The church at its worst, or best?

Published July 4, 2016

Fasten your seatbelts, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride at General Synod 2016.

This, more or less, is what Canadian Anglicans have been telling one another.

The church’s governing body will meet in Richmond Hill, Ont., July 7-12 to act on a number of matters, including a controversial motion to change the marriage canon (church law) so that clergy can marry same-gendered couples.

This early, many have already expressed a great deal of anxiety about the meeting and some are anticipating the worst. There are concerns about the tenor and conduct of debates on the floor as well as possible protest actions that may ensue. Others worry about a fallout regardless of what decision is made. If the motion is passed, some Anglicans may decide to leave the church for good. If the motion is rejected, some Anglicans may also decide to vote with their feet. Either way, there will be disappointment and hurt.

Some bishops have expressed fears of possible civil disobedience if the motion is defeated, including clergy performing same-gendered marriages without their approval. Others are concerned about what an approval could mean for the church’s relationship with the rest of the Anglican Communion and with its ecumenical partners. Still, some are trying to figure out a unique solution that need not be a zero-sum proposition for both sides of the divide. All this to say that any decision will have an impact on relationships within and outside the church.

However, just as the worst possible scenario can happen, it is also entirely possible that the best possible outcome may emerge.

A lot will depend on how the meeting itself is organized and how General Synod members conduct themselves. Organizers say there will be a lot of time devoted to prayer and there is a plan for members to be in “neighbourhood groups,” designed to be places for “everyone to be heard and everyone’s opinion to be valued.”

There will be some whose minds are made up and who may feel that these discussions will be an exercise in futility since they’ve “heard it all before.” But there should be patience, respect and humility to listen to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit and acknowledge that one may still learn something new. Members must not fear honest, painful discussions. They need to be open about them-it shows a church struggling to be true to its mission instead of burying its head in the sand.

Church members closely following the proceedings via social media also have a role to play in ensuring that discussions online are respectful and helpful. The point is not that there should be no conflict and disagreements-by now, people have clued in that it isn’t always a love fest in church, and it shouldn’t be, otherwise there is no accountability-but that one can have them without vilifying and tearing each other apart.

It is also important to remember that the church has been through many upheavals before-including the ordination of women to the priesthood and the remarriage of divorced persons-and it survived. It struggled, yes, but it survived by the sheer will and effort of its members, and by the generous grace of God.


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