In her opening remarks to the 2023-2025 members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS), Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said she has yet to decide on a retirement date. Nicholls also discussed the church’s continued plans to promote peace and condemn any and all violence in the Holy Land and commented on division and unity in the international Anglican Communion amid disagreement on same-sex marriage.
At this summer’s General Synod, the church’s legislative body voted down a resolution that would have allowed any sitting primate to finish out their term if their 70th birthday fell less than one year before the next General Synod. As a result, Nicholls will be required to retire as of October 2024, more than half a year before the next General Synod in the summer of 2025.
Nicholls confirmed she expected to retire sometime before the mandatory end of her term in October 2024 but did not specify exactly when. When she discerns that date, she said, she will write to the senior metropolitan, currently Archbishop Anne Germond of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, who will consult with the other metropolitans, the prolocutor, deputy prolocutor and others to determine which metropolitan will serve as acting primate from then until the next General Synod.
“I have received many notes, emails, cards and comments of supporters since General Synod for which I’m very grateful,” Nicholls said. “And I trust that the same support will be offered to the acting primate and to the new primate.”
Preparations are now underway in the House of Bishops, she added, to select the nominees for the next permanent primate, who will be elected by the houses of clergy and laity at General Synod 2025.
Nicholls also commented on the church’s ongoing work promoting an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, which began with terror attacks by Hamas Oct. 7 and has been followed by a bombing campaign and ground attack by Israel on the Gaza Strip. About a week before the war began, she, along with the leaders of Canadian Lutheran, United and Presbyterian churches, received word that the federal government had committed to revisiting its policy on Israel-Palestine issues, she said. The church leaders immediately set to work preparing a white paper on the issue and requesting a seat at the table but have heard no announcement on when that policy consideration will take place, Nicholls said.
In light of the new realities, the work that the Anglican and Lutheran governing bodies did this summer to strengthen their calls for peace in the Holy Land, accountability for Israel and the human rights of Palestinians “seems hardly adequate to the current situation,” she said. But at the same time, the churches had received messages arguing that they had not done enough to show their opposition to the actions of Hamas.
“I do want to be crystal clear,” she said, “We think the actions of Hamas on October 7th are horrific and completely unacceptable. The attack on Jewish settlements, the taking of hostages, the brutality and the assaults cannot in any way be excused, condoned, understood. The awakening of fear in the Jewish community that resonates with past atrocities is heartbreaking.”
In response to a question from the floor, Nicholls also said she and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada National Bishop Susan Johnson had received a reply from the prime minister to an open letter they had written to him Oct. 18; but the reply, she said, did not answer the questions they had posed, prompting them to write another reiterating their concerns on Nov. 17.
In the same speech, Nicholls spoke of the results of a decision in the Church of England’s General Synod which will offer blessings for same-sex civil partnerships in that country, noting the twin roles of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
“The discussions have been extremely painful and fraught with difficulty. The Archbishop of Canterbury is in a difficult position as he serves as both the primate of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury for the whole Anglican Communion. And this discussion is controversial in both spheres,” she said.
When the changes passed Nov. 15, Welby signaled his intention to abstain from offering the blessings himself as a nod to his role as a representative of the entire Anglican Communion, including those parts of it which had expressed objections to same-sex partnerships. Despite his attempts to walk the middle road, some members of the Communion have expressed intentions to separate from it in protest.
“Others recognise that these decisions are made in a particular time and context with careful deliberation, theologically and pastorally,” Nicholls added, “And [that] whether we agree or disagree with the decision, we will continue to walk alongside one another in prayer.”
In that context, she noted, Bishop Joey Royal of the diocese of the Arctic is participating in the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO). IASCUFO is an international body tasked with evaluating how the structures of the Communion can balance autonomy for its provinces with unity for the whole. The Anglican Communion’s standing committee, Nicholls said, recently said its discussion of an IASCUFO report had emphasized the importance of relationships between provinces in the communion first and formal structures second. Likewise, the standing committee said it had considered a less onerous standard of shared doctrine between provinces of the Anglican Communion than has existed until now, citing “the attractiveness of loosening the expectation of full communion, the better to accommodate difference, disagreement and debate.”
How much of a change that would be from the current state of affairs remained unclear, considering existing differences between Communion members on issues like same-sex marriage and the ordination of women, said Nicholls.
“The full communion is already in a state of some difference, but I think it’s interesting that they’re talking about that not as a dividing issue … but as a recognition that we can still walk together even if there are some of these differences in each of the relationships.”
CoGS is meeting in Mississauga, Ont. Nov. 23 – Nov. 26.