Anglican Church of Canada
Interim Report on General Synod July 13, 2019
I write to you from Vancouver, where Elisabeth and I are enjoying our first visit to this beautiful city.
General Synod opened on Wednesday evening with a service at Christ Church Cathedral, including a powerful sermon by our National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald.
Much of the work of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning was taken up by our relationship with the indigenous church. It is an aspect of the Anglican Church we don’t see much in Nova Scotia (where the Miq’ma tend to be Catholic), but it is powerful and moving to see so many cultural traditions represented from all across the country, from the Arctic to the Mohawks of Six Nations to the West Coast peoples to the prairie and northern Cree. Our services and meetings have begun with indigenous songs and drumming. We have heard testimony of the good work in support, healing, and youth work done in many communities. We have heard plans for the ongoing development of a more autonomous, self-directed indigenous church.
On Thursday evening our Primate, Archbishop Fred, offered a powerful apology for the spiritual harm our church inflicted on First Nations communities, through our arrogant contempt for their spiritual teachings.
Friday afternoon we debated and eventually voted on the second reading of the proposed changes to the Marriage Canon to permit same-sex marriage. You have probably heard by now that the proposal passed by a strong majority among both the laity and the clergy, but fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority among the bishops. As a result, the six year process to amend the marriage canon has failed.
I know that this result has caused much pain and anger across the Anglican Church, and no doubt in the Parish as well. I share in both the pain and the anger. But I think we have to put this into perspective. The Anglican Church has not said no to same-sex couples. Not even General Synod has said no: the vast majority of the Synod as a whole (at least 75%) has said yes. Who has said no are 14 bishops, mostly from small conservative northern dioceses, who because of the rather arcane rules around synod have a hugely disproportionate amount of power, and who between them were able to scuttle this motion. The conclusion we must draw is not that the church has failed us, but that the will of the church as a whole has been betrayed by procedural roadblocks, and that these roadblocks must be changed.
You will recall me telling you after diocesan synod a couple of months back about our keynote speaker, Jenny Salisbury. Jenny’s message to us was that the things that happen to us are one thing, but the more important question is, how do we choose to tell the story of what has happened? I have been thinking a lot about Jenny’s message today, wondering how to tell the story of what happened last night. And I have become more convinced that we should be telling a story of victory. Yes, the vote was lost – but that particular procedural result is looking less and less significant. What was amazing last night, was the sense of the Spirit moving through the synod, as in fact it has been moving the past several days. I have sat through countless synods over the past 20 years or so discussing issues of same-sex relationships, and generally it feels like watching the same dreary painful movie over and over again. Last night was different. There was an incredibly gracious, inspiring energy moving through the room, as person after person from across the country spoke passionately about the need to affirm the relationships of people who have been created to love someone of their own sex. It is clear that the tide in our church has turned on this. The battle is in effect over. There will still be a few last stands, like the inconvenience of the vote last night, but the struggle is in effect over. That is why, while I still respect and indeed share the grief and the anger, I am more inclined to tell the story as a victory, a story of hope and renewal.
On a practical note, we have come to see over the past few years that it is not necessary to amend the marriage canon. The canon as we have it, on closer inspection, leaves the question of the gender of the couple open. On this understanding a couple of dioceses have already begun marrying same-sex couples; and there is no doubt that now many more dioceses will be moving to do so. Bishop Ron has indicated that he is seriously thinking in this direction.
One final significant event took place today. At a service at the Cathedral, our Primate Fred Hiltz handed over his primatial cross, after 12 years of faithful, strong, compassionate, and wise leadership of our church. Following the service, synod elected our new Primate, Bishop Linda Nicholls of the Diocese of Huron. I have had the privilege of working under Bishop Linda’s leadership on a couple of national church committees, and I believe she is an inspired choice. She is a wise, prayerful, intelligent bishop who leads with a gentle, humble style, calling forth the gifts and contributions of others. She will be a force of reconciliation and healing in our divided church. And as an added bonus: we have our first woman Primate!
I wish so much you could all be here, to experience this extraordinary gathering of Anglicans from across the country, and to meet so many people, both ordained and lay, doing faithful and exciting ministry in all kinds of contexts. It is wonderful to experience how alive and well our church is, how God is still doing new things in our midst.
And we’re only half-way through!