House of Bishops message to the Church

To Canadian Anglicans, from the House of Bishops

Brothers and sisters in Christ

The House of Bishops met at Mount Carmel retreat center in Niagara Falls from Tuesday April 17 to Friday April 20. We write this letter to the Canadian Church so that Anglicans will know what we did and how the meeting was for us. As has been our custom for the last while, we devoted the first part of our days together to prayer and Bible study.

This, our last meeting of the triennium was an appropriate time for us to be blessed by a visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. His Grace was with us for less than 24 hours, but his presence was a significant and valued gift. He lead us in prayer and conducted a retreat on the theme of apostolic ministry during which he delivered a number of reflections that gave us profound insights into our ministries and how we do them. We found the Archbishop of Canterbury’s humility, wisdom and humour filling both intellectually and spiritually. During breaks in the day, Dr. Williams met with the bishops of all four ecclesiastical provinces. His time with us was spirit-filled and especially important to us on the eve of a General Synod where many important decisions will be made and where a new Primate will be elected and installed. His reflections set the tone for our meeting.

We also heard from several other people whose presence and ministries enrich us.

Bishop Mark MacDonald joined us for the first time since his appointment earlier this year as National Indigenous Bishop and he spoke stirringly about a life spent in ministry with indigenous peoples. He spoke to us of how and where native people see God. He gave us a vision of a new partnership with indigenous people. He told us that the kind of renewed church that can emerge from this partnership will be very different, though exactly what it will look like we cannot yet know. Bishop MacDonald expressed a strong commitment to work with us towards that future.

Bishop Peter Coffin, who will soon retire as Bishop of Ottawa but who remains with us as Bishop Ordinary to the Armed Forces, spoke to us of spending Easter with Canadian troops in Afghanistan, at a time when there were several Canadian casualties. Bishop Coffin personifies the importance of this ministry at a critical time in world affairs.

We heard from Bishop Philip Poole who, with Bishop Coffin, attended the TEAM (Towards Effective Anglican Mission) conference in South Africa, an experience which Bishop Poole said moved him to tears. The conference examined how churches are responding to the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. Bishop Poole said he was profoundly stirred by the energy and joy that the people he met bring to being church despite their very difficult circumstances. The gathering, he said, brought home to him, the many valuable ministries of the church.

We spent much of our time in consideration of the primacy, both what it has been and what it can become and, for this purpose, we were joined by former Bishop of Ottawa John Baycroft who presented us with a valuable reflection on a primacy rooted in Episcopal ministry and on different ways in which that ministry can be exercised. He spoke to us of the past as a means of envisioning a future for this crucial ministry.

As part of our discussion on the primacy, we agreed overwhelmingly to ask the General Synod when it gathers in June to establish a task force made up of members of the Orders of Bishops, Clergy and Laity “to undertake a detailed and comprehensive study of the nature, role, duties and authority of the Primate” and if necessary to recommend changes to the Canon on the primacy for consideration at the General Synod in 2010.

Wednesday evening, we attended a dinner with Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, our Primate, and his wife Lois, so that we could express our profound appreciation for his three-year ministry as Primate. Archbishop Andrew’s leadership of the church and his chairing of our house in the past three years bear eloquent witness to his passionate dedication to the principles of communication and reconciliation. He began his primacy by saying he would “bring people to the table” and he has strived consistently to do so.

We spent much of the following day in prayerful consideration of possible successors to Archbishop Hutchison, our 12th Primate, and as a result of these deliberations, we will submit a list of four nominees to the General Synod. They are Bishop Bruce Howe of Huron, Bishop Fred Hiltz of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Bishop George Bruce of Ontario and Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton.

As we considered candidates for the primatial election, news reached us of a death in the family of Bishop Bruce who was therefore obliged to leave us before the end of our gathering. We pray for him, for his family and for his deceased daughter-in-law.

We devoted a significant amount of time to a discussion of a statement from the bishops of Rupert’s Land about the resolutions on same-sex blessings produced by the Council of General Synod for the consideration of the General Synod. We also heard a substantive presentation by bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario about how we as bishops should prepare for the outcome of the vote by General Synod on this issue, regardless of what that decision might be. We agreed that we as bishops must be prepared to offer a pastoral response regardless of the outcome of the vote at General Synod.

On our last day together we worked on a draft statement to members of the General Synod and to members of the church that offers pastoral responses to a decision on the blessing of same-sex unions. This document will be developed further by its authors and will then be submitted to members of the House for approval by email and, we hope, for inclusion in the Convening Circular.

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