Anglican Church of Canada Elects Head, Prepares for Divisive Vote on Same-Sex "Blessings"

"The implications of your decision for the unity of the Anglican Communion, perhaps even its very survival in its current form, are just about as serious as it could get"
( [email protected] ) Jun 01, 2004 05:26 PM EDT

The Anglican Church of Canada elected the Montreal Archbishop Andrew Hutchison as its national leader following an unusually long session of votes, May 31, 2004. Hutchison, regarded as a liberal in the divisive issue of homosexuality, now faces the task of reconciling the conservatives and the liberals while maintaining the scriptural authority of the church.

“One of the great challenges for this church in the next triennium will be unity. But unity isn’t important for its own sake. We need unity so that we can reclaim our purpose and so that the world may see and believe," said Hutchison at a news conference shortly after his election.

Hutchison was chosen as primate on the fourth ballot over the conservative bishop Ronald Ferris of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. At the final ballot, Hutchison recieved 68 of 117 clergy votes and 97 of 144 lay votes. Bishop Ferris received 44 and 41 votes.

Similar to the United States, the most controversial issue in the Anglican Church of Canada is homosexuality. In 1998, the world's Anglican bishops overwhelmingly voted to oppose actively gay clergy and blessing rituals for gay couples, calling those acts "incompatible with Scripture."

Hutchison was among 145 bishops who issued a dissent to the statement and called on gays and lesbians to "work for your full inclusion in the life of the church."

In 2002, upon the dismay of millions of Anglicans worldwide, the bishop of New Westminster, B.C., Michael Ingham began allowing its churches to bless same-sex unions. This event drew criticism from conservative Anglicans around the world, as did the 2003 decision of U.S. Anglican bishops to elect an openly homosexual man as bishop.

Since 2002, several conservative parishes have asked for a bishop other than Ingham to oversee thier congregations and others sought to be moved compltely from the authority of the diocese. Additionally, several conservative Anglican leaders from Africa and Asia visited Vancouver and publically condemned Ingham.

Meanwhile Hutchison declined to explictly comment on his views of same-sex blessings. He did, however, say he believes the church needs to redirect its energy.

It's important "for our church to redirect its energy, rediscover our purpose and reclaim our mission," said Hutchison. "Circumstances outside the church have forced us in recent years to become introspective and to focus on who we are as a church and on our church structure. I want to see us look outward and refocus our attention on our mission so the world will see the church and say ‘see those Christians, see how they love one another’ and want to be part of it. The church exists for the world, not for the church.”

On Wednesday, the delegates of the Anglican Church of Canada will discuss a controversial proposal that would allow the church to bless same-sex couples.

Conservative leaders, such as the Rev. Sean Murphy of Whitehorse, Yukon, said approval of the bill would defy "the united and consistent testimony of Scripture that heterosexual marriage and abstinence in singleness is God's created order."

Internationally, the leader of a commission on the issue of homosexuality, the Canon Gregory Cameron, warned the delegates that Wednesday's decision will be momentous.

According to Cameron, a "no" vote may disappoint thousands of gay Anglicans, but a "yes" vote may threaten the unity of the entire 77-million member Anglican Communion.

Said Cameron: "The implications of your decision for the unity of the Anglican Communion, perhaps even its very survival in its current form, are just about as serious as it could get."