Nine Rupert’s Landers had the opportunity to join Anglicans from across the country at the 2016 General Synod in Toronto over the past week. Our lay representatives were Tannis Webster of St. Mary Magdalene; June James of St. Paul’s, Fort Garry; and Matthew Terlinski of St. Matthew’s, Weston. The clergy delegates were Paul Johnson of St. John’s Cathedral, Vincent Solomon of the Urban Indigenous Ministry, and Allison Courey, of St. John’s College. Connor Blaikie, of St. George’s, Crescentwood, was the youth delegate; Don Phillips was bishop; and Barbara Schoomski attended as a (non voting) member of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP).
The week opened in worship with a wide variety of visitors from other Christian traditions and a couple of leaders from other faiths. A major highlight of that service was a performance done by a local dance troupe, some of whom live with intellectual disabilities.
The schedule was packed from morning until evening with information about Anglican ministries nationally and worldwide, ecumenical partnerships, and opportunities to connect across dioceses. While there was a great diversity of Anglicans present, there was a tangible sense of being part of a common body committed to pursuing discipleship together across the country.
Members of Synod from Fort McMurray gave an update on their town’s healing in the days after a devastating wildfire forced them to abandon their homes and church buildings. The Primate’s Fund (PWRDF) was pleased to announce that Canadian Anglicans have donated well over $80,000 toward the relief efforts in the area, which is part of the Diocese of Athabasca. Fighting tears, Athabaskan delegate Jeremy Munn called the level of support from neighbours and strangers alike “a miracle.”
Sunday was spent learning about Anglican indigenous self-determination in Canada. The Synod joined in Eucharistic service filled with indigenous languages and traditional teachings in the morning and then a traditional gospel jamboree in the evening. The afternoon was spent exploring the steps which have already been taken toward self-determination for indigenous Anglicans as well as recommendations for moving forward. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, indigenous leaders made it very clear that self-determination does not mean separation from the Canadian Church – it means walking alongside and together in a culturally appropriate way.
A highlight on Sunday was a performance by two young indigenous women in honour of missing and murdered indigenous women. Both Leigh Kern and Danielle Black were named as members of the council of indigenous elders and youth. As they sang and drummed, signs could be seen on the women’s backs which read, “Black Lives Matter” and “#LGBTQ + Two-Spirit Solidarity.”
During the afternoon, Tina Keeper, the daughter of Rupert’s Land priest Phyllis Keeper, spoke as an honorary witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Keeper urged the delegates to remember that reconciliation isn’t always about knowing where we’re going, but about choosing to embark on that journey together. “This is about how we’re going to move forward together as a country.” Phyllis would have undoubtedly been proud of her daughter’s witness as she quoted her mom’s favourite verse: “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Monday was a more difficult day as people grew tired. A highlight of the day was the presentation from the Anglican Foundation, which began with a fun presentation with staff dressed as flight attendants. They went on to say that the Foundation has disbursed $850,000 in 2015 to support “innovative, groundbreaking programs” across the Church.
Delegates also heard on Monday that 1,750 refugees have been resettled by 14 dioceses in the past 10 months. This includes many sponsored by Anglicans in Rupert’s Land. A task force on social and ecological investment was also approved that afternoon.
Many delegates reported positive conversations in their small groups of about 24 people, formed to encourage dialogue prior to the vote on the marriage canon. That evening, after two amendments and much heated discussion on the floor of Synod, the votes were cast on whether or not to change the marriage canon to include same-sex marriages.
In order for a change of doctrine to be made by synod, the motion must pass in all three houses: bishops, clergy, and laity. Initially, the new electronic voting system showed that the vote passed in the bishop and lay houses, but fell .43% short of passing in the house of clergy. A motion was then passed to reaffirm the 2004 synod’s motion that affirm the “sanctity of committed, adult, same-sex relationships.”
The following day, the electronic voting list was made public and it was discovered that the General Secretary’s vote was accidentally recorded with the laity instead of with the clergy. To the surprise of everyone in the house, this meant that the motion passed in favour of changing the marriage canon after all – by a margin of just one vote.
As with all doctrinal changes, the canons require that the change to the marriage canon be voted on again at the 2019 synod before it becomes canon law. The repercussions of this for individual dioceses in the interim is much a matter of local discretion. The canon has not actually yet been changed and will not be until a passing vote in 2019.
However, it was made clear that while the current canons do not allow for same-sex marriages, neither do they expressly forbid them. When the vote appeared to be in opposition on Monday evening, several dioceses expressed their intentions to begin moving ahead with same-sex marriages anyway. The first of these were Niagara and Ottawa.
Primate Fred Hiltz made it very clear that there were to be no “winners” and “losers” as a result of the vote, as we remain one family and are committed to valuing our unity across theological differences in Canada. He pleaded for grace and for prayers in the days ahead, which will be undoubtedly difficult for many.
ACIP and many of the northern dioceses expressed profound disappointment with the results of the vote on the change to the marriage canon. The indigenous bishops – Mark MacDonald, Lydia Mamakwa, and Andrew Atagotaaluk — have reiterated their commitment to truly indigenous expressions of Anglicanism which are unencumbered by doctrinal changes which do not fit with their communities.
To read more about the unfolding of General Synod, including a full list of the resolutions put forward throughout the week, please see the Anglican Journal’s comprehensive coverage of the gathering.