Tomorrow, the Canadian Anglican Church begins its General Synod in Winnipeg. While the General Synod will elect a new Archbishop, this decision has been overshadowed by the debate over a far more controversial decision: whether to allow same-sex marriage blessings. And whatever decision is made on this issue in Winnipeg will undoubtedly affect the same debate in the larger Anglican Communion.
The seven-day synod will be chaired by Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, the current Primate, who has announced his retirement, effective June 22. Clergy and lay delegates will elect a new Primate. By Canadian church practice, the Bishops will not participate in the actual election. Nominees include Bruce Howe of Huron, Fred Hiltz of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, George Bruce of Ontario and Victoria Matthews of Edmonton. The new Primate will be installed on Monday, June 25.
The issue of same sex blessings has long divided the Canadian Church. The issue was raised at the last General Synod three years ago, but tabled until this Convention. Last Thursday, several retired Canadian archbishops urged the Church to approve the blessings. Previously, on Good Friday, a group of conservative theologians issued a letter urging that the Church not accept same sex blessings.
The Toronto Star has a good preview of the upcoming Synod:
The blogs have started and the 24-hour prayer vigil is accepting emails as the Anglican world turns its eyes to Winnipeg.
Canada’s Anglicans gather this week in Manitoba to pick a new leader and decide whether to allow same-sex marriage blessings. But that narrow debate only touches what is truly at stake. For all those involved, on either side of the issue, what is really at issue is the definition of Anglicanism itself – and the possibility of schism.
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“Even if there was a way to solve the same-sex issue satisfactorily to all parties tomorrow, we would still have a major problem on our hands,” says Newfoundland Bishop Don Harvey, spiritual head of the conservative Canadian group Anglican Essentials. “It’s so much deeper than that.”
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Delegates to the synod will vote on a series of resolutions, largely held over since their last meeting three years ago, allowing local churches to decide for themselves whether to bless same-sex marriages.
Harvey’s group has set up a blog, www.anglicanessentials.ca/wordpress/, to strengthen the resolve of those opposed to allowing same-sex blessings. Debate of the issue is not tolerated on the forum, according to posted rules.
At http://prayerroom.7.forumer.com, supporters can send requests to volunteers who have promised to pray 24 hours a day through the synod that voting on the issue goes their way.
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In Winnipeg, Harvey and his group will be pushing the church to not only vote against the local option on same-sex blessings, but reject a recent bishops’ statement allowing priests to say the Eucharist with a newly married gay couple.
Hutchison says the statement, issued in April, would stand as church policy if formal blessings are rejected in Winnipeg. For supporters of blessings, it doesn’t go far enough. But for Harvey, it goes too far, and could lead to his group splitting with the church.
If that happens, he would be following a path already travelled by conservative Anglicans in the United States, who have split with their church. For Harvey, the church has already become too liberal. “This is the church I was born into,” Harvey says.
“This is the church I love. I hope it will be the church I die in.”
Having led his church through three of its most difficult years, Hutchison enters his last week in office still hoping for a solution. But despite all the debate and having visited every diocese in the country, he remains at a loss to say what might heal the troubled church.
In the end, all he has is his faith that the Anglican conversation he cherishes won’t end in Winnipeg.
“No matter what happens at the General Synod or in the Anglican Communion, the centre will hold,” he says. “I really believe the centre will hold.”
All documents available to General Synod delegates, including the General Synod Agenda (called the Convening Circular) are available online here.