Council of General Synod (CoGS) has stressed that delegates to the 2016 General Synod need space, time and appropriate preparation in order to keep discussions around same-sex marriage from becoming antagonistic.
“The use of an indaba process or a Sacred Circle type of process is going to create a climate of respect,” said Don Wilson of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia. “There is a view of some that the revisionists are heretical and the traditionalists are stuck in the past, and if we can get beyond that and into a kind of respect, it could smooth things out.” (Indaba is a Zulu word for decision-making by consensus. The Indigenous Sacred Circle often involves the process of talking circles.)
Though the resolution that brought the issue before General Synod ultimately requires delegates to give either a “yes” or a “no,” CoGS has vowed to make the conversation leading up to that vote as non-adversarial as possible.
A working group was set up by the council in September, following an intensive meeting to receive the commission’s report on the marriage canon, to bring suggestions before the General Synod planning committee. Its chair, Bishop John Chapman of the diocese of Ottawa, said while it is “ultimately [the planning committee’s] decision how General Synod will manage, [what] process they will engage…around the process of the marriage canon,” he hopes the working group will be able to offer some helpful suggestions.
The group has already met once via teleconference, Chapman said, and it agreed the best place to start would be with the council itself. Chapman said he hoped it would be able to “provide us with some helpful feedback, which we will then take to our next meeting.”
Discussing what processes they had found helpful in past discussions, how they imagined the process around the marriage canon unfolding at General Synod and what they thought members would need to aid conversations and discernment, CoGS members made several recommendations to the working group.
“There was an express need for real material that would educate people about particular things, like how the rules of the floor work, and what it needs to take, what percentages need to happen,” said the Rev. Karen Egan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada, who is a member of the working group. “And other things, like a really clear explanation of all of the business around conscience clauses.”
Egan said the CoGS members she spoke with felt it would be better if this education could happen “prior to anybody arriving in Toronto.”
Another member of the working group, the Rev. Norm Wesley of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, said next year will be his first time at a General Synod; he suggested that for those who are, like himself, unfamiliar with the process, it might be helpful to have a “coaching and mentoring system” whereby more seasoned delegates show new ones the ropes.
Jennifer Warren, of the ecclesiastical province of Canada, said it would be important for the discussions at General Synod not to take place all at once. “It is something that is going to need to have a couple of significant time chunks spaced out, so that the conversation happens early, and then another opportunity for conversation before it actually gets to the vote,” she said.
Bishop Linda Nicholls of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, a member of the commission on the marriage canon and a member of the working group, agreed, but suggested it might be best if the vote were not “the last resolution before everybody gets on a plane…to go home.”
Nicholls also noted that some time needs to be spent dealing with “the challenge it will be to hear Indigenous voices in the middle of this conversation.” Although she was heartened to hear that attempts are being made to provide translation, she reiterated her concern that Indigenous perspectives might easily get lost.
The working group will meet again in January, at which time it will go over the ideas gleaned from CoGS and prepare some suggestions for the planning committee to present to the next CoGS meeting in March.