It has been an emotionally charged and draining few days as an Anglican. As many will be aware General Synod - the gathering every three years of representatives of Anglican Dioceses and Partners across Canada met July 7-12 in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Given it was so close to home I applied to be a volunteer and helped primarily with welcoming people and pointing them in the right direction; from where to register when they arrived to answering a wide range questions during the event. I also had the opportunity to wander through the many exhibits representing a diversity of ministries, causes, special interest groups and business partnerships associated with the Anglican Church of Canada. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones.
One of the greatest and most challenging at times part of General Synod was being part of the Observers gallery inside the room and also part of the wider community that was part of this gathering through the live stream. We are greatly blessed by the gift of technology that allows us to listen in on these important meetings of our national church from wherever we are as long as we have an internet connection. Observing these preceding has given me a greater appreciation for the Church that I love.
This year’s theme was, “You Are My Witnesses” and that played out for me in hearing about the amazing work that is going on in the name of the Anglican Church of Canada, locally, nationally and internationally. To hear about the relationship building with the Diocese of Jerusalem, and some of the heartbreaking stories and realities of ministry in that part of the world that we rarely hear about, was moving. As was the personal account from Fort McMurray that gave me goose bumps as a man described the miracles, there is no other word for it, of God’s provision in this crisis. The ongoing work of building ecumenical relationships and partnerships is heartening to hear and recognize that we seek to serve the same God. Important work has also been ongoing in our relationship with Indigenous people, especially in light of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the formation of an Indigenous church.
These important pieces of work by General Synod over those six days, was overshadowed by the discussion, debate and drama that surrounded the first reading of the changes to Canon XXI, the Marriage Canon, essentially to allow for same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church. Any reports I saw aside from those from our Anglican sources, were focused on this sole issue. After days of small group discussions, which the delegates I spoke to described as intense, the resolution came to the floor. In many ways it is unfortunate that our decision making process requires this type of debate, but it was an opportunity for all to be heard. Sitting in the Observers gallery and later watching the live stream it was clear that those who spoke were sincere and deeply invested. This only made the emotional tenure that much more intense.
As the vote began after lengthy debate, everyone was holding their breathe knowing that regardless of the outcome there would people deeply hurt. Slowly as the results were revealed, we realized that the resolution to change the Marriage Canon, with a few amendments, had failed to gain two-thirds in all three houses (bishops, clergy and laity) - by one vote in the house of Clergy. There was a stunned silence in the room, and in the virtual world. For some there was shock and sadness as people considered what this meant for them, those they represented and so many others that they minister to. For others there was relief as though we as a church had narrowly escaped going over that dreaded cliff. For everyone the emotion of that decision was heavy. Some bishops reacted immediately by announcing that they would be proceeding anyway as a pastoral response. It was a restless night for many.
In the morning, the agenda was reconfigured to give time for a “what now” discussion and groups gathered to talk about not only how we as a Church move forward, but more importantly about how do we engage in meaningful conversation that builds bridges between those from all sides who felt the scars of the discussion and debate. Although I could only watch via the live stream, I sensed a renewal of hope and renewed commitment to dialogue that truly listens. In the waning moments of General Synod, following the request for the list of votes to be released immediately, instead of a few months from now in the official minutes, it was discovered that there had been a technical error with one of the votes. The General Secretary, who is a licensed priest working in the National Church office, had his vote registered in a different house, not the house of clergy. The result of that one vote being counted changed the results so as to tip the house of clergy over the two-thirds line and so the motion, after much conversation, was declared passed.
The emotions of the evening before were suddenly reversed, as people came to grips with what had happened. It was clear that no one was celebrating. As a friend posted, “perhaps it is a good thing that we have all felt it--that shared experience [of dismay] might be a place where we can find the Spirit who will lead us to healing and reconciliation.” I know that for friends that were in that room, it was a very emotional experience, as it was for the great cloud of witnesses who surrounded them.
I have to say that I was very impressed by the pastoral and gracious way that Primate Fred Hiltz led throughout. He exemplified for me throughout what it means to love and respect all people and opinions. When bullying was reported in the small groups, he immediately addressed it as unacceptable. He reminded delegates and observers alike that applause was inappropriate as there were those in the room who would not agree and even be hurt by the comments. His continual call to dialogue and understand is what we all needed to hear then and even more now. The Archbishop's most gracious moment that will remain with me for a long time was his response to the General Secretary when the General Secretary realized and apologized that it was his vote that led to the rollercoaster of events. As a Christian and servant of this Church, I pray that will be able to follow Archbishop Hiltz's example in my own life and ministry.
The question remains, so where do we go from here. There will be those that are dismayed, disappointed, and even angry and may consider leaving the Church. And there will be those who want to charge full steam ahead. To both I would like to say, wait, stay engaged, seek out those of opposing opinions and listen, really listen to what they have to say. One of the greatest gifts I believe the Anglican Church has to bring to the wider church is the witness of what it means to be able to hold intense, very diverse beliefs and still remain at the table together. I have often been asked why I am Anglican, I think this is the reason. As frustrating as it is at times that on many issues we don’t say “this is what we believe” or how we understand “X”, it also what allows us to remain in conversation, to remain at the table, the Lord’s Table, together, knowing that first and foremost we are all Children of God, loved and saved by the only one who can love unconditionally.
May we pray for one another and may we continue to seek to see one another not as opponents or allies but as God sees us: his beloved children.
If you want to know more about the ongoing conversation around same-sex marriage I encourage you to read, This Holy Estate, which also includes numerous submission from all those opinions, and links to other reports produced by national church and others on this issue. As well as the other resources from the Anglican Church of Canada on Human Sexuality.
For more on information of General Synod or updates from The Anglican Church of Canada, go to, News.