The June edition of the Anglican Journal traditionally marks the close of the publication year and presages a couple of summer months when things slow down at Church House, staff take holidays, the hours are shorter and the pace more relaxed.
Except in a General Synod year, which this is. The 36th session of General Synod will convene this summer, July 4 to 11 in Waterloo, Ont., for what promises to be a seminal moment in the life of the church. Our theme is “Towards Healing, Reconciliation and the New Life.” We hope and pray that progress may be made in each of these components.
The past five editions of the Journal and two of MinistryMatters have attempted to look ahead to this General Synod through the eyes of organizers and staff, people most closely associated with some of the central themes through the work they do. We have examined the context of General Synod and looked at key issues from a proposal that would bring Anglicans to full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, to, in this edition, how the story of General Synod will be told to church members and to the world.
However, unlike most General Synods which can become predictable events through a careful canvassing of key members and staff people, this particular gathering has more about it that is imponderable.
Never before has the future of the Anglican Church of Canada depended to such an extent on institutions and tribunals that have nothing inherently to do with the church. Never before have opportunities for leadership been so effectively stripped away from our leaders, nor have rank-and-file General Synod members been, to such an extent, denied much control over what the inaugural years of the new millennium will look like for the church. It must be quite an experience for people like the treasurer, the general secretary and the primate, to ponder how to provide leadership and direction with hands securely fastened behind their backs by lawyers and judges. It must be quite a challenge to be considering strategy and the future, when the things that make up the future are no longer in the church’s hands.
For not in parish vestries nor diocesan centers nor even here in the General Synod offices is the future of the Anglican Church of Canada being decided this year, but rather in political corridors of power in Ottawa and in the chambers and courtrooms of jurists pretty well across the country. Negotiations with the federal government over a settlement to residential schools lawsuits continue, even as the lawsuits themselves continue, sapping the financial resources of all the churches so embroiled. It may well be that by the time General Synod meets in July decisions will have been made and courses chosen that tie even the hands of the 300 or so delegates who will convene as the church’s highest governing body in Waterloo.
General Synod is many things, including a celebration of two aspects of this church that are fundamental in making us what we are. First, General Synod is a public event, with views and concerns publicly aired and with decisions openly arrived at. General Synod celebrates the openness and transparency of the church, something that carries it through bad times as well as good. Regardless of the outcome of the residential schools lawsuits story, the way this church faced up to one of the greatest challenges in its history and the way in which it acknowledged its historical role and sought to make spiritual and material amends, these things will forever reflect to its credit.
As Francie Healy wrote in the diocesan newspaper of Ontario in an editorial subsequently reprinted in MinistryMatters: “We will hurt and we will change, but we will have been part of a church that told the truth. History is in the making. We may or may not like its outcome, but at least we’ll know we didn’t hide.”
The other aspect of this church, which a gathering such as General Synod ennobles, is the way in which the things we do are grounded in the efforts and time of a large number of committed volunteers.
Lay members of General Synod especially give of themselves and of their time to an extent to which few similarly scaled organizations can boast. They do so not only through the nine days or so that General Synod lasts, but many of them through selfless, time-consuming and frequently frustrating service on the boards and committees that General Synod appoints to oversee the work that it commissions and mandates in the three years between formal meetings. The involvement of volunteers in the life of the church is something we ought to be both proud of and thankful for.
The close of a publication year for the Anglican Journal, on this, the eve of the 36th General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, is a good time to acknowledge the corps of volunteers who have helped the church do its work in the trimester just ending, on councils, boards or committees.
The trimester has been, in many ways, an exceedingly difficult and thankless time for the church’s volunteers to be so committed and so dedicated. They have guided the work of the church through cutbacks and staff layoffs, and through difficult decision after difficult decision, and yet their commitment and zeal have not flagged. The church owes these men and women a great deal more than can ever be conveyed by printed words on the page of a newspaper. They are the very soul of what we are.