In his presidential address opening General Synod 2010 in Halifax, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, "leaned into the wind" to speak frankly about some of the tough questions members will be asked to consider over the next week.
On the issue of same-sex blessings, he said he has observed that "the majority of us, wherever we are with respect to a theological position on this matter, [have] less passion for resolving it through resolution and heated debate, and much deeper commitment to respectful dialogue and continuing discernment together."
In an interview, Hiltz noted that the church has been down the road of resolution and debate on the matter in past synods. He appealed to members of this synod to "enter into these conversations in a spirit of humility and a genuine commitment to listen and to learn from one another."
He added that he was aware that deliberations on the issue would be watched by many in Canada and around the world. "I hope they see no evidence of rejection, condemnation or demonization but every evidence of respect, charity and patience ... I hope they see us striving to live together with difference and to do it gracefully."
He said he hoped that synod members could work towards a pastoral statement that reflects the mind and heart of the church currently. "I hope it can reflect our determination to never walk apart, but always to walk together in that love Christ wills."
Closely related to this issue, is the fact that the Anglican Church of Canada has been asked to consider the Anglican Communion Covenant for possible adoption. Drafted in response to divisions within the worldwide Anglican Communion over the blessing of same-sex unions and the consecration of bishops in partnered same-sex relationships, the covenant attempts to describe and define relationships among the provinces of the Anglican Communion. The document refers to respect for the autonomy of each province in making decisions according to its own constitution and canons.
But the last section, which speaks of "relational consequences for a church should it make decisions deemed incompatible with the covenant, has caused some concern." Hiltz said he had "every hope that our church will embrace the request to consider the covenant." However, he also expressed concern about it in its present form. Consequences for ecclesiastical provinces that make decisions that diverge from the covenant could range, he said, from limited participation to suspension from dialogues, commissions, councils within the communion.
"In my opinion, they reflect principles of exclusion, with which many in the communion are very uneasy," said Hiltz. "For if one is excluded from a table, how can one be part of a conversation? How can our voice be heard, how can we hear the voice of others?"
Although this draft of the covenant has been described as the final text, responses to it would not necessarily be limited to adopting it or not, said Hiltz. He noted that some people would like to see it revised to "have more teeth, and there are some who would want to see it revised as being less consequential as far as limiting people's participation or suspending provinces from the instruments of communion, its standing committees or its councils." But he said the Canadian church has a history of faithfully considering previous drafts and making what the communion considered helpful and constructive criticism for improvement. "I cannot imagine that that sort of pattern will not repeat itself this time around," he said.
The primate's address also looked ahead to many other issues. These include Vision 2019 -- the nine-year strategic plan for the church, as well as governance issues such as reducing the size of the General Synod and the Council of General Synod. Members will also consider canonical recognition for the National Indigenous Ministry, ecumenical partnerships and financial challenges for the church.