Notes from a concrete paradise

brock_aerialAs Terry has indicated in this space, I spent the last week in St. Catharines, Ontario, covering the Anglican Church of Canada’s 37th General Synod for Anglican Essentials Canada.

Most media coverage of General Synod did a solid job of describing the conflicts and the key players of this triennial legislative session of the 651,000-member church. Over the protests of the ACC’s communications officers, reporters rightly identified the church’s newly elected primate, Archbishop Andrew S. Hutchison of Montreal, as the most liberal of four nominees. (One reporter, Douglas Todd of The Vancouver Sun, described Hutchison as a “moderate liberal” — which makes the most sense if one compares Hutchison to Michael Ingham, the merrily syncretistic bishop of the Vancouver-based Diocese of New Westminster.)

Stephen Bates of The Guardian was the first reporter to refer to the Brock University campus as bleak, and Bates certainly deserves props for his sense of design. Brock opened its doors in 1964, and its older buildings reflect that era’s perverse fondness for concrete.

One official from the Diocese of Niagara, the Ven. Bruce A. McPetrie, added to the bleakness by writing a letter to campus police about the presence of one, possibly two, groups that “could affect the traffic and possibly some other forms of disturbances beyond the Brock premises.” Shades of Fred Phelps’ notorious God Hates Fags traveling media circus!

As it turned out, Anglican Essentials Canada did nothing more disruptive than providing free meals and strategy sessions to members of the synod. McPetrie had worried about an unspecified group from Texas converging on the campus, which prompted Bill Atwood of the Texas-based Ekklesia Society to issue a satirical ten-point list of why the theological cowboys would not show up.

Despite his keen eye for architecture, Bates hits a few clunkers in today’s report.

“An attempt by Canadian Anglicans to maintain the fragile unity of the worldwide communion by postponing a decision on authorising gay blessings was shattered within hours yesterday when evangelical church leaders warned of ‘devastating consequences’ of a positive message sent to gay and lesbian couples.”

If <a href="one affirmation of orthodox theology can single-handedly shatter an attempt at unity, perhaps fragile is too weak a word to describe that unity.

“The criticisms also took Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, the newly elected primate of the Canadian church, by surprise,” Bates writes. “He had submerged his previous support for gay blessings in favour of a delay in order to preserve international solidarity.”

Actually, Hutchison voted against the postponement that Bates praised in his lead sentence.

Bates also mentions that nine ACC bishops rose during the synod to express their dismay at synod’s vote: “[Hutchison] said he was ‘obviously very disappointed to hear that kind of statement because it speaks of division’, making it clear the bishops had not let him know what they were planning.”

The bishops obtained permission to deliver their statement to the synod.

The bishops’ statement neither speaks of nor encourages division. Indeed, the bishops clearly expect their people to remain within the church: “We urge Anglicans across Canada distressed by this expression of opinion not to despair and urge them to take their full part in the diocesan and provincial synods which will contribute to a decision of whether this is a doctrinal matter.”

Bates’ closing paragraph achieves greater balance: “Neither side wants to be blamed for breaking up the church. But both are accusing each other of attempting to do so by pre-empting a report on the issue by the Archbishop of Ireland, Robin Eames, which is due in October.”

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