The church may soon have a new commission tasked with finding potentially “radical solutions” to the demographic and financial challenges that now face it, according to a proposal introduced by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in her opening statement to the Council of General Synod (CoGS) March 2.
Nicholls said a new strategy would be needed for the church to go forward into the post-pandemic world. It will need to respond to challenges including financial pressure “as parishes struggle to sustain full-time or part-time stipendiary ministry and dioceses struggle to meet multiple responsibilities at local, regional and national levels.” The national church, on the other hand, is facing the challenge of supporting ministry in regions where donations do not cover expenses, she said. Meanwhile, statistics show the church’s membership is aging and declining. Cultural shifts in Canadian society and a newly redefined relationship with the Indigenous church, she said, also demand new ideas.
“Every organization needs to ask itself periodically whether the framework for the life of the institution is helping or possibly hindering its professed mission,” she said.
The new committee would therefore be tasked with bringing recommendations to CoGS and to General Synod in 2025 to address these needs. Nicholls said it would be composed of theologians, bishops, clergy and laypeople “with a mandate to listen well and offer creative, lifegiving solutions—even radical solutions.”
A document Nicholls provided to CoGS describes the committee as being made up of 12 members chosen by the primate in consultation with the prolocutor and deputy prolocutor of General Synod. They will be seeking members with expertise in a variety of church-related fields including theology, missions, governance, ecclesiology and Indigenous ministry.
The committee’s mission will be to draw on Anglican Church of Canada and international research as well as consultations with church stakeholders to present its responses to the church’s structural and financial challenges to the 2025 General Synod.
The world and church, the primate told CoGS, have both changed quickly since the last General Synod, in 2019. During the pandemic years, she said, “the world searched for a vaccine and treatments amid rising death tolls; fear and hard, hard work of many frontline caregivers—now exhausted and burnt out. It searched for compassion and community amid loneliness and isolation; and searched for hope—as the cracks in our façade of prosperity showed how quickly it could all crumble and revealed the underbelly of systemic racism and discrimination and resistance to responses for the good of the whole community.”
But God has been faithful to the church, she said; the pandemic years also “showed us the power of God’s love: to hold communities together online—to reach out to ensure vaccines reached the most vulnerable wherever possible; to change our most cherished traditions in order to continue to be church together; to continue to speak up for the powerless; to take next steps in dismantling racism and hold ourselves accountable when we err.”
And in that time the church launched its process of listening to Anglicans across the country to hear their aspirations for the church, she added.
“In it all God has been faithful,” Nicholls said. “We have not been abandoned, but have found the presence of God in new ways—even online and through spiritual communion as we did this morning. We have seen the love of God shared in new ways, and despite our worst fears in 2020 the church survived and in some places thrived. God’s grace has been sufficient for us.”
The primate’s address also detailed her international work over the preceding months, including a trip to Africa for a United Society Partners in Gospel meeting on human trafficking, visits to sites where the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is providing aid and a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).
The passing last month by the Church of England’s General Synod permitting the blessing of same sex unions (but not permitting the performing of same-sex marriages) led to “some tensions” at the ACC, she said, although the overall tenor of the meeting was “of siblings in Christ meeting to address key areas of concern of our calling.”
In the wake of the Church of England’s decision, a conservative grouping of Anglican provinces, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, released a statement (signed by some but not all of its members) announcing that they could no longer walk with provinces that had departed from historic interpretation of Scripture, and that they no longer recognized the authority of Archbishop Justin Welby as “first among equals” among the Anglican Communion’s bishops.
But in fact, Nicholls said, “the Communion remains committed to walking together—some at a great distance, others working more closely together.
“The Communion has not split.”
She said she had joined another statement a group of primates have sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury stating their willingness to “remain at the table” for ongoing participation in the Communion despite their disagreements.
Later this year, she said, she and Bishop Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, will follow up on their trip to the Holy Land with a visit to Ottawa with other Canadian faith leaders, there to discuss the “deteriorating situation” of Palestinian Christians in Gaza and the West Bank, to meet government officials and to take part in a public forum.