General Synod to meet for first time in COVID-19 era

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Published June 1, 2023

Synod will celebrate church’s resilience: Primate

A range of social justice and environmental issues; the church’s aspirations for the future; funding for the Indigenous church; new liturgies; new rules on how the church is governed and more will be up for debate when more than 200 Anglicans from across the country meet this summer for the Anglican Church of Canada’s 43rd General Synod—the synod’s first meeting since the outbreak of COVID-19.

General Synod will take place jointly with a national gathering of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC), its Special Convention, in an event simply called The Assembly. The Assembly, which runs from June 27 to July 2, will be held at the University of Calgary and is built around the theme, “Let there be greening.” The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada will last throughout that time, with the ELCIC Special Convention taking place from June 28 to July 2.

The Assembly marks the second occasion Anglicans and Lutherans have held General Synod and National Convention together since the signing of the Waterloo Declaration in 2001, which established full communion between the two churches.

This summer’s meeting of General Synod will reflect the church’s perseverance through the challenges of recent years, says Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Nicholls described the upcoming General Synod as “gathering the community together… to celebrate with the Lutherans, to celebrate with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP)and to say that despite our fears and uncertainties through COVID and through everything that’s happened over the last few years, the church is still here and God is still with us—and God is still calling us afresh to proclaim good news and hope.”

“I think we’ve proven that we are a resilient church, much more resilient than we thought we would be,” the primate said. “And we will be celebrating that as we gather this summer.”

“It really is quite remarkable how much has happened in growing together” over more than 20 years of full communion, Nicholls said. “The number of shared ministries, the sharing of clergy between our two churches—all of those things are signs of the strength of that relationship.”

Meeting was delayed one year

General Synod is the general meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada at the national level and consists of bishops and members chosen from the clergy and laity. The National Convention plays a similar role for the ELCIC and includes both lay and ordained members.

This summer’s meeting was originally scheduled to take place in 2022, but the Council of General Synod (CoGS)—a smaller group that manages church affairs between meetings of General Synod—voted to delay it a year due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. A four-year gap between meetings is unusual for General Synod, which typically meets every three years. ELCIC, meanwhile, decided to hold its National Convention last summer as originally planned, and is therefore calling its extra gathering this summer a “Special Convention.”

Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs, chair of the General Synod planning committee, said the Anglican Church of Canada commonly determines issues such as doctrine at the General Synod level, along with corporate issues such as finances.

“I think it’s important not to see [General Synod] as a hierarchical body that can make decisions for dioceses, because many of the decisions that affect us in our day-to-day church life are actually decisions of our dioceses, not of General Synod,” Phibbs said.

She called General Synod “a way to bring Anglicans together from across the country to talk about the things that we have in common, to celebrate the gifts that we’ve been given here and to learn from one another.”

General Synod will count some 235 members this year, though the number may decrease slightly if not every diocese sends a youth delegate. Phibbs estimates that more than 150 Lutheran members will also be present for the Assembly and ELCIC Special Convention.

Days will be divided into joint and separate activity, Phibbs said, with Anglicans and Lutherans meeting together to discuss common agenda items and then separately to discuss matters affecting their respective churches.

“General Synod is longer than the Lutheran convention… We have some extra time at the beginning and the end,” Phibbs said. “But otherwise, the goal is to try and make it one [and] as much as possible to do what we can together.”

The cost of General Synod to the national church this year has been budgeted at $791,900. The meeting also yields revenue for the church, and this has been budgeted at $319,000. Accommodation and meal costs for members of General Synod are paid by their dioceses.

Strategic planning, funding for Indigenous church on agenda

General Synod will take place less than a month after the latest meeting of Sacred Circle, which was set to approve the Covenant and Our Way of Life, founding documents of the self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada. Nicholls said she looked forward to celebrating Sacred Circle’s affirmation of these documents, which ACIP would have an opportunity to present to General Synod “not for our decision at all, but simply for us to be able to walk alongside [them] with thanksgiving.”

The primate also anticipated the conclusion of the strategic planning working group (SPWG), which held consultations across the country to develop its five “transformational aspirations.” These aspirations call on the Anglican Church of Canada to become a church that “invites and deepens life in Christ;” “champions the dignity of every human being [and] works to dismantle racism and colonialism;” “embraces mutual interdependence with the Indigenous church (Sacred Circle);” “stewards and renews God’s creation; protects and sustains the earth [and] pursues justice for all”; and “nurtures right relationships among people of faith in local, national and global communities and networks.”

CoGS in March sent a resolution to General Synod for the latter to receive a report SPWG had prepared; to adopt the five transformational aspirations as a guide for planning, prioritizing, resource allocation and collaborating with provinces and dioceses in the 2023-25 biennium; and to direct CoGS to establish an implementation group. Nicholls hoped General Synod would affirm ways the aspirations might coincide with and support diocesan strategic planning.

Along with business items such as finances and pensions, agenda items at General Synod will include reports on governance, dismantling racism—which the primate highlighted as “an important area that we need to pay attention to”—and the Jubilee Commission, tasked with determining how to finance the self-determining Indigenous church.

The Rev. Christopher Brittain, dean of divinity at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College, says he thinks the reports on dismantling racism and the Indigenous church will be particularly noteworthy.The Charter for Racial Justice in the Anglican Church of Canada, passed by General Synod in 2001 as its official anti-racism statement, is regularly read at Trinity College in discussions on racism in the church, Brittain said. But, he added, “We’re pretty aware General Synod passed this and then nothing happened … It’s a very ambitious and important issue to tackle racism in church and in Canadian society, but documents don’t tend to do very much.” He hoped to see General Synod suggest practical steps the dioceses might take for dismantling racism.

Brittain also looked forward to hearing about developments from Sacred Circle. Following the “historic” 2019 vote to back the self-determining Indigenous church at General Synod, Brittain said, he wondered if new tensions might arise as General Synod tackles concrete details such as governance and funding.

The Indigenous church has good reasons to expect further fundraising from the national church, Brittain said. But he noted that “not just at the national church level, but in many dioceses, funding for their own operations is a real challenge. In a time when it feels like financial resources are scarce, any new requests for financial resources may result in some real tensions or frustrations. I’m curious how that will play out.”

Judith Moses, chair of the Jubilee Commission, presented a report to CoGS in March that outlined a proposal for two new Indigenous-governed funds to be established within General Synod financial accounts: the Sacred Circle Fund, which would support annual operations of Sacred Circle and its special initiatives, and the 7th Generation Fund, which would focus on making the Indigenous church sustainable into the future.

The Jubilee Commission has recommended that the primate and National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Chris Harper work with General Synod staff to establish these proposed financial structures as soon as possible. To this end, CoGS passed a resolution to General Synod asking it to extend the Jubilee Commission’s mandate to the end of the 2023-25 biennium.

General Synod will also discuss a range of proposals from its faith, worship and ministry committee including a set of liturgies for gender transition and affirmation; and a prayer for reconciliation with Jews.

Brittain said the 2023 General Synod will be characterized by a “balance between celebration of being together [after delay due to the pandemic] and our resilience—and awareness of looming challenges that await.”

Israel-Palestine among subjects to be discussed by whole Assembly

Joint items affecting Anglicans and Lutherans that will be discussed by the whole Assembly include presentations on Churches Beyond Borders—the four-way ecumenical partnership that includes the Anglican Church of Canada, ELCIC, Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—shared efforts in dismantling racism and working towards peace in Israel-Palestine.

Both the Anglican Church of Canada and ELCIC will also receive and vote on whether to approve the declaration One Flock, One Shepherd: Lutherans, Anglicans, and Moravians – Called to Walk Together in Full Communion. This declaration would recognize full communion relations between the Anglican, Lutheran and Moravian churches in Canada.

To help Anglicans and Lutherans interact and mingle, Phibbs said, each table at joint sessions will include members from both churches. “We want to make sure that the relationships are built because that’s such an important part of what we do,” she said.

Materials for preventing the spread of COVID-19 will be in place for both Anglicans and Lutherans, Phibbs said, including masks, hand sanitizer, and rapid tests if people need them. She noted that “different people have different understandings of their risks” and encouraged those in attendance to be compassionate towards each other, particularly for those with underlying health issues.

“Some people choose to wear masks and that’s their decision,” Phibbs said. “If some people don’t, then that’s also their decision. But [the hope is] that we are always charitable with one another and try to understand that and do what’s best.”

Special guests invited to General Synod include Bishop Anthony Poggo, secretary general of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. As this article was being written, Nicholls acknowledged ongoing challenges for Poggo in navigating immigration channels to visit Canada, but was hopeful that the secretary general would be able to attend.

“He started the visa process several months ago, but the delays are still significant in Canada immigration,” Nicholls said. “We’ll just keep praying.”

All of General Synod and all joint sessions at the Assembly will be livestreamed except for the closing ceremony, which will take place at a separate venue. While General Synod members will attend in person, the ELCIC Convention has opted for a hybrid model, with some Lutheran members attending online and others in person.




  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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