A word to the Church from the House of Bishops

The House met at Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls from Monday, April 11 to Friday, April 15. Our most recent meeting in Montreal last fall was a “House and Spouse” gathering, so this was effectively our first regular meeting since last summer’s General Synod. We met under a new model that allows time for fellowship among ourselves, more time for prayer and Bible study, more quiet time. We are also attempting to deal with matters before the Church in a more in-depth way. Rather than working with a traditional agenda, this meeting consisted of several open-ended sessions during which we all had ample time to participate and contribute. As our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, said during his opening remarks, we hope that this new way of meeting will allow us to get work done without us leaving here at the end of the week more exhausted than when we arrived. We began each day with Bible study in small groups and had evening prayers each day before dinner. Our gathering included three Eucharists — on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

We were blessed to have three guests among us: Bishops Colin Bennetts and Chad Gandiya, who first visited us 18 months ago as Episcopal Visitors representing the Archbishop of Canterbury, were with us again; and we also welcomed Bishop Patrick White of Bermuda. Two of our fellow bishops were unable to join us because of illness: Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk of the Arctic and Archbishop Claude Miller of Fredericton. Both were in our hearts and in our prayers during our meeting. We welcomed Bishop-elect Michael Oulton of the diocese of Ontario, who joined us for the first time. As usual, retired Archbishop Terry Finlay, was with us as our chaplain.

Monday, April 11

We opened with evening Eucharist celebrated by Archbishop Finlay. During the Eucharist, we heard reflections from the Primate, which continued in our session after the Eucharist. The Primate updated us on work that has continued around last fall’s restructuring of General Synod staff and work around the priorities and practices of Vision 2019. He described a plan to educate the Church on the Marks of Mission. He also spoke to us about the Episcopal Church in Cuba which he visited earlier this year and about a meeting of the TEC House of Bishops which he attended. He reported on the recent meeting of the Council of General Synod.

Tuesday, April 12

Our Episcopal Visitors — Bishops Colin Bennetts and Chad Gandiya — briefed us on some of the work they have done since they last visited the Canadian House. Bishop Bennetts explained that the Episcopal Visitors only go to provinces where the Primate has consented to their visit. There have been several planned visits, he said, that had been agreed to and which for various reasons later failed to materialize.

We also heard from Canadian Bishops who recently met with some African Bishops in Dar es Salaam. That gathering resulted in a statement issued last month entitled A Testimony of Grace from the Consultation of Bishops in Dialogue which is available on the national website.

In the afternoon, we were joined by representatives of three Canadian Anglican religious orders that are members of the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas (CAROA): the Community of the Sisters of the Church, the Order of the Holy Cross and the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine. Brother Jude, president of CAROA and Prior of the Franciscan Order of the Americas also joined us. The brothers and sisters told us who they are, how they live in their various communities and how they might work with us to serve the church. We were honoured to have them lead us in Evening Prayer.

Wednesday, April 13

Bishop Jim Cowan led us through a discussion on the “open table” concept where Holy Communion is made available to everyone, whether baptised or not. After this discussion, a small working group was asked to develop a statement that would reflect the mind of the House. The statement is as follows:

We have been made aware through media articles and pastoral visits by bishops that in some parts of Canada a practice of ‘open table’ has begun. This involves admitting people to Holy Communion before baptism. We recognize that this practice arises out of a deep concern to express Christian hospitality. However we unanimously reaffirm our understanding that the Eucharist is the sacrament for the baptised. We do not see this as changing for the foreseeable future. At our next meeting, the bishops will discuss and offer guidance to the church on Christian hospitality and mission and how these relate to the Table of Christ.

The Primate gave us some of his impressions of the Primates’ Meeting early this year. We also discussed how we can assist him in managing his schedule by giving careful consideration to requests that we and others in our dioceses make of his time. Bishop Chad, who has kept in touch with us from his home diocese of Harare since his first visit, gave us an update on the very difficult life of the church in Zimbabwe. We also heard updates from Bishop George Bruce on study materials being prepared on the Covenant and from Bishop Peter Coffin on the military Ordinariate.

Thursday, April 13

Bishop George Bruce led us through a discussion of a couple of questions referred to us by the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee.  The committee asked us to comment on a General Synod request that it consider the implications of the cessation of Anglican clergy solemnizing marriage. In light of this discussion we agreed to ask a small group of bishops to help the House prepare for a fuller discussion at its fall meeting.

We discussed a document from the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission entitledGuidelines for Anglican and Lutheran Bishops, Priests and Pastors Regarding Confirmations in Shared Ministry Congregations. We agreed to table this document until our fall meeting when we can have a fuller discussion with bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

During dinner, we said farewell to Bishop George Bruce of Ontario, who is retiring in September and who was attending his last meeting of the House.

Friday, April 15

Our gathering ended on Friday with a consideration of this statement and a closing Eucharist celebrated by the Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz.

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