“You have to look in the mirror”: CoGS wraps up with reflections from partners, general secretary that stress racial justice, church’s future

“One of the problems we’re stuck with is that in order to do things differently, we have to divide again on the question of how we do things differently,” General Secretary Michael Thompson told CoGS Nov 10. Photo: Joelle Kidd
Published November 13, 2019

Mississauga, Ont.

The meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard messages about the importance of racial justice and looking toward the future of the church in a day of reflections that wrapped up the meeting Nov. 10.

Canon (lay) Noreen Duncan, the U.S.-based Episcopal Church’s representative to CoGS, gave a reflection in which she praised the council for its work on reconciliation and held it to task for a lack of diversity.

“On the issue of racism and reconciliation…the Anglican Church of Canada has much to teach the rest of the communion—has much to teach the world,” she said, praising the church’s ongoing reconciliation work with Indigenous peoples and the creation of a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Yet, she said, “You have to look around the room and see who the dark-skinned people are at CoGS,” noting that only she and Pat Lovell, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) representative to CoGS, fit that description.

She told the gathering, “CoGS, you have to look in the mirror.”

Racism “is not about accusing individuals, it’s not about pointing fingers and saying, ‘That’s racist,’” said Duncan. Rather, she said, racism is about “institutionalized practices—in our case, canons and resolutions.”

It is important to recognize the way racism is “entrenched in our structures, entrenched in our systems and institutions, entrenched in the church,” Duncan said. “You know that better than I, because you’ve been doing this work on reconciliation for some time…. Institutions, including the church, have been designed to maintain racist structures and practices. And so, as a church, our charge is to dismantle systemic racism, because it entraps us all. We’re all complicit, no matter what colour of skin or ethnicity, identity—we’re all complicit in the trap of racism. So we have to work through this.”

Duncan told the group, “I know you invited [me] here to do these little nice reflections, and I didn’t do that. I’m not apologizing; it’s what I’m seeing. If we are to staunch the bleeding of the denomination, the numbers, we’re going to have to look to the new…Anglicans among us. That’s where we’re going to work. That’s where we’re going to grow.” Referencing a conversation that was brought up the previous day during a racial justice exercise, she said, “As we pointed out yesterday…it’s not just a question of wondering when are the African, Asian and Caribbean members of the congregation going to volunteer. You have to point them out. Bring them out for a tea…and ask them, please help us.”

When she first read the statistical report prepared by Rev. Neil Elliot (discussed at CoGS the evening of Nov. 9) she felt disheartened, Duncan said. But after spending time at the meeting, she said, she was convinced that “as a denomination, as a church, we’re not dying. And that’s not to say that I distrust statistics and numbers—I don’t. But we have to know we are not dying. We have to stop, however, and assess who we are and how we’re going to continue.”

In a report following Duncan’s reflection, General Secretary of General Synod Archdeacon Michael Thompson thanked the Episcopal Church’s representative for her words.

“Your truth in our midst is disturbing, and at the same time welcome,” said Thompson.

In an address that touched on the work of the previous four triennia of CoGS’ work, Thompson stressed the importance of relationships and working together across difference.

This became a theme of the 2013-2016 triennium, he said, when CoGS was tasked with bringing forward a resolution to General Synod that would propose changing the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriage.

Over the past six years, Thompson said, “We’ve heard very clearly…that the way that we make decisions as a church needs to be renewed.” The very act of voting on an issue is by necessity the creation of division, Thompson noted. “So we have this tension deep in our constitution as a body that says what we do to decide is divide up. There is no easy solution to that.

“One of the problems we’re stuck with is that in order to do things differently we have to divide again on the question of how we do things differently. So we find ourselves in this kind of odd hall of mirrors, where we’re trying to find a new way to make our decisions with one another so that those…are decisions, somehow, that we make together rather than decisions that divide us, or that we make by dividing.”

Many “important and challenging” conversations will be had over the next triennium, Thompson told CoGS members, about crisis, hope, authority and ways of making decisions that honour cultural diversity.

Thompson also touched on the emerging self-determining Indigenous church, saying that “the reality is that there is not a roadmap for self-determination. My sense is, there may not even be a compass for self-determination.” Rather, he compared it to a gyroscope.

“A gyroscope is about maintaining a kind of stability in the face of a lot of change around us, and I think…our participation in the Council of General Synod in the work towards a full, self-determining Indigenous Anglican church within the Anglican Church of Canada will have something to do with the love and compassion of Jesus, and the way in which Jesus, as he moved through his ministry, was able to be present as love to people across and extraordinary range of experience, formation and conviction.

“I think that we are doing something that’s never been done before. We’re doing something that is at the same time frighteningly un-Anglican and deeply Anglican. It’s frighteningly un-Anglican because it says that some of the structures that have served us for a hundred or 200 or 300 years are no longer going to be able to serve us. It’s wonderfully Anglican because that’s exactly how new structures in the Anglican church have emerged over our history.”

Lovell, in her morning reflection, also touched on the importance of racial justice, noting that the Lutheran church at its recent convention had voted to form a task force to examine racism and white supremacy within the Lutheran church. The council also heard a reflection from Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) youth member Shilo Clark.

The meeting’s morning session ended with a closing Eucharist.

The final session Sunday afternoon contained a continuation of the strategic planning process begun earlier in the session of CoGS as well as the creation of a document entitled “A Word to the Church,” which would summarize the work of the meeting of CoGS for the wider church.

CoGS members the Rev. Marnie Peterson, Margaret Jenniex and bishop of the diocese of Fredericton David Edwards also presented short reflections to the group.


  • Joelle Kidd

    Joelle Kidd was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2017 to 2021.

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