Music is an important part of worship at General Synod.
There are certain constants whenever General Synod, the governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada, meets every three years, said some church leaders who have previously attended many such gatherings.
For Sue Moxley, suffragan bishop of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, General Synod is always “about the people, this amazing diversity of people who come from all over the country.” It is also, she said, a time for great music.
“It is a time for legislation, so there’s always some decision that needs to be made,” said Dean Peter Elliott, who was elected prolocutor, the second highest office in the national church, at the last General Synod in 2004. His term comes to an end at the upcoming General Synod scheduled June 19-25 in Winnipeg, the see city of the diocese of Rupert’s Land. “It’s a time for celebration, to be together with people from across the country. And it’s time for education as well.”
The 350-plus delegates to General Synod 2007 have been told that the meeting, which will be one day shorter than previous synods owing to budgetary constraints, will be “crowded.”
Consider the items on the agenda: The election of a new primate and the farewell to his or her predecessor, the official welcome to the first national native bishop, a day spent with Canadian Lutherans, church governance and proposed changes to its structure, not to mention the divisive issue of human sexuality and the wider church (with three separate items to consider – the Windsor Report, the St. Michael Report, and the deferred motion allowing the local option for same-sex blessings).
Then, there are reports from church partners, the examination of the future of both the Council of the North and the Letting Down the Nets stewardship initiative.Notwithstanding the excitement surrounding the act of choosing who will next lead the nation’s two million Canadians who identify themselves as Anglican, and meeting fellow believers from across the country, there is some anxiety around the lack of time to discuss matters and the potential polarization over issues related to sexuality.
Dean Elliott said that while he shares the concern about the abbreviated schedule, “you’ve got to work with the time you’ve got and we could meet at General Synod for two to three weeks and still say there isn’t enough time.” Bishop Moxley said the General Synod planning and agenda committee has been working out a process “so that people, when it’s time to vote, will say, ‘I really understand and I really believe what I’m voting for.”
Both, however, stressed that delegates bear an equal responsibility in preparing for the discussions, particularly around complicated issues.
“The Windsor Report is about how we can be in communion when we disagree with each other and the St. Michael Report is about whether it (same-sex blessings) is an issue of doctrine or not,” she said. “I really hope that delegates prepare themselves well and they’ve read the reports. The last time, a whole lot of people said, ‘Well, we haven’t even had time to talk about this in our diocese yet.’ I just would be very upset if that came out again. We have had time to talk about it because people have known for at least three years that this was coming back this time.”
On the potential for divisiveness, Archdeacon Michael Pollesel, the national church’s general secretary, said much will depend on the mindset that delegates bring to the meeting. His suggestion: “One is having an attitude of prayer. The other is the one that’s difficult for most human beings: open-mindedness, not going there with pre-set ideas and being open to hearing what others have to say and being open to where the Holy Spirit may be leading all of us.”
Bishop Moxley said she thinks it makes a difference how the meeting is chaired. “If people start to speak in ways that are disrespectful,” she said, “I think the chair needs to call that and say, ‘We’re here as a group of Christian people. We’re here and we talk about respect and love for one another and that way of speaking doesn’t show that.”
Another certainty about the gathering is that Anglicans around the world will be monitoring what decisions are made, especially around sexuality. Both the Anglican Church in Canada, where one of its dioceses (New Westminster) has approved same-sex blessings, and the Episcopal Church in the United States, which elected a gay bishop, are embroiled in a protracted conflict with some provinces in the Anglican Communion over the place of homosexuals in the church.
Should the Anglican Church of Canada’s relationship with the rest of the Communion weigh heavily on the minds of delegates?
“I think what people have to do is make a response that has some integrity. They shouldn’t just say, ‘Oh, we have to decide this way because people somewhere will be upset with us,'” said Bishop Moxley, who is the national church’s representative bishop on the Anglican Consultative Council. At the council’s last meeting, North Americans were asked to sit on the sidelines as observers, not delegates, following a decision made by primates (senior bishops) of the Communion. “I think that people have to respond out of what they really understand to be real for the Anglican Church of Canada and I think we have to take into account what other people around the world have said to us in terms of, ‘you haven’t communicated what you did, you haven’t helped us understand how you came to that conclusion.'”
Dean Peter Elliott added: “I don’t think it should weigh heavier than it ever has. The General Synods over the years have a history of wanting to find out what is the most effective way for Canadian Anglicans to offer the ministry of the Anglican Church in our particular context.”
Anglicans in Canada, Bishop Moxley and Dean Elliott added, survived two controversial issues that set them apart from other parts of the communion: children receiving Holy Communion before confirmation and the ordination of women.
“They told us back in the 70s when women were being ordained, ‘Oh, the Communion will fall apart’… But we’re still here,” said Bishop Moxley when asked whether this General Synod would determine the fate of the Canadian church in the Communion. “All kinds of things have changed in the history of the church and in the history of the Anglican Church of Canada in relation to the rest of the world and the Communion has kept it together. No, I have more faith in God.”
But while some things are certain, delegates should also expect the unexpected at General Synod, said Dean Elliot, who recalled 2001 General Synod in Waterloo, Ont., as one that had “the most emotional impact” for him because of two things: The celebration of Full Communion with Canadian Lutherans, and “the presence and participation of indigenous Anglicans at a particularly difficult time around residential schools.” And when Gordon Beardy, then the bishop of Keewatin, offered a word of forgiveness on behalf of indigenous people and embraced Archbishop Michael Peers, then the primate, “the whole synod danced to aboriginal drummers,” recalled Dean Elliot. “It was an absolutely unforgettable, life-changing moment of grace and respect and dignity. It was completely unscripted and unexpected.”
Another thing that delegates should look forward to, according to Dean Peter Wall, who heads the agenda and planning committee, are the events planned around the historical connection of the host diocese to the Anglican Church of Canada. Winnipeg is the birthplace of the Anglican church in Western Canada and Archbishop Robert Machray, who served as bishop of Rupert’s Land for almost 40 years, became the first primate of the Church of England in Canada in 1893.