Perspectives on the Anglican Church upheaval
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John Stackhouse

The following piece is from the weblog of noted writer and scholar John Stackhouse. While it was written last year, it accurately reflects the responses of many observers to the events currently unfolding within the Anglican Church of Canada.

I normally stay away from commenting on the convulsions of the Anglican Communion – whether here in the Diocese of New Westminster, whose bishop is a heretic and schismatic (by the standard definitions of those terms); or in the Anglican Church of Canada, which tolerates such behaviour; or in the Anglican Communion worldwide, which is wracked by controversy over the legitimacy of homosexuality (ostensibly) and a lot of other things, such as heresy, schism, power politics, racism and more (fundamentally).

‘Family problems’

I have belonged to Anglican congregations in Winnipeg and Vancouver, and have lots of contacts in Anglican churches in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.; but I am not a confirmed Anglican, and so I rarely speak up about what are ‘family problems’ in someone else’s ‘tribe.’

Speaking of ‘tribe,’ however, I am moved to headshaking by the recent appointment of Mark MacDonald, already an Anglican bishop, to the newly-created post of National Indigenous Bishop in Canada.

According to the Anglican Journal, Bishop MacDonald will have “pastoral oversight over all of Canada’s indigenous Anglicans, no matter where they live.”

The only other non-territorial bishop in Canada is the Bishop Ordinary to the Armed Forces, who has pastoral oversight of Anglicans serving in the Armed Forces. But this is actually, in an important sense, a territorial jurisdiction – in that most military personnel have their homes – especially while on active duty – in regions belonging to the Armed Forces.

Anyhow, what strikes me about this appointment is how enthusiastic about this news is Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and exactly how he justified this extraordinary appointment:

“It’s important to remember that we elect bishops for the church,” he said. “We don’t elect bishops for national jurisdictions.” Well, yes.

But this is the same archbishop who has stood with New Westminster bishop Michael Ingham against the idea of appointing bishops to shepherd orthodox congregations in Canada – who no longer respect their current bishops who teach against the doctrine of the church and flout its ethical norms.

Crypto-Hinduism

When it comes to churches that resist Ingham’s crypto-Hinduism and his support for same-sex marriages, suddenly Archbishop Hutchison gets all territorial again: one region, one bishop. The weirdness deepens, in that I actually agree with Hutchison on this point.

If you’re going to have an episcopalian system (that is, governance by bishops) – and I’m not convinced you should, especially in North America, but that’s another topic – then they should govern the whole church in a region, of whatever size makes administrative and pastoral sense.

There should be neither Jew nor Gentile, to coin a phrase. So I don’t see how appointing a bishop on racial lines is a good move in this regard. Indeed, I don’t agree with my Anglican friends who advocate for orthodox bishops to shepherd orthodox congregations.

What happens next? A proliferation of bishops, one for each congregation’s particular preference of liturgy, doctrine, morality and so on? A bishop for Prayer Book conservatives and another for evangelicals and another for charismatics and another for Anglo-Catholics and another for Barthians and another for Tillichians and another for liberationists and another for New Agers?

Heresy

No, what should have happened is what should have happened long ago: Michael Ingham and his like should have been charged with heresy and defrocked, if they did not recant. And at least if the church split then, it would be over the gospel, not over how we feel about homosexuals and their unions. It’s too late for that, however.

So now we have the absurd situation of catering to the alienation of native peoples – an alienation that is certainly understandable in the wake of the residential school abuses – by dividing the church’s leadership along racial lines, while stonewalling the many more Anglicans who are alienated from officials who patently deny the faith.

In the Anglican Church, race matters . . . not doctrine.

John G. Stackhouse, Jr., is a theologian, philosopher, historian and journalist who teaches at Regent College.

Peter Elliott

Results from the Vestry meeting of St. John’s Shaughnessy on February 13 indicate that members of that parish plan to leave the Anglican Church of Canada.

We regret the decision of any person to leave our Church.

The Anglican Church of Canada is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has recently said that he can neither support nor sanction the intervention of a primate from another jurisdiction into the life of a Province of the Anglican Communion.

Unnecessary

The Anglican Church of Canada and its House of Bishops have established a model of Shared Episcopal Ministry, which has been commended by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference. Therefore it is unnecessary for a parish to seek episcopal ministry beyond Canada.

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We are sorry that the leadership of St. John’s did not commend this model of Shared Episcopal Ministry to its membership rather than recommending that they come under the jurisdiction of a foreign Primate, whose jurisdiction is not recognized by the Canadian Church or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The over 70 congregations in the Diocese of New Westminster continue in their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and their mission of care of parishioners and outreach to their communities.

Peter Elliott, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, wrote for the Diocese of New Westminster, in Bishop Michael Ingham’s absence.

Leanne Larmondin

Grace. Patience. Charity. Generosity.  

Leaders, clergy and lay members of the Anglican Church of Canada will need all of these virtues in the coming months. More than half of the Anglican Journal’s letters to the editor in recent months . . . refer to the schism   –  real or perceived   –  in the Anglican church, at home and abroad.

While the issue is invisible to many congregations, many of whom are struggling with declining memberships or are simply carrying on with the work they are called to do, the divide is very real for some in the church.  

So, for those for whom this is an issue, the challenge now is in acknowledging that divide, yet striving to seek common ground wherever possible.

Set an example

How we treat each other and how we cope with our differences is supposed to distinguish Christians from non-believers. We can and must be an example for all of God’s people.

We are often reminded in sermons that observers of the early Christian church marvelled: “How these Christians love one another!” Could observers say the same about the church today?

Anglicans, in particular, pride themselves on the notion of the via media  –  the ‘middle way’ . . . That tradition of the middle way, often interpreted as a compromise, could serve as a road map for the church.

How the Anglican church conducts itself during this time  –  a time of crisis for many  –  will speak volumes about how it puts its faith into action. Canadian Anglicans do have a recent example of the church doing just that, one of which it can be proud: its acknowledgment of the wrongs it committed in operating the residential schools.

One of four denominations that ran the schools on behalf of the federal government, the Anglican church has strived to repair the damage done by what it saw as well-intentioned work.

Truth and reconciliation

An official of the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools noted recently that the eyes of many groups overseas are on Canada because it is the first truth commission set up by a member of the G-8 or group of developed countries, and is the first to address indigenous and human rights issues involving children who are now adults.

In his address to Anglicans who are involved in the work of the residential schools settlement, Bob Watts, interim executive director of the commission, said churches need to “be on the record” about their role in operating the residential schools – and, importantly, what they have done since to facilitate healing and reconciliation with aboriginal people who were affected by that legacy.  

Despite its acknowledged failings in operating the residential schools from the 1800s into the 1970s . . . the Anglican Church of Canada can be proud of its record on the schools issue since the 1990s.

The Anglican church was one of the first to apologize for its role in the schools. Archbishop Michael Peers delivered the apology to a national native convocation in 1993; his apology was accepted at the same gathering. Two diocesan bishops had already apologized at previous gatherings.

Since Archbishop Peers’ apology, the church has backed up that apology with a $15.7-million settlement agreement that compensates former students, a healing fund that has disbursed more than $3 million to various healing initiatives, archival research that helps validate student enrolment, plus other staffing and resources.

New relationship

The appointment of a national indigenous bishop last year also demonstrated the willingness of a church to forge a new relationship with native people. And the work continues.

There will be times during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Anglicans will feel shame; they will hear difficult stories about incidents at the schools that still reverberate today, generations later. Former staff, most of whom served with the best of intentions, may feel hurt to be painted with the same brush as those who abused children.

But there will be a time during the commission in which the church can lay out the record of its work since the apology and can hold its collective head high. Ten years from now, when perhaps some of the dust has settled from the rupture over issues of sexuality, will those of us in the church be proud of how we conducted ourselves?

Leanne Larmondin is editor of the Anglican Journal.

March 2008