CANADA: Acceptance of sexual discernment report 'a watershed moment' says primate

June 11, 2010

General Synod 2010 did not approve the so-called local option that would allow dioceses to grant same-sex blessings. Neither did it take a legislative decision on the matter.

It did, however, recognize that local option has been exercised by some and may be taken by others in future, even though "it's not local option approved by the national church," said Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

"We're not ready as a national church to say, 'We're building this into our doctrine that we approve of same-sex unions,'" he told a press conference following the close of General Synod 2010 in Halifax. What synod did say was, "We need to have more conversation," confirmed Hiltz, adding, "That's an action."

The report on sexual discernment, finalized after a series of discussions by members, acknowledges "diverse pastoral practices as dioceses respond to their own missional contexts." The report also acknowledged "the continuing commitment to develop generous pastoral responses" to gay and lesbian members of the church.

The statement recognizes the reality of the Anglican Church of Canada right now, said Hiltz. "We're not in a position to be going back to dioceses where they've made decisions one way or the other, to say, 'You must change your mind on this.'"

Hiltz called the synod's acceptance of the report a "watershed moment" for the life of the church and its place in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

"There's been healing in this church," he declared. "We're no longer demonizing one another ... We're regarding one another differently ... more patiently, more graciously."

As he stood in line to say goodbye to synod members, the primate said a majority expressed that they had "so much more hope" for the church and were "proud to be Anglican."

The level of conversations around the thorny issue of human sexuality was different than it had been in previous synods, he noted.

The process for discerning what to do with the issue that has divided Anglicans in Canada and worldwide was "Spirit-led," said Hiltz. "Now is not the time to force the issue by a resolution because we're not ready for that kind of step," he said. The church needs to continue talking, said Hiltz.

This time around, members ended synod "feeling the body of Christ is not quite so fractured, bruised and broken," said Hiltz. He saw people representing various theological divides on the matter of human sexuality "embracing on the floor of synod and at socials." He had hoped that "they would get to that point and they did."

Asked whether he thought the rest of the communion would see General Synod's decision as evidence of "gracious restraint" that has been urged by some of its bodies, he said, "Some will and some won't."

Hiltz said that he would inform Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams about what the synod has decided.

Hiltz also emphasized that at synod, members did not just talk about issues that divide them. Rather, they were challenged to "think about the world in which we live ... what we're doing to respond to world's suffering." The issues that Anglicans in Canada think are so compelling "pale in comparison to issues that other people in the world face day to day," he said. He noted how synod had heard from Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani about what it means to live in a place where conflict is an everyday reality.

He cited some "very historic and holy moments" at synod, including the granting of canonical recognition to the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and Sacred Circle. They are "very much part of the fabric of the church," he said.