Primate tells General Synod she will decide on retirement date after rest and reflection

Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, seen here leading Anglicans and Lutheran delegates in prayer at Assembly 2023, says she will welcome a period of rest and freedom from the responsibilities of leadership Photo: Jim Tubman
Published July 18, 2023

In the wake of two votes against a resolution that would have extended her term, Archbishop Linda Nicholls told General Synod she would decide when she would retire after taking time to rest and reflect.

“This is my first and last General Synod as your primate,” Nicholls told the gathering in closing remarks July 2. “Thank you for the privilege of serving in this office.

“I am of course disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to see the work of this General Synod completed and brought to General Synod 2025,” she said with visible emotion. “Synod has spoken—or at least the Order of Bishops has spoken—on that possibility.

“I now have clarity with which to discern when I will retire—a decision I will make when I’m rested, and have had time for reflection and retreat.”

The failed resolution—which General Synod voted down June 29, re-opened for discussion on June 30 and vote down again—would have extended primatial terms to the following General Synod when it falls within a year of the primate turning 70. The vote required a two-thirds majority in each of the three orders of bishops, laity and clergy, but failed to reach that threshold in the Order of Bishops. After the votes, Nicholls told the Journal that she now has the option to work all the way up to her 70th birthday in October 2024 or to step down at any point before then.

“After almost 38 years of ordained ministry in two dioceses and two stints in the national office, I will enjoy the freedom to explore other avenues of ministry and return to some that I have deeply enjoyed in the past,” Nicholls told General Synod.

“As primate, I have been so richly blessed by the people I have met and the places of ministry I have visited and the rich expressions of the gospel in action I have seen. But the personal cost of this leadership has been very high.”

She expressed deep gratitude for support she had received as primate in the four years she held the office and “especially here at this General Synod.”

“Thank you for the notes, the hugs, the emails, the cards and gifts that have been a much-needed sign of encouragement in the dark times of these four years.”

Highlights of Assembly 2023

Summing up General Synod, Nicholls said that “any General Synod is an exhausting, intense experience of the joys and frustrations of the life of our church.” By meeting alongside the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for Assembly 2023, the latest General Synod “included the rich opportunity to gather with our Lutheran full communion partners … to celebrate and explore more possibilities for shared ministry.”

National Bishop Susan Johnson (left) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada walks together with the primate at the closing Eucharist. Photo: Jim Tubman

Among highlights of the gathering, Nicholls cited opening worship led by National Indigenous Archbishop Chris Harper; hearing voices from the Arctic and of Indigenous people, including stories of isolation and the struggles of remote communities; and commitments made to strategic planning. She spoke about conversations over meals between Anglicans and Lutherans from across Canada, and the previous night’s round dance that followed the report from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples.

The primate reminded members of General Synod that their work did not end after the meeting, but that they remained members until the next session of General Synod is called.

“Now the work that is ours must be taken back into our dioceses and parishes so that the motions passed do not just become words in the archives,” Nicholls said. Rather, General Synod members upon returning to their communities must “work to tell the rest of the church about our shared commitments and values.” General Synod staff members, she added, would soon review all resolutions passed in light of commitments made to the church’s new strategic plan.

As General Synod members return to ministry in their communities and parishes, Nicholls said, “Wherever I am, I will watch with interest and deep prayer, as the work begun here finds its roots in our church—and as the young leaders I am seeing emerge take their place in the life of our church and its governance.”

Following Nicholls’s retirement from the primatial office, the most senior metropolitan by election in the ecclesiastical provinces will serve as acting primate if willing and able, until a new primate is elected at the next General Synod.

Preaching fund set up to honour departing chancellor

The primate followed her own remarks with a tribute to Chancellor Canon (lay) David Jones, who will be stepping down after 12 years in that position. The chancellor is a member of General Synod who serves as legal advisor to the primate in the latter’s capacity as president of General Synod and chairperson of Council of General Synod (CoGS).

Nicholls announced the creation of a new fund, to be named the David P. Jones Preaching Fund, in partnership with the Anglican Foundation of Canada to honour the outgoing chancellor.

“I asked David what were his passions and vision and dreams for the church,” she recalled. “He said to me, one of those dreams is for excellence in preaching.”

Nicholls and Chancellor Canon (lay) David Jones embrace following the primate’s announcement of the David P. Jones Preaching Fund. Photo: Jim Tubman

The preaching fund is designed, Nicholls said, to “provide, over the next few years, bursaries to individuals to assist clergy and lay ministers to deepen their excellence in preaching, or possibly to a diocese who needs some resources towards a preaching conference.” The fund has been seeded with donations from chancellors, dioceses and individuals from across Canada, the primate added, and further contributions could be sent to the Anglican Foundation of Canada.

“David, with these gifts come our deepest gratitude for your ministry as a chancellor, as a mentor for new chancellors, as a wise confidant of primates and bishops and a gentle hand at the tiller of navigating the needs of many General Synod gatherings,” Nicholls said.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Chancellor George Cadman of the diocese of New Westminster praised Jones in pre-recorded messages to General Synod. Hiltz credited Jones’s “amazing knowledge” of the church constitution, canons, and rules of order and procedure for keeping the work of General Synod and CoGS on track. He also cited Jones’s guiding role in drafting the canon on Indigenous Ministry.

Vice Chancellor Clare Burns also spoke about Jones’s contributions. Among his legacy, she said, “David personally advanced the position of women in the Anglican Church in Canada” by encouraging women across the country to become chancellors and vice chancellors.

In response, Jones said, “I’ve been very privileged and I’m very humbled to have been called—and each of us is called in our own way to use our own gifts to the glory of God and of the church and of our communities.” The church, he added, is in “extraordinarily good hands” with Burns as vice chancellor.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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