CoGS focuses on constructive role in marriage canon debate

CoGS members discuss what their role might as the Anglican Church of Canada prepares for some difficult discussions about proposed changes to the marriage canon. Photo: Leigh Anne Willliams
CoGS members discuss what their role might as the Anglican Church of Canada prepares for some difficult discussions about proposed changes to the marriage canon. Photo: Leigh Anne Willliams
Published November 16, 2014

Mississauga, Ont.
Members of Council of General Synod (CoGS) meeting here Nov. 15 were asked to consider what role they might have as the Anglican Church of Canada begins to prepare to discuss the contentious issue of proposed changes to the marriage canon that would allow for same-sex marriages.

Facilitator and CoGS member the Rev. Karen Egan offered them two resources to fuel their thoughts and conversations-one very modern and one ancient.

First, they watched a video on YouTube from a TEDtalks presentation in which author and co-founder of Harvard’s program on negotiation, William Ury, suggested a key ingredient for dealing with their differences and conflict.

After almost four decades of work in conflicts such as the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and Chechnya, “I think I’ve found in some ways, what is the secret to peace,” he said. “It’s actually surprisingly simple. It’s not easy, but it is simple. It’s not even new. …The secret to peace is us. It is us who act as a surrounding community around any conflict who can play a constructive role.”

Ury offered up an example of the way he had observed the Saan people in South Africa handle conflict. “Whenever tempers rise in those communities, someone goes and hides the poisoned arrows [used by all the men for hunting] out in the bush and then everyone sits around in a circle and they sit and they talk, and they take two days, three days, four days, but they don’t rest until they find a resolution or better yet a reconciliation,” he said. “And if tempers are still too high, then they send someone off to visit some relatives as a cooling off period.” That system, he added, is probably one “that kept us alive to this point given our human tendencies. That system, I call the third side.”

Aside from the two parties involved in any conflict, he said, there is always a “third side…. It is the surrounding communities, it’s the friends, the allies, the family members, the neighbours.” That side, he said, can play a very constructive role. “Perhaps the most fundamental way in which the third side can help is to remind the parties of what’s really at stake – for the sake of the kids, for the sake of the family, for the sake of the community, the sake of the future, let’s stop fighting for a moment and start talking.”

The second part of CoGS’ study centered on Acts 2: 1- 18, the Pentecost story of the Holy Spirit enabling Jesus’s disciples to suddenly speak in many languages as a foundational story for the church.

CoGS members discussed both of these topics in small groups and then a representative of each table told the whole gathering about what stood out for them, particularly in relation to the role they each could play as the church prepares to discuss the possibility of amending the marriage canon.

“We talked a lot about the analogy of hiding the poison arrows,” said Tony Teare, a lay member from the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land. “What a great way to start a conversation, get rid of the arrows.”

Bishop John Chapman of the diocese of Ottawa and a CoGS member for the province of Ontario said that there was some consensus among those at his table that CoGS members, as church leaders are obligated to be “third-siders…That was a powerful awareness for us to realize that we don’t have the choice or the luxury of picking a side. Not as long as we’re in this role.”

Chapman also mentioned that his group had wondered if “third-siders” need to know both sides of the argument thoroughly, and Jennifer Warren, a lay member from the province of Canada, said her group had also discussed that but concluded that “You need to be familiar with the arguments but it is more about knowing the people and seeing them as faithful people.”

Dean Peter Wall, also from the province Ontario, said members of his group had “some discomfort with the notion of being the third side.” But they concluded that “maybe the way we that we can be the third side is by being a circle who listen to the elders amongst us, and [a circle that] listens, and listens and is transformed.”

Focusing on the reading from Acts, the Rev. Marc Torchinsky from the military ordinariate, said the points that stood out for his group was that the disciples weren’t scattered. “They were gathered together, all were filled with the spirit,…there was a miraculous display of unity.”

Editor’s note: A reference from William Ury’s lecture to the Saan people of South Africa has been corrected in this story.



  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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