General Synod has elected a member of the strategic planning working group (SPWG) as its new prolocutor and the chair of the General Synod planning committee as its new deputy prolocutor.
Canon (lay) Ian Alexander was voted prolocutor June 30 and Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs deputy prolocutor later the same day.
Next to the primate, who acts as president, the prolocutor is the most senior officer of General Synod. They are tasked with aiding the primate in the administration of General Synod meetings and affairs, chairing meetings when the primate is not present. The deputy prolocutor may perform any of the same functions at the prolocutor’s request. During primatial elections, the two serve as the chairs of the orders of clergy and laity, and as such must each come from a different one of those two orders.
In a self-profile submitted to describe himself to the General Synod, Alexander describes himself as a cradle Anglican and an active member of Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria. He is a lay canon in the diocese of Islands and Inlets (also known as the diocese of British Columbia), where he has served on several diocesan committees.
At the national level, he has served as a member of the Council of General Synod and a member and frequent spokesperson of the SPWG, where he played a key role in the drafting of the five transformational aspirations.
Alexander holds a doctorate in English literature and worked for the CBC for 25 years, in positions ranging from an on-air host to chief of staff, English services.
Shortly after the session in which he was elected prolocutor, Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson of the diocese of Montreal told the Journal she saw Alexander as “the voice of calm and sober second thought” and said he had shown himself to be a gracious leader throughout his work on the transformational aspirations.
Speaking to the Journal, Alexander said it was “a great privilege and a considerable responsibility to have been asked by Synod to take on this role.”
He said the church was facing existential and organizational challenges which would need to be handled carefully, including the upcoming retirement of the primate, archbishop Linda Nicholls, who will be required to leave office several months before the next General Synod in 2025. One goal of his for his time as prolocutor is to provide continuity during that time, he said.
“It’s a bit of a paradox because my belief is that we’re going to need to have continuity over these two years, but we’re also going to need to be going through a period of considerable change—both the kind of transformative change that the work we were doing with the strategic planning working group was pointing towards, but also probably some pretty fundamental institutional and structural and operational change as well,” he said.
Alexander also acknowledged there were deep divisions in the church and said one area of ongoing work will be to work through those issues. For an example, he looked to that morning’s gospel reading.
“Paul in prison in Rome writes to Ephesus and says, ‘I know you have many differences between you, but I beg you to work hard to find ways to be unified, to be patient, to be humble, to listen. Because at the end of the day, there is only one God and that God is over all and over all diversity’.” Alexander said. “So we need to find ways … to have unity with diversity and to disagree lovingly.”
Phibbs, meanwhile, is a member of the order of clergy and an executive archdeacon in the diocese of Huron. She is the honourary clerical secretary for the ecclesiastical province of Ontario and a member of the Ontario Provincial Commission on Theological Education. Phibbs chaired the General Synod 2023 planning committee and the 2023 agenda committee; she was also a member of the 2023 Assembly planning committee. She began her career in the clergy as an assistant curate at St. Jude’s Anglican Church, London while she was still working at a pharmacy the rest of the time and worked her way up through positions as a priest in various parishes. She holds a master’s of divinity from Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario.
Speaking with the Journal the afternoon after the vote, Phibbs also expressed her gratitude for the trust General Synod had placed in her.
“I’m honoured by the trust that Synod has placed in me to do this role. I look forward to meeting more folks who are part of Synod, especially the folks who will be part of COGS working with them and with the national staff.”
Then, without having heard any of Alexander’s comments, Phibbs also brought up that day’s gospel reading as an example of how to consider the issues of doctrinal and social differences within the church.
“One of the things that gives me great hope is that 2000 years ago, they still weren’t getting it right, and yet the church has survived because God, thankfully, is much stronger than all our human weaknesses and our frailties and our conflicts and our dislike,” she said. “The Anglican church has always been a big tent … It’d be much easier to be very narrow, either narrow conservative, narrow liberal, narrow whatever, but that’s not what we’re called to do. So I believe there’s hope because it’s God’s church, not ours.”