CoGS asks church leaders to encourage marriage canon discussion in provinces, dioceses

Members of Council of General Synod (CoGS) discuss “respectful conversation” practices during a meeting on the marriage canon Sunday, November 12. Photo: Tali Folkins
Published November 14, 2017

Council of General Synod (CoGS) is asking leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada to encourage discussion, within provinces and dioceses, of the same-sex marriage amendment now awaiting its second reading at General Synod 2019.

A resolution approved by CoGS Sunday, November 12 requests the primate as well as the prolocutor of the national church “to communicate with the Metropolitans and Provincial Prolocutors, and diocesan bishops and synods to encourage full consideration of the matter be given prior to General Synod 2019.” It also asks that “the consideration given shall be reported to the Council of General Synod no later than November 1, 2018.”

The resolution arose out of discussion the previous day on the marriage canon. Members were asked by Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton, chair of the CoGS working group on the canon, to gather in table groups by their ecclesiastical provinces and write down any questions they had about either the resolution to change the canon or the process of discussing the resolution that the dioceses and provinces are to undertake before its second reading. The working group, she said, would compile answers to their questions in a “fact sheet” to be given to provinces, dioceses and members of General Synod 2019.

In July 2016, a resolution to amend the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages passed its first reading at General Synod. According to the Anglican Church of Canada’s Declaration of Principles, changes to canons dealing with doctrine—such as the marriage canon, for example—must be “referred for consideration to diocesan and provincial synods, following the first approval of the General Synod.”

One question raised by the table group of the province of Canada was whether there was “a mechanism for accountability to ensure that the dioceses and provinces are being faithful to the call to consider the marriage canon amendment”; another asked how the status of their considerations of it was to be shared with the rest of the church.

After discussion of these and other questions, CoGS planning team co-chair Dean Peter Wall asked if the council might later consider a resolution requesting the primate and prolocutor to communicate with their provincial counterparts about discussion of the marriage canon resolution in the provinces.

On Sunday, the resolution was presented by the Rev. David Burrows (province of Canada), with the clause calling for a report-back by November 2018 added. The resolution was further amended to include dioceses as well as provinces, and was then adopted by consensus.

In their provincial table groups on Saturday, November 11, CoGS members put forth a number of questions about the procedure around the marriage canon amendment’s second reading. They asked, for example, whether the resolution could be amended, and what would happen if it is tabled at General Synod 2019.

In response, chancellor David Jones replied that the resolution can be amended, and that such amendments would require a simple majority to be approved (unlike the resolution itself, which will require a two-thirds majority in the three Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity). General Synod could also vote to table the motion, which technically means postponing it to later in the session; however, Jones added, a variant of tabling is to postpone it indefinitely or to the next General Synod. In this case, he said, the resolution would effectively fail, since it needs to be approved by two successive General Synods in order to pass.

Among the other questions posed by CoGS table groups were whether bishops have a right to go ahead with approving same-sex marriage in their dioceses if the resolution fails; whether the voting would be electronic, by paper or by a show of hands; and how the church would deal with those who cannot accept same-sex marriage if the resolution passes.

Saturday’s meeting was one of two at this session of CoGS to focus on the marriage canon amendment. A second meeting on Sunday, also led by McNaughton, was meant to instruct members on how they might carry on “respectful conversation” on the controversial resolution. McNaughton recommended a number of practices, all based on the idea of seeing the goal of conversation as understanding rather than changing another person’s mind. These included mentally separating the person one is talking to from the “problem” at stake; being aware of the interests that underlie people’s positions; knowing and owning one’s own emotions around a debate; and always seeking merit in the other person’s position. Council then watched as two pairs of CoGS members attempted to model these practices, explaining their own points of view, listening to those of their counterparts and then expressing appreciation for those views.

After hearing reports of “bullying” in conversations around the resolution at General Synod in 2016, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, gravely reminded members of synod of the need to show “holy manners” toward one another.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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