Reflections at the end of a most tumultuous year

Published December 1, 2000

THE YEAR’S last month is ever the most perplexing. What to make of this gift of dismal weather and awesome joy? Of long, dark, endless nights and sparkling music. Of gaiety and companionship to those with companions and of despairing loneliness, all too often, for those without. Of reverie and of fear. When we ponder or bask in the joy and closeness of Christmas, it is worth remembering that this season of good cheer is also the season with the highest suicide rates. When we smell the food from the kitchen from a cozy chair by a crackling fireplace, it is worth remembering those who are homeless, hungry, and whose lives perforce are spent in the cold Canadian outdoors. Such things are trite to speak, and yet they are worth speaking. They are worth remembering with each passing year.

Like cold, dark Canadian winter evenings, year-ends ever seem an appropriate time for reflection. It is a time to ask questions, even when we haven’t an inkling as to answers. It is a time for positing possibilities even in utter ignorance of what will be possible tomorrow. It is a time to dream even as our fears keep us awake nights.

Certainly, it has been a tumultuous year in the life of General Synod, and oddly, the heartbreak we experienced seems somehow, today, reflected in the world at large. It’s odd to begin a year with an utmost sense of uncertainty as to whether or not we shall still be here to offer similar reflections a year hence.

Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the general secretary of General Synod, has said on several occasions, that barring a breakthrough resolution of the residential schools crisis that afflicts this church, among others, General Synod will run out of money some time this year.

This is a fairly clear, fairly distinct conclusion to the journey we began as a church more than a century ago, when we entered into an ill-fated, now repudiated deal with the federal government to help run a number of schools designed to implement an ill-fated, now repudiated social policy, the assimilation of Canada’s native people.

Now, the journey, one way or another nears, if not an end, a significant turning point.

Elsewhere in this issue of the Anglican Journal, one of the nation’s senior politicians is quoted as saying that the federal government neither wishes nor intends to let the country’s major mainline churches go bankrupt. This is heartening, despite the temptation to dismiss the statement as politically expedient. What else, once asked the question, could he possibly say? When, after all, one puts aside, for the sake of a secular discussion, the churches’ real concerns with the real issues of healing and reconciliation and simply forging ahead in the world with a face they can still countenance, one is left with a fairly simple question of public policy.

Is it, the government’s wishes and intentions notwithstanding, sound public policy for a mixed up collection of legal, moral and political processes to lead to the dissolution of major national church bodies? Is this the public weal? Is it what the people want? One is tempted to shout out a negative reply, and yet, if one does so, the ensuing questions trouble. Why not? What difference would it make?

No one can answer. At the Anglican church, all crystal ball gazing to date, it seems, has been coldly pragmatic. What, after the death of General Synod, shall the Anglican community look like? How shall the dioceses best be served? What shall remain of national staff and what shall they do? What will happen to this newspaper? What will become of assets? No one knows, and scenarios, when they issue at all, have a never-never land aura about them. It is hard to posit a future for which there is no precedent. It is hard to contemplate a tomorrow no one wants.

And yet …

These are merely this year’s questions. What next year-end’s reflection will be, no one knows and the only certainty in all this perhaps, is that those who attempt a definition of the world and the church a hear hence are inexorably doomed to look foolish.

Odd, after all, it is to think back to last December and marvel at how our obsessions then have become our smiles today, if they are remembered at all. A year ago, lest we forget, we were enthralled and terrified of this computer bug that none of us understood, and yet so convinced were we that the world as we knew it was in grave peril, that the Canadian Mint printed extra money and bottled water sold out to people afraid that computer malfunctions would make the taps run dry. Y2K whimpered, its most lasting effect no doubt the engorged pockets of unnumbered consultants bred for just this crisis.

Crises come and go, each with its tinge of apocalypticism, each with a degree of hope, each with a hint of inherent despair.

And we go on.


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