Richmond Hill, Ont.
In his opening address to the 41st General Synod, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, gave members a whirlwind tour through the work the church is doing to support social, ecological and climate justice both domestically and internationally.
Over the course of 50 minutes, Hiltz cited examples of the church’s local and national engagement in fighting homelessness, welcoming refugees, working toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and raising funds for victims of wildfires in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He also spoke of the international work Anglicans are doing to combat human trafficking, domestic violence, climate change and religiously motivated violence.
“These are real life and death issues in our world and they demand our Church’s attention,” he said. “Don’t tell me that those are simply a set of political goals.* They are goals that we can see as people of the Word.”
Hiltz began his address with a reference to the synod’s theme, “You are my witnesses,” taken from Isaiah 43:10, noting that it is a call echoed by Jesus when he sends his apostles out into the world in the Book of Acts.
“This call is both inviting and instructive,” Hiltz said. “Inherent in it is our obedience to Christ, and his charge that we bear witness to his love, a love so generous as to be extravagant, a love so gracious as to be radically inclusive, a love so sacrificial as to spend itself on the cross, a love so splendid as to reveal itself in Resurrection and in making all things new.”
Most of Hiltz’s address flowed from this understanding of divine love as being fundamentally outward-focused, giving brief overviews of the church’s work following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into Indian residential schools, the refugee crisis and the rising tide of poverty and homelessness in Canada. But he also acknowledged that for many, the most pressing business of the synod is a domestic matter that has loomed large over the church for a decade: whether or not LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) Anglicans can have their marriages solemnized by the church.
“For many throughout our church, the issue of this synod is the proposed amendment to the marriage canon,” said Hiltz, referring to the vote that will take place later this week on whether or not to allow the marriage of same-sex couples.
While Hiltz recognized that “much is at stake” in the deliberations leading up to the vote, including questions related to biblical authority, the Christian tradition and how doctrine is defined, he cautioned the gathering to remember that this decision will also have a major impact on the spiritual lives of some in the church.
“I want to make an appeal to Synod that…we be especially and gently mindful of all those whose lives and loves and longings we are discussing-all those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning,” he said.
He encouraged the synod-many of whose members are deeply divided on the issue-to participate in “good disagreement” that does not “dismiss, despise, or demonize” those with different opinions.
“The companion absolutely necessary to clarity in this matter before Synod is charity, charity one toward another.”
Hiltz also alluded to one of the great anxieties that has fuelled the debate over marriage in the lead-up to General Synod: the question of whether or not a decision to change the marriage canon would cause an even greater rupture than the one that happened following the adoption by some dioceses of same-sex blessings in the early 2000s.
“Let us never ever get to a point in this Synod or in this church when we allow ourselves to say to one another ‘I have no need of you,’ “* he said, reaffirming St. Paul the apostle’s call to make all efforts to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bonds of Christ.”
The address ended by coming full circle, to face the external issues of human trafficking, climate change and religiously motivated violence and an overview of how the Canadian church is playing a part alongside the other 77 million members of the Anglican Communion to fight these global issues.
Quoting Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s presidential address to the Anglican Consultative Council’s meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, earlier this year, Hiltz called on the church to move beyond its walls.
“I want us to look outward and forward because in the end we are not here for ourselves, not for making Anglicans better, but for seeking to serve the work and mission of God in the world,” he said.
* These quotes were not included in the text of the primatial address, but were said in the session itself.