Will retire sometime before next October, Nicholls says in wide-ranging talk to CoGS that also touches on Gaza war, division within Anglican Communion
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has yet to decide on an exact retirement date, Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard Nov. 24.
“Given the decision at General Synod regarding the primacy, I’m sure there’s curiosity about the next steps,” Nicholls said in her opening remarks at the first meeting of the 2023-2025 CoGS. “I am discerning the exact date of my retirement. However, I can say that it will be before Oct. 1, 2024.”
At last 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 by her next birthday in October 2024, more than half a year before General Synod 2025.
When she discerns her retirement date, she told CoGS, 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 support 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.”
The church’s bishops, she added, are now preparing to select nominees for primate who will be elected by clergy and laity at General Synod 2025.
Nicholls also spoke on the church’s ongoing work for peace between Israel and Palestine, and how that work had changed with the escalation of conflict that began with attacks by Hamas Oct. 7, followed by a bombing campaign and ground attack by Israel on the Gaza Strip. About a week before the war began, Nicholls, along with the leaders of Canadian Lutheran, United and Presbyterian churches, learned 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 Oct. 7 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.
Welby abstained from voting on the Nov. 15 motion on the grounds that his “pastoral responsibility extends to everyone in the Church of England and global Anglican Communion,” including those parts of it which had expressed objections to same-sex partnerships. Despite his attempts to walk the middle road, some provinces have expressed intentions to separate from the Communion in protest.
Other provinces “recognise that these decisions are made in a particular time and context with careful deliberation, theologically and pastorally” and remain committed to the Communion even if they may disagree, Nicholls added, The Communion’s standing committee, she said, recently said its discussion of an Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) report had emphasized the importance of relationships between provinces in the communion first and formal structures second. IASCUFO is a body tasked with evaluating how the structures of the Communion can balance autonomy for its provinces with unity for the whole.
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.”