Pastoral Letter with respect to General Synod 2016
The triennial meeting of the General Synod of our church met in Richmond Hill, Ontario from July 7-12 under the theme "You are my witnesses" (Isaiah 43:10)
This General Synod bore witness to many significant developments in the life of our church. Changes made in 2013, made this gathering smaller, with 229 voting members. Our diocesan delegation was made up of 8 members. As always when our church gathers in this forum, it was an opportunity to hear stories about the many forms of partnerships we are engaged in, both national and international, within the Anglican Communion and ecumenically. We reflected on ethical investing and passed motions in support of investing in ways that support a low-carbon economy. We witnessed to the tremendous work of PWRDF and the Anglican Foundation, and much more. Our church witnessed further steps in the process of self-determination of Indigenous peoples within the Anglican Church of Canada and authorized new worship rites. We received and adopted financial statements and made housekeeping changes to governing documents. All of our witness was framed by worship, prayer, time to listen and learn from Anglicans from across the country, and deepen our relationships.
While we celebrated the working out of God's mission in our common life, overshadowing everything was the 'issue' of whether to amend the Canon on Marriage to explicitly allow for the marriage of same sex couples within the church. Members spent time in discussion groups to listen to one another before the legislative session on Monday July 11. There was more than four hours of debate involving 60 speakers, which was emotional, passionate, reasoned, mostly respectful (although sometimes not), bringing: scripture, theology, personal experiences, process and pain, hopes and fears followed an appeal from the Primate to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. The vote on Monday night appeared to have defeated the resolution by one vote in the order of clergy. (To be approved the resolution required a 2/3 majority in each order of Synod: lay, clergy and bishops). When the votes were combined 70% of those present had supported the resolution. The following day, when the paper transcript of the electronic vote was released, it was discovered that there were at least two errors in the electronic system. When the errors were corrected and the votes were properly recorded, the required 2/3 majority in the order of clergy was achieved and the Primate declared that the resolution was in fact carried.
Following the correction of vote, Bishop Jane Alexander of Edmonton wrote: "so yesterday the church tipped in one direction, there was pain and hurt and tears and we all needed one another to hold us up, today the church tipped in the opposite direction and there was pain and hurt and tears and we all needed one another to hold us up. Is it possible that God is telling us that we need one another and for a while we got to stand in the place of the 'other'? May we all reflect on the grace we have been shown."
The aftermath of this roller coaster of emotions left most members of synod absolutely drained and like them you might be wondering what we are to do now.
First of all, according to the rules of the General Synod, a resolution which changes the doctrine of the church must be passed by two consecutive meetings of the General Synod by the required 2/3 majorities in order to come into force. Between now and then, it is referred to dioceses and ecclesiastical provinces for consultation - not ratification! Therefore, before General Synod meets again in 2019 we will need to engage in a formal consultative process through our Diocesan Synod. Logically this should happen when our Synod meets in May 2017. With the bruises of this highly divisive debate still fresh, I am hoping that we can take the time to speak and listen to one another, together shaping a diocesan response.
The second outcome to be explored is that the General Synod Chancellor advised us, before the debate began, that there was nothing in the existing Canon on Marriage which explicitly prohibited the marriage of same sex couples in the church. Such exclusions are in the preamble to the Canon. With this knowledge, several bishops have announced that they will immediately give permission for clergy in their dioceses, whose conscience allows them, to begin to officiate at same sex marriages. At this moment I am not willing to give a similar permission. However I will be consulting with persons in leadership throughout our diocese during the summer and will write further on this matter in the early fall. I want to remind you that our diocese currently offers the opportunity for the blessing of same sex couples who have been civilly married. The resolution that asked for this guideline, was approved by an overwhelming majority at our Synod in 2011. I realize that not every member of our diocese will support this change and the current provision in the Marriage Canon that protects the conscience of clergy to not officiate at a wedding, will remain. However the vast majority of people and parishes which wrote to me before General Synod were in favour of this change. All the members of our General Synod delegation, respecting their own consciences, voted to approve the canonical change.
This process has been wrenching for our whole church, especially the members of the LGBTQ2+ community. Yet in the midst of all this, I give thanks for many things. First the way that the General Synod has been surrounded and held up in prayer. Second that we have a process, imperfect as it is, to have this conversation. Third for the leadership of our Primate, who was the epitome of grace under pressure and offered a genuine pastoral presence to both 'sides' of the debate. Fourth for a church which has taken seriously the commandment to love one another. Last but not least, for the engagement of the General Synod members from our diocese, who engaged fully in the process with faith and openness.
Having reflected on Isaiah chapter 43 all week, there are several prophetic words of hope that speak into this moment: "I love you" v.4, "Fear not, for I am with you...I will gather you" v.5, "you are my witnesses and my servants whom I have chosen" v.10, and finally from verse 19: "Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" May the God who still speaks to us, calling us beloved, quelling our fear, gathering us in and sending us out as witnesses to His love, keep us ever mindful of the new things that are spinning forth from God's own heart.
pdf copy of Pastoral Letter