.

We were blessed to have with us, for two sessions, the Rev. Michael Lapsley, director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories, of Cape Town, South Africa, (www.healingofmemories.co.za) and his assistant, Thulani Xaba. Michael’s story is well known. As a young activist priest in South Africa, he was the recipient of a letter bomb which cost him both arms and an eye and damaged his hearing. Today, he works at helping faith communities deal with the psychological, emotional and spiritual wounds of violence. He described his journey since the day the bomb went off, moving from being a victim to being a survivor to becoming a victor. One of the surprising results, he told us, was the outpouring of love, support and care from people from around the world. “You had a major role in my victory,” he said. Michael is a powerful, compelling speaker and story teller and we are very grateful to him for his time with us and for also engaging us in a discussion about healing, reconciliation and forgiveness in our own context as a church in a journey with Indigenous people.

We were also pleased to welcome to our meeting the Ven. Michael Thompson, recently appointed General Secretary of General Synod. Michael was with us for most of two days and spoke to us about the ministry of the General Secretary and how he will approach it. He spoke about his management role with staff at Church House and his desire to visit dioceses so that he can listen to discussions of issues that are important locally.

We discussed a document prepared by the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission which offered guidelines to bishops, priests and pastors regarding Confirmation in shared-ministry congregations. The guidelines have been approved by Lutherans. After some discussion, we agreed to strike a small group to review the document in depth in the context of the theology of Confirmation in order to enable us to have a more focused discussion at our next meeting.

We were surprised and, at many levels, gratified by the vigorous response to the statement on “open table” that emerged from our last meeting. Some criticized the statement as lacking in Christian hospitality. As we reflect on this response, we affirm that an expansion of Christian hospitality is, in fact, at the heart of our concern. The hospitality of the Christian community is now practiced in a post-Christendon society. In this, the “open table” seems to us to be a Christendom solution and may allow us to avoid the many ways that our gatherings do not practice Gospel hospitality. In this way, we do not believe that hospitality and Eucharistic discipline are mutually exclusive but rather part of a complete acceptance of our responsibility to welcome and nurture people in the spiritual way of the One who says to all, “Come unto me.” We uphold the ancient teaching and practice of the Church in regard to Baptism and Eucharist. We are committed to a continuing conversation with the whole Church regarding Christian initiation, Gospel hospitality, and the shape of Christian community in a post-Christendom society. Baptism, together with Christian formation and teaching should be seen as “welcome mats” leading to fullness of Eucharistic fellowship. We encourage a renewed vigor in the formation, teaching and preparation of people for sacramental life. We hope to explore with you, and each other, how our worship reflects the realities of God’s mission in this new day.

We will continue the conversation on these matters and report back to the next meeting of the House with suggested guidelines to the Church. Our own conversations at this gathering, assisted by able theological and pastoral presentations, convince us that this is important to our future together as people called to live faithfully in the way of Christ.

We continued a conversation on the involvement of Anglican clergy in the solemnization of marriage, assisted by very helpful work done since our last meeting by a panel of four bishops. There is a very strong consensus in the House that the Church and its clergy should continue to have a significant role in solemnizing marriage. The House asked the Primate to advise the Faith, Worship and Ministry committee and the Council of General Synod, both of which have also considered this matter, of our discussion.

We received a draft report entitled Competencies for Ordination to the Priesthood, the Anglican Church of Canada, presented by Bishop John Chapman of Ottawa, on behalf of the Theological Education Commission. John described the draft report as “a document prepared by the Church for the Church” and invited feedback from bishops as the commission continues its work.

We were led by a panel appointed for that purpose through a discussion of human resources issues that bishops face in their ministry and a consideration of the resources available to them. It was very apparent that all bishops are required to deal with such issues and that the resources available to them vary widely from diocese to diocese. The Primate suggested that human resources concerns become a regular part of our meeting agendas.

We are mindful of local and world events that suggest a growing belief that fullness of life is found in more than familiar measures of success such as wealth, status and power. Many people clearly hear a call to a renewed ethic of compassion, integrity and justice. There is an emerging conviction that social values need to be rooted, not in the advantage of some, but in the good of all. We believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers hope and encouragement in the face of this discontent. It is our hope that those who seek renewal of purpose in the public life are our partners in fulfilling God’s purpose for a more just and humane world.

As we approach the season of Advent – a season in which we await the birth both of the Lord and of a new creation, we call upon the people of our church to bear witness to this hope we share with God. In the poverty and power of the birth of the Prince of Peace, we look for a Kingdom grounded not in what we have, not in what we acquire but in the restoration of relationships through all creation in God’s loving reign.

November 24, 2011
Mount Carmel Centre, Niagara Falls, Ontario

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