What would follow a pact with Ottawa?

Published November 1, 2002

It seems fair, doesn?t it, that at the end of a long, painful trek through a wilderness, there be a clear sense of direction and above all, relief. It seems so proper and fitting that in the end, problems, no matter how great or momentous, get resolved by people whose hearts are in the right place. It seems so in keeping with our reading of God?s plan that all endings be good, happy endings and, even more importantly, that there be endings so that they can show the way to new beginnings. The poet T.S. Eliot noted that the line frequently blurs between an end and a beginning. Often it is hard to tell one from the other and we set off on a path we think is new only to realize somewhere down the road that we have been here before. Last month, the Anglican Journal told you about a draft agreement with the federal government on the native residential schools litigation that has been bleeding the church dry for several years now. This newspaper is not privy to the details of that agreement, nor do we know a great deal about what, formally, will happen after it is ratified, if it is ratified. What is clear, at this point, is that this is a make-or-break deal. General Synod?s resources are severely depleted; court cases are accelerating, both in numbers and in process, and if this agreement falls through, the resources are simply not there for a new round of negotiations.Certain assumptions can be made about this draft agreement, two of which are crucial and compelling. Since it is litigation that is causing the church the most financial discomfort and that threatens the future of General Synod, it can be assumed that the terms of the agreement, one way or another, will bring the church?s involvement in litigation to some sort of conclusion. Secondly, since the church, from the beginning of this process, has argued that people who can prove that they were wronged or harmed in native residential schools are entitled to compensation for their pain, it can be surmised that an agreement the church consents to will provide for some kind of process that involves compensation. Further, it can be assumed that the church will have to bear its share of the financial commitment required to ensure that a compensatory process occurs and occurs equitably. That financial commitment will be significant and long-term. While it would be fruitless to speculate further on the details of the draft agreement, this much makes sense. So is this draft agreement, if signed, an end, or a beginning? If it ends litigation and commits the church to recovery, then it is surely both. It is transition. It is uncertainty. Where a path is uncertain, one looks for guidance. One seeks signposts and lanterns. And it is important for Anglicans, at this point in their history to know with absolute conviction that the future of the church is far from completely dark. Uncertainty, ominous though it may be, always comes with flashes of light. While the financial commitment hinted at in the existence of a draft agreement with Ottawa will surely impose a heavy and long-term financial burden on the church and may guide its direction for the foreseeable future, it is also true that we have cause for much optimism arising from the darkness of our recent history. Last month, the Anglican Journal also carried a report on an Environics study that attempted to plumb what Anglicans say about their church and how they feel about where it has been and where it is going. In past months, the Journal has also carried reports on a document dubbed the Marigold Report, which attempts to chart the church?s financial future around a set of ideals that would define this future. It is important in assessing Marigold to discern that the document is two things: it is indeed a blueprint for financial recovery ? the church?s restoration, as the primate has described it ? but it is also a set of ideals that direct the church to a deeper understanding of local ministry and local input into national program and policy. In that sense, the two documents ? Environics and Marigold ? can be taken together as a complementary approach to the church?s future. These two documents are not The Answer. The Environics study is incomplete and a springboard for a discussion on the future of a church that can be made to matter more to its members. Marigold is a draft, as yet approved by no one and still subject to discussion and review. The church, as it heads down a new path in the wake of an agreement with the federal government, needs several things from its members ? from you. It needs, most of all, your faith in the future and your faith that there will indeed be a future. It needs a commitment to the Environics findings, a rededication, at the national level, to listening to the people in the pew and responding to what they want this institution to be. And it needs a Marigold-like plan that links the Environics findings to a strategy aimed at the restoration of General Synod and of dioceses that have been financially wounded by our recent history. All of those things require us to walk together down a path that is both new and old, frightening and yet full of promise. There is, after all, neither strength nor comfort to be had from bemoaning an uncertain future for the church. The future is by definition uncertain, and the Anglican Church of Canada?s General Synod, founded in 1893 in the shadow of another, earlier financial crisis, has its very roots implanted in uncertainty. This future can be based on past experiences. In many ways, uncertain though the path may be, we have walked it before and we have ever emerged in a place that fulfilled God?s pledge of a church to the end of time.


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