Primate urges church to gentleness, perseverance in difficult times
In her address to the November meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS), Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, urged Anglicans to be gentle with one another as they face a time marked by challenges including the stress and exhaustion of keeping the church going through an ongoing pandemic and growing financial insecurity in some dioceses.
“We need perseverance,” she said, quoting Hebrews 12, which calls Christians to take courage and inspiration from the saints who went before them and from Jesus Christ. “The race is not over, but we have the witness of Scripture that God is with us and that there is a future and there is a hope to which we are called. So may we encourage another with that hope, may we be gentle with one another in the anxiety, the fear and the exhaustion.”
She described the past seven months since the previous meeting of CoGS as a “roller coaster” of significant events, some of which had been cause for joy and others for deep pain. Among the latter, she said, was the resignation of former National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald after admitting sexual misconduct—an event she said had caused much shock and sorrow, especially in the Indigenous church.
“We long for our leaders to live into the purity and righteousness of the gospel. And when in their humanity that is not always possible, it can be a great source of despair,” she said.
And though this challenging stretch caps off over two years of lockdowns and mask mandates stress, Nicholls said it was important not to forget that the pandemic is still ongoing, requiring both compassion for those who continue to be vulnerable to infection and for those affected by its financial and emotional stress. In particular, she said, she had been hearing a pattern of burnout among the bishops and clergy in many dioceses.
“I am also hearing of the profound exhaustion of many clergy and bishops. During a time of high anxiety and constant change, adrenaline and focus have kept many working very, very hard. And now that some return to a more normal pattern … the exhaustion of that emotional, spiritual and physical roller coaster is being felt,” said Nicholls. Particularly concerning, she said, was a spiritual poll by Bishop Larry Kochendorfer of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in which his respondents reported that they were struggling to name where they found hope.
Offering her own advice on where to find that hope, Nicholls encouraged CoGS attendees to compare the church’s recent difficulties to the struggles of God’s people in biblical history, keeping in mind the big picture, even if solutions seem slow in coming.
“Remember that in the midst of the Exodus and the exile and the personal struggles, it often required years of perseverance and faithfulness before they reached the end.”
In some places, important work has already begun, she said—for example in dioceses’ implementation of the five transformational aspirations, statements designed to guide the development of the changing church which its strategic planning group debuted at March’s CoGS meeting. Nicholls said she had seen encouraging progress in the ways dioceses have been including the aspirations in their planning for the future. She also said she had found several opportunities to recommend dioceses to look to the successful methods of others elsewhere in the country—not to imitate them, but so they could exchange inspiration on how to apply the calls to their mission in their local context.
There has also been progress, she said, in the creation of new policies to cement the boundaries between the roles of senior management and editorial staff in the Anglican Journal—part of an effort to prevent the recurrence of incidents like the leak of information about survivors meant to be anonymous in an Epiphanies article on sexual misconduct.
Since that incident and MacDonald’s sexual misconduct came to light, Nicholls said, the church has undertaken several methods to become one where “harassment or abuse cannot find a home.” These, she said, included the organization of several meetings throughout the year for church leaders to begin retooling the church’s processes for handling complaints of misconduct and a visit to Canada by Mandy Marshall, director for Gender Justice at the Anglican Communion office. Marshall toured Canada and delivered several seminars on power and identity and trauma-informed care and response, including one on Nov. 11 to CoGS itself.
The primate also dedicated a significant segment of her address to discussing the opportunities the Canadian House of Bishops had to meet and worship with other bishops from across the Anglican Communion, hear global concerns and share Canadian perspectives at last summer’s Lambeth conference. She said she attended the installation of Archbishop Anthony Poggo as the new secretary general of the Anglican Communion, after which he accepted her invitation to join the Anglican Church of Canada for General Synod next summer.
CoGS met in Mississauga, Ont. Nov. 11-13.