The 21st century’s first General Synod will consider the future of the Anglican Church of Canada in light of the residential schools crisis, relations with Lutherans, the rules for marriage and questions of human sexuality, among other things.
“There will be historic steps,” noted General Secretary Jim Boyles. Although it is possible to identify the major issues in advance, agenda items are still developing and, at synod, some resolutions will be brought forward from the floor.
Arguably the least controversial, most visible and most far-reaching move at General Synod, to be held July 4-11, 2001 at Waterloo, Ont., will be a vote on full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada.
Decades in the making, the proposal is expected to pass and a new relationship with the Lutheran church will be celebrated at a banquet on Saturday, July 7 and at a joint worship service on Sunday, July 8. Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican primate, will preach at the service.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church will be holding its national convention at the same time at nearby Wilfrid Laurier University.
On Saturday afternoon about half of General Synod’s 400 members will travel to the Lutheran convention and half of the Lutheran delegates will attend the Anglican gathering. Each group will have lunch together and spend several hours discussing local and global issues concerning food and water.
Planning for the future will be a major topic as the legal costs stemming from residential schools litigation continue to mount. (Hundreds of native Canadians are suing the federal government and several churches, alleging they suffered various forms of abuse in the now-defunct residential school system.)
The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples is scheduled to make a major presentation to synod.
In the past three years leading up to this General Synod (they are held triennially), consultations have taken place in 27 of the 30 dioceses on whether the strategic plan adopted at the 1995 General Synod, called “Preparing the Way,” now needs to be changed.
General Synod delegates will also tackle liturgical issues. They will be asked to extend the mandate for the Book of Alternative Services indefinitely, said Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan. They will also consider proposals for translations of the BAS into aboriginal languages and discuss the use of more inclusive language, she added.
Sexuality may emerge as a difficult topic. The diocese of New Westminster, at its synod scheduled for June 1-2, will consider asking diocesan bishop Michael Ingham to permit the blessing of same-sex relationships.
If it does, a task force appointed by Council of General Synod (which governs the church between General Synods) is expected to consider whether one diocese has the jurisdiction to do this, since it would contravene the canons of the national church.
General Synod will vote on some noteworthy changes to the canons, or laws, of the church. One proposed change to the marriage canon would allow Anglicans to be married outside a church building.
Another would say that a person tried before an ecclesiastical court is presumed innocent until an offence has been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” instead of “on a balance of probability.”
The gathering will also vote on a new canon that recognizes clergy from churches in full communion with The Anglican Church of Canada.