Gathered for six-day Assembly, Anglicans, Lutherans vote on justice issues, liturgy, planning and more
In the wake of two votes against a resolution that would have extended her term, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, told General Synod at its meeting in Calgary this summer that she would decide when she would retire after taking time to rest and reflect.
“I am of course disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to see the work of this General Synod completed and brought to General Synod 2025,” she said with visible emotion in her closing remarks to the gathering July 2. “Synod has spoken—or at least the Order of Bishops has spoken—on that possibility.”
Primates in the Anglican Church of Canada will continue to be required to leave office by their 70th birthday, following the failure June 28 of a resolution that would have extended their term to the following General Synod where it fell within a year of their reaching that age.
On June 29, members debated and voted on the proposal again, after hearing from then-prolocutor the Rev. Karen Egan that a question had been raised about the accuracy of the initial vote count, and that officers of General Synod had heard of “discernible discontent” about the results.
In light of those concerns, she said, General Synod chancellor Canon (lay) David Jones had moved that synod suspend one of the rules of order that prevents it from reopening a matter without unanimous consent, and reconsider the resolution. This motion received its required two-thirds majority; but after renewed debate, the resolution to extend the primatial term was struck down a second time.
That resolution, presented in a motion by the governance working group (GWG), required a two-thirds majority in each of the three orders of laity, clergy and bishops, but failed to pass that threshold in the Order of Bishops.
In debate, proponents argued the resolution was a simple, common-sense solution to smooth an impending change in the leadership of the church. Opponents raised concerns about the optics of making even a small increase in retirement age in a church they said should be promoting a new generation to leadership. During the second vote, several members of General Synod also raised concerns that reopening the issue after it had been voted on undermined trust in the decision-making process.
After the votes, Nicholls told the Journal that she now had the option to work all the way up to her 70th birthday in October 2024 or to step down at any point before then.
The vote’s failure means that when Nicholls steps down, the most senior provincial metropolitan by election will serve as acting primate, if that person is able and willing, until a new primate is elected at the next General Synod. As this issue was being prepared, the most senior metropolitan by election was Archbishop Anne Germond of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, Jones confirmed to the Journal.
Nicholls said this would be her first and last General Synod gathering as primate, in a term that saw the church through what she described in her opening remarks as “significant internal challenges.” Among these, she listed the resignation of two bishops.
“One bishop relinquished his ministry following a substantiated complaint. The former national Indigenous archbishop voluntarily resigned and relinquished his ministry after a complaint was brought forward,” she said. “And although the resignation and relinquishment of ministry prevents adjudication, we have learned this may be unsatisfying to complainants and others.”
In June 2021, Lincoln McKoen, then bishop of the Territory of the People, resigned and relinquished his exercise of episcopal ministry following allegations of sexual misconduct that Archbishop Lynne McNaughton, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of B.C. and Yukon, said he acknowledged were “well-founded.” Former national Indigenous archbishop Mark MacDonald likewise resigned and relinquished his ministry after what a pastoral letter from the primate referred to as “acknowledged sexual misconduct.”
Nicholls also cited, as challenges, the national office’s handling of a draft article intended for publication in the Anglican Journal’s sister publication, Epiphanies, about the experiences of sexual misconduct complainants. She further highlighted the church’s challenges weathering the COVID-19 pandemic and its work in dismantling racism, strategic planning and strengthening bonds with other churches, all of which were discussed during the General Synod gathering.
In her closing address, the primate expressed deep gratitude for support she had received in the four years she held the office. “Thank you for the notes, the hugs, the emails, the cards and gifts that have been a much-needed sign of encouragement in the dark times of these four years,” she told General Synod.
Members of the Anglican Church of Canada and its full-communion partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), gathered from across the country to meet in Calgary this summer June 27-July 2 for Assembly 2023. The joint gathering included the Anglican General Synod (originally scheduled for 2022 but postponed due to lingering pandemic concerns), a Lutheran Special Convention and sessions where both groups sat down together. Anglicans discussed and voted on a range of issues in addition to the term of sitting primates—new liturgies, Israel-Palestine, climate change, anti-racism, strategic planning and more—while deciding to postpone for two years discussions on how their church is governed.
Gender liturgies authorized
On June 30, General Synod voted to authorize a set of gender-themed liturgies, including a blessing on gender transition, for use in the Anglican Church of Canada in dioceses where they have been authorized by the bishop.
The Rev. Ruth Meyers, professor of liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and Andrew McGowan, professor of Anglican studies and pastoral theology at Yale Divinity School, both said that to their knowledge, the gender affirmation liturgies were unique for being passed at a national church level.
General Synod approved the original resolution as amended to specify that the gender transition and affirmation liturgies could be used “where authorized by the ordinary.”
Council of General Synod (CoGS) earlier voted in November 2021 to authorize the liturgies for study, trial use, evaluation and feedback over a one-year period where authorized by bishops.
Finn Keesmaat-Walsh, of the diocese of Toronto, moved the resolution, seconded by the Rev. Marnie Peterson of the diocese of New Westminster. Keesmaat-Walsh (they/them, they/he) put the liturgies in the context of what they described as “a rise in transphobic laws, bills and attitudes in North America, the U.K. and around the world.” They also cited General Synod’s unanimous adoption in 2010 of Resolution C010, the text of which calls on the Anglican Church of Canada at all levels to “embrace the outcast and stand against the abuse and torment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.”
Fellow proponents of the motion echoed Keesmaat-Walsh’s belief in the inclusivity they believed the new liturgies would promote in the church. Many transgender youth felt unwelcome or actively discriminated against in their home churches, and this represented an opportunity to practice tangible acceptance, these members said.
Detractors spoke of concerns that the church was rushing to apply baptismal language to what they saw as a major shift in understanding of human identity based on a relatively recent movement with new and still-evolving ideas of gender.
Assembly passes amended motion on Israel-Palestine
The Anglican Church of Canada and the ELCIC approved a modified version of a resolution calling for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine, drafted jointly by leaders from both churches. The version of the motion approved July 2 by General Synod included two amendments made in response to criticism from a Jewish rabba who spoke to General Synod on it two days prior.
The leaders of the two churches worked together on the statement as part of an ongoing effort to stand in solidarity with Palestinians experiencing the consequences of what they describe as a rise in Jewish nationalist sentiment and human rights abuses on the part of the Israeli government.
Rabba Gila Caine, an Edmonton Jewish cleric who had been invited to speak to the gathering, took issue with Section 4 of the original statement, which asked that the church “study and reflect upon the parallels between the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes and lands and the experience of broken treaties and the occupation of unceded territories of Indigenous peoples in Canada.” She said this comparison to colonialism was guaranteed to offend Jewish people the world over in light of the special relationship of Jews to a land whose status as ancient and present homeland is woven throughout all their beliefs.
“I would like to remind us that the whole world is not Canada and cannot be read through the Canadian experience,” she said.
In response to Caine’s concerns, members of General Synod amended the resolution, striking the point Caine had criticized from the text.
A second amendment, ratified at the July 2 session, added a section proposed by the ELCIC, which asks the church “to study and reflect upon the longstanding history of antisemitism within Christianity and the ongoing legacy of antisemitism in our biblical interpretation and theology.”
The ELCIC’s Special Convention approved the modified version of the resolution July 1.
Since the Assembly, the Anglican Church of Canada and ELCIC also released an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which urges Canada to ramp up its efforts to address what it calls “deteriorating conditions” in the region. The July 11 letter, from Nicholls and ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, recommends Canada help end a current Israeli blockade on Gaza with sensitivity to Israel’s security concerns, increase funding of the United Nations Relief Works Agency to $50 million per year and to otherwise “live up to the entirety of its existing policies on peace in Palestine and Israel.”
Governance resolutions postponed
General Synod voted to postpone discussion on two resolutions dealing with its governance until the body meets again in 2025.
The first resolution would lower the threshold needed to vote on changes to the church’s constitution and declaration of principles, and on canons related to doctrine, worship or discipline. Currently, a resolution on these matters requires a two-thirds majority in each of the three orders of clergy, laity and bishops to pass.The resolution would allow a resolution to pass so long as it had a majority of two-thirds across all the votes, plus a majority of at least one half of each order.
The second resolution would remove a current requirement that, in cases involving those canons or the declaration of principles, resolutions must pass that threshold at two separate votes in consecutive General Synod gatherings, allowing changes to take effect after just one vote instead.
During preliminary discussion, members spoke of the motion mostly in terms of its effect on the voting power of the Order of Bishops. As the smallest of the three orders, it takes the fewest votes from the Order of Bishops to constitute a one-third minority of an order and thereby block a motion.
Some members of General Synod argued it was unfair or undemocratic for such a small number to be able to block the wishes of the great majority of the voting body.
Others argued it was appropriate for the bishops—as lifelong experts in ministry and doctrine who regularly hear from multiple congregations—to have a greater role in guiding and sometimes slowing the church’s decisions.
With time dwindling before the end of the last day of General Synod, Canon (lay) Ian Alexander, of the diocese of British Columbia, instead moved that consideration on voting thresholds be postponed until 2025—a motion which passed by a narrow margin. Jones, who had earlier introduced the resolutions, then suggested General Synod also postpone the resolution on consecutive votes to 2025, to which members agreed.
Strategic planning ‘commitments’ approved
General Synod overwhelmingly approved five priorities or “transformational aspirations” prepared by the strategic planning working group (SPWG) to guide the Anglican Church of Canada into the future.
Members voted June 29 in favour of an amended version of a resolution to receive the SPWG’s report and adopt the five aspirations as “transformational commitments to guide planning, priority-setting, resource allocation and collaboration with provinces and dioceses in the 2023-25 biennium.” The resolution also directed CoGS to establish a group for implementation.
As adopted by General Synod, the five transformational aspirations call for the Anglican Church of Canada to be a church that “invites and deepens life in Christ”; “champions the dignity of every human being; works to dismantle racism and colonialism”; “embraces mutual interdependence with the Indigenous church (Sacred Circle)”; “nurtures right relationships among people of faith in local, national and global communities and networks”; and “stewards and renews God’s creation; protects and sustains the earth; pursues justice for all.”
SPWG chair Judith Moses moved the original version of the resolution for discussion and a vote. Bishop Sandra Fyfe, of the diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I., proposed an amendment to clarify that General Synod was adopting the five priorities as “commitments” rather than “aspirations.”
Fyfe said her amendment was intended to indicate “that we plan to move forward and we are committed to action.” The amendment passed.
Those in favour of the aspirations praised the SPWG for the hard work it put into consulting with churches around the country, the aspirations’ reflection of the themes of the 2022 Lambeth Conference and the commitment they showed to deepening life in Christ.
Some criticized them for dealing with material already covered in the Five Marks of Mission. The Rev. Jesse Zink, of the diocese of Montreal, called them “inoffensive”, arguing they were too bland to have the “rough edge that the gospel brings” that surprises and excites people hearing it.
Church to form anti-racism advisory council
General Synod also approved a set of resolutions forwarded by the national church’s dismantling racism task force, some of which were amended by General Synod before being passed.
The first of these directed CoGS—in consultation with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP)—to establish a permanent national advisory council on dismantling racism.
The council’s mandate, as stated in the resolution, is to “conduct an initial and ongoing review of church structures, culture, policies, and practices pertaining to racism and anti-racism” and to “develop and implement a national action plan to move from promoting diversity to living out full inclusion, equity, and belonging at all levels of the church (in both membership and leadership).”
The resolution also directed CoGS to ensure membership of the council reflects communities of the church most impacted by racism—in particular Black and Indigenous persons and people of colour—and those with experience in anti-racism ministry and leadership. It further tasked CoGS with striving for balance in geographic, gender and ethnocultural background, lay and clergy representation and with setting out “appropriate supportive roles for White/Settler allies” on the advisory council.
The second resolution included a request that CoGS look into the creation of a new full-time national staff position to oversee anti-racism work at the national and diocesan levels, on behalf of the all-volunteer dismantling racism task force.
This resolution also directs the Faith, Worship, and Ministry (FWM) coordinating committee and the new national advisory council on dismantling racism to work with Anglican-affiliated seminaries and theological programs to “develop a process or framework to examine and support the further development of anti-racism curricula in theological education across the Church.” The materials are to be produced both for higher education institutions such as seminaries and for education at a parish level, including Sunday schools.
Two other resolutions dealt with the church’s historical ties to colonialism and racism. One affirmed General Synod’s commitment to Call to Action No. 59 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. That call urged church parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, including the Anglican Church of Canada, to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure their congregations “learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.”
To that end, the first resolution directed all General Synod ministries “to engage with the full historical realities of the Anglican Church’s involvement” in residential schools. It encouraged all dioceses across Canada to do likewise and to “take steps towards addressing the continuing impacts of these practices.”
The other resolution, meanwhile, directed all General Synod ministries to engage with the church’s involvement in slavery and other forms of racial injustice—but also its historical work in striving to dismantle racism. It gives the same directions to all dioceses across Canada in this regard as the former resolution.
Climate resolutions pass
In another step, this one targeted at ecological justice, General Synod passed resolutions on moving toward net-zero carbon emissions in the Anglican Church of Canada, addressing global climate change and affirmed the right to clean drinking water while eliminating bottled water use.
One of these encouraged all parts of the church to discern what meetings benefit from face-to-face interaction and how often; to attend to non-monetary costs of travel such as loss of time, environmental impact and stress; to ensure where possible that physical meetings are accessible by public transit, bicycles and walking; and to continue offering ways for people to participate online.
The resolution further directed CoGS to seek to reduce the carbon impact of travel for meetings of General Synod, CoGS and its committees—such as by holding online and hybrid meetings or choosing travel options with lower carbon emissions—and to report on these efforts regularly and to the next General Synod in 2025. It directed CoGS to purchase carbon offsets for “such travel as is deemed still to be necessary, using offset initiatives of Indigenous communities where possible” and encouraged Canadian Anglicans, ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses and parishes to purchase carbon offsets for their own travel.
Some General Synod members who spoke against the resolution, such as Freda Lepine of the diocese of Brandon, came from more northern and remote communities. They cited a greater need to travel by gasoline-powered vehicles due to long distances between communities, as well as poor internet access in many areas.
The diocese of New Westminster’s Rev. Marnie Peterson, who had introduced the resolution, said in her initial speech that it was made with the understanding that not all circumstances were the same and travel was necessary where internet and alternatives were not available.
“We want these choices to be intentional rather than by default,” she said.
The second resolution endorsed “a broad-based approach to investing which considers people, society, and the environment as important as financial performance.” It encouraged parishes to publicize their efforts as a demonstration of the church’s commitment to address the climate crisis and requested the public witness for social and ecological justice coordinating committee to report progress to CoGS annually and to General Synod 2025.
A third ecologically-themed resolution affirmed that “all communities have the right to safe, clean, and sustainable drinking water” and committed General Synod to ongoing advocacy to ensure safe drinking water for all communities, both in Canada and globally.
The resolution also directed CoGS, its councils and committees to “immediately eliminate bottled water use for all meetings, except in locations where safe drinking water is unavailable” and encouraged ecclesiastical provinces, dioceses and parishes to do the same.
National office ends 2022 with $1.55-million deficit
Investment losses from last year’s global market decline left the church’s national office with a budget deficit of $1.55 million at the end of 2022, a financial statement released to General Synod shows.
The deficit occurred despite an operational surplus of $346,000. Total revenue for General Synod in 2022 was $9.75 million, down by more than $37,900 from the previous year. Expenses were $9.40 million, or $882,000 higher than last year.
In the financial management committee’s report to General Synod June 30, treasurer and CFO Amal Attia said investment losses made “that surplus a deficit and that is as a result of the nosedive that the entire investment portfolio [took] for everybody.” Investment losses of $1.77 million and a $250,000 provision for potential legal settlements left the budget awash in red ink, despite more than $123,000 in undesignated legacies. Market losses from unrealized investments, Attia added, were “not anything in our control.”
Last year’s financial results stand in stark contrast to those for 2021, when an operational surplus of more than $1.26 million combined with investment income of $2.53 million for a total budget surplus of more than $4.36 million, the statement shows.
Jubilee Commission’s mandate extended
Members voted July 1 to extend the mandate of a commission tasked with finding ways to fund the Indigenous church.
General Synod extended the Jubilee Commission’s mandate to the end of the 2023-25 biennium. It also amended the commission’s terms of reference so that it will report to ACIP as well as CoGS.
CoGS passed a motion in June 2018 to appoint the Jubilee Commission, with a mandate to propose a “just, sustainable and equitable funding base for the self-determining Indigenous church,” now Sacred Circle. According to that motion, the commission would have a three-year term, potentially renewable; consist of six members and report to CoGS. General Synod in 2019 affirmed the creation of the Jubilee Commission.
Chair Judith Moses spoke to General Synod July 1 about the commission, dividing its work into three main areas: archival research into the historic funding base for Indigenous ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada, the current funding for the Indigenous church and its future funding.
In moving the resolution, Moses said the commission had much more work to do.
Churches vote for full communion with Moravians
The Anglican Church of Canada and the ELCIC, which have been in full communion with each other since 2001, voted unanimously in favour of a resolution proposing full communion with the Moravian Church in Canada. The Moravian church had already voted a unanimous yes on the resolution on June 23.
The Moravian Church in Canada includes seven congregations in the Calgary and Edmonton areas of Alberta, and one in Toronto; there is also a separate mission province in Labrador. The Rev. James Lavoy, pastor of Rio Terrace Moravian Church in Edmonton and a member of the Lutheran Anglican Moravian working group, said he hoped the church’s Labrador province would also ratify the One Church, One Shepherd document defining the full communion relationship at its next synod.
Alexander, Phibbs elected prolocutor, deputy prolocutor
General Synod elected a member of the SPWG as its new prolocutor and the chair of the General Synod planning committee as its new deputy prolocutor. Canon (lay) Ian Alexander was voted prolocutor June 30 and Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs deputy prolocutor later the same day.
Next to the primate, who acts as president, the prolocutor is the most senior officer of General Synod. They are tasked with aiding the primate in the administration of General Synod meetings and affairs, chairing meetings when the primate is not present. The deputy prolocutor may perform any of the same functions at the prolocutor’s request.
New social justice resource for parishes
Members of the Anglican and Lutheran legislative gatherings are bringing home a new tool to help their communities, parishes and congregations discern and engage in social and ecological justice issues.
The 15-page document, the Parish Engagement Resource for Social and Ecological Justice: Let There Be Greening!, is available online and includes prayers, reflections and worship practices; “discerned priorities” that Anglicans and Lutherans have identified for working together; first steps for engagement, such as possible actions and partner organizations; and links to further discernment tools for discipleship in social and ecological justice. It also encourages Anglicans and Lutherans to consider meeting together when possible to do their discernment.