This pastoral letter from the Primate was to be read in congregations, as permitted by the diocesan bishop, Sunday, May 28.
DEAR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST:
I write to share something of this moment in the life of the Anglican Church of Canada. In this troubling time we are faced with litigation so costly as to change radically our structures and our life as a national church. But the time is also profoundly hopeful; God leads us ever deeper into the path of healing and new life.
Simply put: resulting from abuse in the residential schools, there are over 1,600 claims of varying kinds brought against the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. About one hundred cases involve the proven abuse of children, and the perpetrators are in prison. The costs of litigation and settlements for these alone is sufficient to exhaust all the assets of the General Synod and of some dioceses involved.
What does this mean? For the national church, the way we presently carry out our mission will be modified. We are negotiating with the federal government in order to find alternatives to litigation by which we can make a just contribution to compensation. We will know in a few months if an agreement is possible. However, whether or not this is achievable, we will be a very different Church.
Where in this do I discern hope? At the heart of it, we trust God is with us in the choices we face, that we will find new ways to carry out our shared mission and that we will continue to work for healing and reconciliation.
Healing and reconciliation is our first and clearly affirmed goal. Both the Council of General Synod and the House of Bishops gave it the strongest possible support in meetings earlier this month. The legacy of the schools has been deeply wounding. Healing never happens if we ignore the wounds. The first step is truth-telling – recognizing and acknowledging past failures. The Anglican Church of Canada collaborated with the Government of Canada in a policy that brought pain to many individuals and despair in many communities. That injury continues into the present. We have an obligation, and a will born of our desire to be just, to account for past injustice.
Healing also requires being prepared to turn and walk in a different direction. Indeed repentance means “turning around.” The wounds of past prejudices, injustices and broken trust will never be healed unless we “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Ever since the General Synod of 1969 set us in a new direction, aboriginal and non-aboriginal Anglicans have been learning to walk together in a different way. I assure aboriginal brothers and sisters that we will not be deflected from this road. I call each of us to recommit ourselves to that path, so that together we may find the healing Christ offers in his Cross and Resurrection.
I want to assure all Anglicans that what is at risk financially are our assets, not the contributions that provide for the ongoing ministry and mission of the church at parish, diocesan or national levels. Your contributions serve the mission of the church – not the costs of litigation. If our present structures cease to exist, we will find a way for our contributions to continue to serve that work.
How do we continue authentically if the depletion of our assets means we are unable to meet the claims against us? I believe that our greatest asset in the Anglican Church of Canada is our ability to be in relationship, to support and care for each other. This will survive. So will our capacity to worship, to learn, to grow, to serve and to bear witness to Christ. Nothing at the heart of our faith -our desire for wholeness and healing in ourselves, in our relationships, in our country and in our world – is at risk. We have these abundant and enduring assets that will help us continue to do justice and work for healing.
As we move into the future, I ask for your prayers: for the bishops and people of Cariboo and Qu’Appelle dioceses who are most immediately concerned; for members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples who give outstanding leadership, and who bear such love for the whole of the Church; for those whose ministries are given over to witness in the courts. Pray that we may all perceive the need for our own healing.
We read in the gospels how Jesus speaks of things ending – of the heavens and earth in turmoil. In one sense, it is a picture of chaos. But Jesus says that it is more truly to be interpreted as a birth: “…when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28) For many in the church, things are being shaken, and it feels like chaos. But we stand up and raise our heads; God is present and leads us into something new.
When we look up at the evening horizon, we see the sun falling. Turn the other way, and we will see it rise. I believe with all my heart, and with sure confidence, that God is with us both in the falling and in the rising, and that, even in our dying, God will bring us to new life.
Archbishop and Primate