Primates around the world come in different shapes and sizes; primates reflect all shades of the theological spectrum; and primates approach their ministries with their individual styles. All are in great demand, often fatigued, and presently beset over the conflict that the blessing of same-sex unions has caused in the Anglican Communion.

Canada’s primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, is in the forefront of this challenge, willingly shouldering his responsibilities and upholding the Diocese of New Westminster. He was at our synod last month where we welcomed his presence and outspoken support.

In his sermon, Hutchison praised the contribution the Diocese of New Westminster has made to social justice, publicly honoured Bishop Michael’s leadership and commitment over the blessing of same-sex unions, and sympathized over the hostility and abuse that our bishop has endured.

Then the primate made his position clear by saying, “I stand with your bishop.”

The primate does not mince words, his clarity is sometimes breathtaking, and he is hopeful. Sitting on the stairs above the fray, he talked candidly about the state of the Anglican Communion and his expectations for the Church in the short and long term. Our primate supports the American and Canadian withdrawal from official participation at the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in June as the price we must pay to show good faith and buy some time for the members of the Anglican Communion. The Canadians, along with the Americans, have agreed not to sit at the table with a vote but have been asked to make presentations.

The primate is genuinely hopeful concerning the outcome of this meeting. Although not decided at press time, he is unlikely to go to the meeting in Nottingham, England, despite requests to do so. Instead the Canadian group may be led by the prolocutor of General Synod, who is New Westminster’s dean, the Very Rev. Peter Elliott.

The primate explained that “[The ACC] is not a place where primates hang about – primates have to step out of the process to let the laity and clergy speak and decide.”

The presence of the laity in this high-level body is the source of his hope: Hutchison feels that the clergy and laity from very conservative provinces who disagree with their primates may produce a surprising result on the blessing of same-sex unions. Also he fully expects Canada’s reinstatement to full participation afterwards.

The determination by the Primate’s Commission on the Theology of the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions that the blessing is a matter of doctrine will push the decision from the national church on the issue to 2010.

Hutchison acknowledged that this is disappointing for the Diocese of New Westminster. Then he reminded synod that several other countries in the Anglican Communion are freely blessing same-sex unions on a large scale – notably England in fourteen dioceses – and calling them ‘pastoral exceptions’.

In an interview, the primate pointed out, “No one is ever disciplined. But when we do it, openly and publicly, [they] feel it is reprehensible. I feel it is a case of duplicity…” The years to 2010 will facilitate the same-sex issue in Hutchison’s opinion – the world will come to know about the various provinces who presently undertake blessing of same-sex unions behind closed doors and the trend in civil society of legalizing same-sex marriages will exert pressure for change.

Primate Andrew Hutchison with retired Archbishop David Somerville and Bishop Michael Ingham at Synod 2005. (Photo by Janet Morris.)

When asked for his predictions for the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the primate shrugged his shoulders and said that anything is possible but he hopes that the Anglican Consultative Council will have some influence.

Our primate thought our 103rd synod was “one of the best I’ve ever been to in Canada.” He observed that the same sex issue has clearly not hijacked the Diocese of New Westminster’s ministry, which he thought was one of the strongest in Canada, and promised that the same-sex issue will not hijack his primacy either.

Hutchison wants to focus on building more effective external communications, on reaching youth, and on moving forward with the indigenous peoples of Canada.

Speaker and author, Julie H. Ferguson is writing a book about four Canadian bishops who changed the world for publication by Dundurn Press in the spring of 2006. She can be reached through or 604-469-1319.