The chair of the Anglican Consultative Council – one of the four so-called “instruments of unity” that work to keep the Anglican Communion together – told New Westminster Anglicans that Canadians continue to be full members of the worldwide body.

Bishop John Paterson of the Anglican Consultative Council at Christ Church Cathedral. Bishop Michael Ingham is in the background.

“The Anglican Church of Canada remains an important part of the Anglican Communion,” Bishop John Paterson told about 150 people at a lecture at Christ Church Cathedral Nov. 21. “The Communion needs Canada, and Canada needs the Communion.”

“I know of no other Church that has been such a team player,” said Paterson.

Paterson, the bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, who heads only international Anglican body that includes non-clerical members as well as bishops and priests, gave his own personal apology for the way the Canadians and American delegations had been treated at the last meeting of the council in June in Nottingham, England.

At the meeting, a majority of the council delegates endorsed a request made by the Primates (chief bishops) of the 38 national churches proposed, that the Canadian and American delegations withdraw from the council, at least till 2008.

The North Americans did come and as non-voting observers made presentations that Paterson described as “sensitive, inclusive and courteous.” However he said that too many delegates were “listening but not hearing” what was being said.

Bishop Paterson said that after the Americans ordained a publicly gay man as bishop, and the Diocese of New Westminster offered a blessing of same sex unions, differences over the issue of homosexuality became difficult - but they should not be communion-splitting.

“For a long time one of the greatest strengths of the Anglican Church has been our broad diversity, our ability to be inclusive of people with quite differing views and position,” he said.

“We are told that some are ‘orthodox’ and others are not. Yet who defines what is orthodox and what is not? Belonging and taking part in the life of the Communion are now being subjected to a test in order to determine whether you are the same as me,” he said, adding “that kind of testing and insistence on sameness is simply not acceptable.”

“It is notoriously difficult to define what it is to be Anglican or what the Anglican Communion is in actuality,” said Paterson. He quoted a theologian who called Anglicans “conspicuously unclassifiable – a kind of ecclesiastical duck billed platypus robustly mammal and vigorously egg laying.”

However, Paterson added: “That is not to say that all differences can be tolerated.” Anglicans need to learn to dialog and debate, using principles from scripture and Anglican tradition, “for distinguishing one type of difference from another.”

Many factors make real conversation hard, said the bishop. Modern communications – like the Internet – should help, but the advantages they could provide have been “blown away by the ease with which people access that technology in order to be deliberately rude to each other.”

“We need to face each other, and not simply let our web sites and our emails scream at each other,” he said.

In a worldwide body like the Anglican Communion, “the cultural divide is clearly a major factor,” said Paterson. Trying to tackle issues of gender relations globally means “we are shouting across several chasms – several cultural divides – that make real conversation and deep understanding meaningless and even impossible.” He suggested that more progress might be made with a regional approach to dialog.

“I personally find it very difficult to understand and appreciate what life must be like for a bishop and a church exercising mission and ministry alongside a numerically powerful Islamic neighbour,” said Paterson. He finds it more fruitful to talk with his neighbours, such as the Maori and Polynesian branches of his own church, who still find issues of homosexuality uncomfortable.

Another difficulty is the variety of ways Anglicans approach scripture. “There is integrity on all sides,” he insisted.

The said that the Windsor Report, on which he worked as a member of the Lambeth Commission, tired to be helpful: “Instead of placing a focus on simply the authority of scripture, it suggests that we should think rather in terms of the authority of God as expressed through scriptural texts.”

The bishop predicted the next “storm” will come up when the Archbishop of Canterbury reveals whom he has invited – or not invited – to the next Lambeth Conference.

Despite the difficulties, said Paterson, he said he felt that the 80 million or more Anglicans – especially those not bishops or priests or members of international bodies but ordinary lay Anglicans – want the Anglican Communion to survive.

“I believe they want us to stay together, to live with difference, and not have difference forced upon them.”

In a short question period, Ian Robertson of St. David’s, Delta, talked of the difficulty of getting people to engage in “serious study and dialog.” Paterson said that is a problem everywhere. He suggested that rather than public meetings, talk could take place in people’s comes, around the dinner table. He also suggested that a regional approach to dialog might help. “It’s a very emotional discussion to have.”

Introducing Bishop Paterson, New Westminster’s Bishop Michael Ingham thanked him for making sure the diocese was able to tell its story at meetings of the council in 2002, and for making sure the North Americans were at least given the opportunity to present this year.

Dean Peter Elliott concluded the meeting by thanking Paterson for a “pastoral visit” to Canada. The New Zealand bishop came on the invitation of Canadian Primate Andrew Hutchison. The dean said that Paterson’s words and his personal apology were greatly appreciated in this diocese.