Report from the House of Bishops, Oct. 23 – 26

What follows is a report by General Synod Communications Director Vianney (Sam) Carriere on the four-day meeting of the House of Bishops which concluded on Thursday, Oct. 26. Bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada joined the Anglican House for much of this gathering.

The House of Bishops met in Mississauga, Ont. between Oct. 23 and 26 in a spirit of fellowship and prayer to renew and nurture relationships and to discuss several timely issues that are before the church. Among the House’s decisions was one to begin releasing a letter to the church after each meeting. At this meeting, however, the agenda was shortened by half a day in order to allow members who wished to attend the funeral of Bishop Henry Hill who died on Oct. 21. The abridged agenda did not allow time for bishops to draft and approve their own letter. This report on the meeting is therefore being released by General Synod Communications instead of the Letter to the Church which will be the practice after future meetings.

The bishops’ twice-a-year meetings have changed in format in the past while to allow members of the House more time for prayer, reflection and community building. About half the mornings are now spent in prayer and Bible study and the breaks between business sessions are longer, to allow bishops to be together in an informal setting. Many bishops have expressed appreciation for the new format.

The bishops were joined for part of the meeting by fellow bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and two joint sessions were held with them, one on the diaconate and one entitled Waterloo Commitments, 2007 and beyond. Other partners who visited included Ms Sue Parks of the committee that is organizing the Lambeth Conference of 2008. In two separate sessions, Ms Parks provided the bishops with an enlightening and helpful briefing on what that event will look like. She also obtained considerable feedback on topics and themes that the Canadian bishops would like to be part of the Lambeth gathering.

Other partners who visited briefly included Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Sri Lanka and Bishop Sebastio Armando Soares of Pelotas, Brazil.

This meeting’s agenda was heavy, with substantial presentations and discussions on a variety of topics ranging from the diaconate to the process for nominating candidates for the primacy. Bishops heard substantive presentations from staff on topics such as the 2007 budget and the work of the Prioritized Operational Plan Working Group, the renegotiated residential schools agreement and the nomination of a National Indigenous Bishop. Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton led the House through two major sessions on the St. Michael Report.

In the midst of the business sessions, bishops took time to attend Breaking Bread with +Andrew – Dinner and Conversation with the Primate – the second dinner in two years organized on behalf of the Primate in order to raise money that pays for events and projects not covered by the General Synod budget. The focus of this year’s dinner was the Ordinariate and the role that military chaplains have played abroad, especially in Afghanistan.

The meeting’s agenda included several items around the question of growth – where to look for it, how to recognize it, and most importantly, how to support and nurture it. Bishops also discussed impediments to growth. Much of this discussion was in the context of a presentation made by communications committee member Keith McKerracher a year ago. There was more talk about growth in a presentation by Rev. Canon Linda Nicholls of Faith, Worship and Ministry, who briefed the House on a Nurturing Healthy Parishes Symposium to be held next March.

What follows are brief summaries of topics covered during the business sessions of the House:

Media in the House
Bishops discussed a proposal from the Provincial House of Bishops from Rupert’s Land that meetings be closed to news media in order to provide a “safe space” for members to speak to each other with candour and openness. After considerable discussion, bishops decided to ask their agenda committee to identify topics that might better be discussed privately, but to continue to allow media to be present for other items. Agendas will be reviewed and approved before every meeting.

Prioritized Operational Plan Working Group and the 2007 budget
General Synod Treasurer Peter Blachford gave the House details of the first meeting in September of the Prioritized Operational Plan Working Group and in the context of the group’s work and of recommendations that will be before the Council of General Synod this fall, he also described General Synod’s budget for 2007 and some of the long-term financial challenges that the church faces. Mr. Blachford spoke about principles that have guided the work done thus far on the budget. Bishops noted with considerable regret the POP recommendation to close the Anglican Book Center book store, but acknowledged that in light on continuing losses, this step is inevitable. Members expressed some concern that budgeting in difficult times be done with vision and an acknowledgement of theological principles rather than by strictly sound accounting principles. They also expressed serious reservations about the occasional practice of using capital to fund operational costs.

Lambeth 2008
Two sessions were led by Sue Parks, Lambeth Conference Manager 2008, to brief bishops on what the next world-wide gathering of Anglican Bishops will look like and to solicit their views on process and possible agenda items. Lambeth 2008 will be held in Canterbury from July 16 to August 4. Ms Parks said that invitations to the conference would be sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury towards the middle of 2007. She said there would be two main component to the conference – one to allow time for bishops to reflect and meet each other, and the other dealing with “envisioning and resourcing.” After a session in small working groups, members of the House gave Ms Parks a long list of topics and themes they would like Lambeth to address, including Indigenous people in the Communion, relations with Islam, theological education and the stewardship of creation. Bishops also expressed the hope that there would be time for “superb worship” and for relationship building – “opportunities to meet and put a face to the names we hear in the news.” All of the conference, one table group said, should not deal with issues around sexuality.

The Diaconate
The Rev. Dr. Richard Leggett, professor of liturgical studies at the Vancouver School of Theology, presented a report on the diaconate entitled To Serve Not To Be Served – A Preliminary Report on behalf of the Joint Commission to the Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The wide-ranging report included a discussion on ordination rites in the two churches and the results of a national survey of both Lutheran and Anglican deacons. The survey invited comments on discernment of ministry, preparation for ministry and the nature of deacons’ present ministry. The commission’s mandate is “to work towards a common understanding of diaconal ministry between our two churches.”

St. Michael Report
Bishop Victoria Matthews reviewed the work of the Primate’s Theological Commission leading up to the St. Michael Report that concluded that same-sex blessings is a matter of doctrine, but not of core doctrine. She also described the process whereby dioceses of the church were encouraged to consider the report and to comment on it. The question she asked bishops to consider in small groups was whether or not they “buy” the report’s central conclusion. All of the table groups reported back that they agreed with the report’s finding that the issue is doctrinal, but not one of core doctrine. “I won’t guess where that takes us,” Bishop Matthews concluded, “but I think it is important that we know this about ourselves.”

Full Communion
Lutheran bishops, including National Bishop Ray Schultz joined the House for a review of what has happened in the five years since the Waterloo Declaration was approved in 2001. In recognition of this anniversary, Sunday, Nov. 12 has been designated for celebrations across the country. Bishops reviewed work that has been done jointly since 2001, including the drafting of guidelines for common worship, guidelines for collaborative congregational ministries in the two churches and an ongoing study of “best practices” in confirmation ministry in the two churches. Bishops also reviewed a draft agenda for a planned joint session of the Anglican General Synod and the Lutheran National Convention to be held in Winnipeg next year.

Residential School
Dr. Ellie Johnson, Director of Partnerships for General Synod, briefed the House on progress towards implementation of an agreement on residential schools between the church and the federal government that was renegotiated earlier this year. She noted that the process for implementation has now gone through required court processes to deal with outstanding litigation and that the courts would be issuing decisions in the next few months. The process is such, she said, that final implementation of the renegotiated agreement is unlikely before next summer. She added, however, that the process is now sufficiently advanced that dioceses with payments outstanding to the Settlement Fund created by the original agreement can stop making contributions.

National Indigenous Bishop
Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk of the Arctic, the House’s partner with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) reported that the council has completed the process for the nomination of a National Indigenous Bishop as envisaged by the Sacred Circle in Pinawa in 2005. The name of a nominee for the position has been submitted to the Primate, he said, but it remains confidential pending the working out of several details. Bishop Atagotaaluk said he anticipates the name of the new bishop will be announced before the end of the year. Bishops approved a recommendation that the national bishop, when appointed, be a full member of the House.

The primacy
Bishops discussed ways in which the nomination of people to the primacy could be streamlined. Bishops agreed on changes to the Guidelines for the Conduct of a Primatial Election that would include the following:

Approximately six months prior to the start of General Synod where a Primatial election will be held, the Primate (or acting Primate) will seek nominations from the Order of Bishops. Each member of the Order of Bishops shall nominate a minimum of one and a maximum of three Bishops, certifying that they have the consent of those they have nominated.

On the day prior to the balloting the Primate (or Acting Primate) will share with the Order of Bishops those who have been nominated. Additional nominations will be received until 10:00 pm. that day.

A report on this discussion and the suggested changes will be sent to the Council of General Synod.

House and Spouse
Bishops were asked whether in light of General Synod’s budgetary difficulties next year, they still see a meeting of the House that would also include spouses as important. The consensus was that a meeting that includes spouses is important so long as there is a substantial program component for them. The meeting is scheduled for the fall of 2007 in London, Ont.

Ontario resolution
After considerable discussion, bishops approved the following statement on a process to bring the St. Michael Report to General Synod next year which was drafted by bishops from the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. The statement is as follows:

We believe that as bishops we are called to exercise special responsibility in maintaining the unity of the church. We seek to provide leadership as we grapple with the issues posed by our continuing debate around human sexuality.

We believe that the Canadian Church will be looking for one or more significant decisions on these matters at General Synod 2007, and that further inaction, or the perception of stalling, may result in widespread disobedience in many parts of our Province and possibly further impair our relationship with the Anglican Communion.

We are aware that we occupy different places in the spectrum of convictions and hopes in the Canadian Church. We are happy to share the experience of affirming much that is common between us.

We welcome the work done by the St. Michael Report and the Windsor Report, particularly their identification of the nature of the doctrinal issues involved. We believe General Synod resolutions on these matters that engage their recommendations seriously will increase our credibility both within the church and within the communion. We believe the converse will also apply.

Our assessment of the current situation is that, doctrinally, there is no common mind in the church concerning the grounds for giving or withholding the blessing of same sex unions. Substantial numbers of our church, however, believe passionately that those doctrines have already been decided. We believe that further argument alone is unlikely to move people from their positions at this time. We believe the task of General Synod 2007 is to find an appropriate course of action for our situation. Paradoxically, if a way to live together as a church can be found, a theological consensus might develop within a framework of stability.

We advise against a change in the marriage canon at this time.

We believe that we should undertake intentional diplomacy in our international relationships within the Anglican Communion.

We urge the Church to show pastoral understanding and sensitivity to all same-sex couples, including those civilly married. As the National House of Bishops we agree to develop pastoral strategies to give effect to the acceptance of gays and lesbians to whom we are already committed by previous General Synod and COGS resolutions, House of Bishops guidelines, and Lambeth Conference statements.

We recommend the following processes for the consideration of the 2007 General Synod:

  • We believe that it is essential that there should be adequate time to consider what will be on the table. To assist in promoting useful discussion, we recommend substantial use of the Synod sitting as Committee of the Whole.
  • We share great wariness about the possibility of surprise motions, and urge attention and sensitivity to energy levels and emotions around important issues, and an avoidance of the passage of contradictory motions.

The House adjourned late Thursday afternoon. It did not sit on Friday so bishops could attend the funeral of Bishop Henry Hill who died last week.

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