This special supplement to the Anglican Journal, jointly produced by the newspaper and General Synod Communications, is meant as a tool to answer these questions. It is an introduction, or primer, to General Synod, what it is – (actually all of the above) – and how it matters to you. Solange De Santis
Some churches call their national gatherings a convention, or an assembly, or a convocation. Some call their central offices a church center or a national office. Not Canadian Anglicans. We call our national gatherings and our national staff by the same name – General Synod.
General Synod – the gathering and the staff – is the national expression of the Anglican Church of Canada: It is a time and a place where 686,000 Anglicans in 30 dioceses send representatives to meet, pray, interact, decide policies and determine how to carry out those policies. And it is also the staff that implements those policies and carries out the church’s ministry in your name.
But oh, that name.
“It is confusing! And a lot of people can’t pronounce it. They call it sigh-nod,” says Jim Cullen, chief financial officer of General Synod. (For the record, it’s pronounced sin-id.)
Anglicans gather in General Synod every three years (in the 1960s and 1970s, the meetings were held every two years) with about 400 members attending. The convention is moved around the country; next year, General Synod will take place May 28 to June 4 in St. Catharines, Ont. in the diocese of Niagara.
The first General Synod was in Toronto in 1893. Various diocesan and provincial synods had been held previously, but it was thought that the church needed a national body with “supreme authority in all legislative and administrative matters of general importance to the church in British North America,” according to a report from a preparatory conference in 1890.
Among the major concerns of that first synod were church teaching and discipline, missionary work, clergy education and pensions, relationships with other churches and social concerns.
Issues before General Synod next year will be remarkably similar, along with: the church’s relationship with native Anglicans now that a residential schools agreement has been signed, the role of gay Anglicans and whether gay relationships may be blessed, a new strategic plan, and relations with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada since a full communion agreement was signed at the 2001 General Synod.
General Synod 2004 will also elect a new primate, since Archbishop Michael Peers, who will have served for 18 years, will reach the retirement age of 70.
The General Synod gathering is an intense experience, filled with debate, presentations, speeches, study, breakout meetings, resolutions, votes, social times and worship.
Once General Synod – the meeting – has made a decision or set a policy, General Synod – the staff – comes into play.
About 80 people who make up the national staff work in a nondescript, three-story building at 600 Jarvis St. in Toronto. This is the business side of the church and the place where the nuts and bolts of its ministry come together.
Church House is home to eight General Synod departments: the Primate’s office; the office of the General Secretary; Faith, Worship and Ministry; Communications and Information Resources; Partnerships; Financial Management and Development, Pensions, as well as the separately incorporated Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. The Anglican Foundation, another separate corporation, also has offices at 600 Jarvis. And the building also includes the Anglican Book Centre, the pre-eminent outlet in the country for the sale of religious books and articles.
Together, General Synod departments administer the national pension plan for clergy and lay workers, produce the Anglican Journal and MinistryMatters, manage the national office finances, run the Anglican Book Centre, advise on matters of doctrine and worship, oversee human resources, maintain ecumenical relationships, manage partnerships with indigenous Anglicans in Canada and Anglican churches overseas.
As primate, Archbishop Michael Peers represents the Anglican Church of Canada nationally and internationally.
The general secretary, Jim Boyles, has in recent years found the native residential schools issue occupying much of his time. Archdeacon Boyles also oversees the human resources function for General Synod staff and his office co-ordinates the planning of the triennial General Synod meetings – a complex logistical exercise.
Each of the departments reports to a committee of General Synod. Committees meet twice a year to consider policy, hear progress reports and approve budgets. The committees are made up of volunteers – people elected to their position by General Synod or, in some cases, appointed by the primate. Care is taken in the election of committee members to ensure that the demographics of the church are represented.
The committees, in turn, report to the Council of General Synod, the body that governs the church during the years when General Synod itself does not meet.
Essentially, General Synod – the structure – is a democratic organization founded on the grassroots participation of Anglicans from across the country – people who put money in the collection plate every Sunday and who own the many ministries sketched out by General Synod – the meeting – and implemented by General Synod – the staff.