A sermon for the General Synod of Brazil

The Canadian Primate Archbishop Andrew Hutchison was unable to be present at the synod in Brazil. His principal secretary Archdeacon Paul Feheley traveled to Brazil to represent the Primate and to deliver the sermon. The Principal Secretary prepared the preamble while the Primate wrote the actual text of the sermon.

The Cathedral, Curitiba, Brazil
Sunday July 30, 2006

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It is a privilege and honour to come before you and share in the proclamation of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. My name is Paul Feheley. I am from Canada and the city of Toronto, a priest of that Diocese and now Chaplain and Principal Secretary to the Primate. In a moment I will share Archbishop Andrew’s words with you but I do want to tell you how much it pains and frustrates him not to be here to speak to you in person. He and Canada are good friends of Brazil. It is only love and care for his wife of 46 years that keeps him from being here. Earlier this week Lois hurt her back causing considerable pain and she is having great difficulty moving. She has stood by him during all of his ministry and there was no way that he could leave her under the present circumstances.

This is my first visit to your beautiful country and it is a joy to represent Archbishop Andrew and to preach in this cathedral Church. I want to thank your provincial secretary Christina and Bishop Orlando for the invitation to come to your Synod. We have all become good friends and your primate and Archbishop Andrew have worked very well together. I also want to thank your primate for his work representing the Americas on the Primate’s Standing Committee. It has been very helpful to have someone of his grace and talent to represent all of the Primates of North, Central, Latin and South America. In Canada we are blessed that your new Primate Dom Mauricio and our Primate are longtime friends. They were able to talk on the phone shortly after his election and Andrew assured Archbishop Mauricio of our prayers and love for this additional ministry that he is beginning today.

I also want to thank former Primate Bishop Glauco for translating for me today. I first met him when he visited the General Synod in Canada a few years ago. My only hope is that I can speak as well and as inspirationally as he did when he spoke to our synod in Canada.

Here is what Archbishop Andrew wrote for me to say to you today:

It is a great pleasure for me to greet you in the name of the living Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada. We have a long and valued relationship with the Church in Brazil, both nationally and through many diocesan partnerships. When I was Bishop of Montreal it was my privilege to sign a partnership agreement with Bishop Olavo of the Diocese of Sul Occidental. Following his untimely death the partnership continued for some eight years under the leadership of Dom Jubal Neves. And in fact I was one of the presenters and co-consecrators for Dom Jubal in Santa Maria.

It was wonderful to renew so many friendships at the recent World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre — the first ever to be held in Latin America. My sincere congratulations to your Primate Bishop Orlando and all who worked with him to provide such gracious hospitality on that occasion. I am also very grateful to him for his invitation for me to attend this General Synod.

As many of you will know Canada like Brazil is a very large country with six time zones from coast to coast. There are just under a million Anglicans in a population of 30 million people. We are organized in 30 dioceses with four ecclesiastical provinces and a total of some 2000 parishes. While our dominant language is English, a number of our parishes are French speaking — the other official language of Canada, and there are dozens of parishes that are predominantly Hispanic or Asian. There are also many aboriginal languages and cultures in Canada, and they are represented by about 200 parishes served by native clergy.

It is the task of the Primate to have a pastoral relationship with the whole Church. So as you can imagine, I am traveling most of the time. Along with international travel, this leaves very little time to be at home or in our national office in Toronto. Fortunately, in Canada, the Primate is full time and has no diocesan responsibilities. Perhaps less fortunately, there is no specified term of office for the Primate other than mandatory retirement at the age of 70. My predecessor and good friend of Brazil, Archbishop Michael Peers, served for 19 years! Mercifully, because of my age at the time of my election, I shall serve only 3 years until our General Synod in 2007.

These have been challenging years to exercise leadership, as Dom Orlando will tell you. As independent Churches of the Anglican Communion come of age and our cultural diversity increases, tensions within the family of Churches are inevitable. In Canada the Church exists in a social context in which homosexuality is widely accepted as a fact of life, and discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is against the law. In fact, it is now possible for same gender partners to be married in every civil jurisdiction across the land. There are news items about such marriages in the Canadian Armed forces and in the national police force. At the present time, our canon laws do not allow such marriages in Anglican Churches but other denominations do, and a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, with whom we are in full communion, has voted to allow the blessing of same gender relationships.

All of this is very different from the social context in other parts of the Communion. At the other extreme is Nigeria, for example where it is a criminal offense for gay or lesbian people to meet together, punishable by 5 years in prison, and if any publication prints pro-gay material, the publisher is subject to 5 years in prison. How is the Church of Nigeria to respond to its cultural context? How is the Church in Canada to respond to its cultural context? Do scripture, tradition and reason compel them to respond in identical ways? Anglicans have always been the Christians who welcomed diversity in unity. But are there limits to acceptable diversity and if so, is this one of them?

Bearing on these questions is the question of whether we are dealing with a matter of pastoral practice or of fundamental doctrine. Is sexual orientation a God-given predisposition or not? There are those who come to very different conclusions about that, both within our Church in Canada and in the wider Communion. I do not believe that we will ever come to complete agreement on all matters across the Communion. We have not achieved full agreement on the issues of polygamy, the place of women in the Church, the possibility of divorce and remarriage after divorce and the ordination of women as clergy and bishops-to name just a few important issues. Yet we have been able to make room at the table for those who agree and for those who disagree on these issues.

Our Lord prayed that we all may be one for the sake of his mission in the world por que el mundo czeia- and in the epistle for this liturgy St. Paul affirms that unity:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, One Lord, one Faith, One Baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:4).

And he appeals to us to make every effort to realize and maintain that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. When the World Council of Churches met in Porto Alegre there were more than 350 Churches represented — with an enormous range of beliefs and practices flowing from our common faith in the One Lord Jesus Christ. And we were able to speak with one voice to the needs of a hurting and broken world.

Surely we in the Anglican Communion- with so much more in common can find that unity of Spirit in the bond of peace that transcends our diversity. The Anglican Communion has changed beyond all recognition during its brief 140 year history. Once a small gathering of colonial outposts of the Church of England, sharing a common language and culture, we are now a family of independent churches in 164 countires, organized into 38 autonomous provinces. The diversity of languages, cultures and history among us is that of the whole world. A significant part of our genius as Anglicans is that we have been an inclusive Church, able to accommodate a variety of local expressions while maintaining a common faith. The mustard seed that once was the Church of England has grown up into trees that now span the world and welcome every species to find refuge in its branches. I pray that we will always honour and respect the differences that we enjoy within the faith of Jesus Christ.

The mustard seed of the gospel has been planted within all of us. We are now to go into the world to share and tell others of the gift of faith that God has given us You have been strengthened by being together in community these past few days in General Synod. My prayer for you is that you will always be faithful to your baptismal calling, to show Christ’s love through your words and actions and to be the hope that is needed by so many people in our world today.

It is a privilege to be with you. I will go and tell the Church in Canada of your gracious hospitality and love in the faith that we share as Christians. May God bless you all. Amen.

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