In July, lay, clerical, and episcopal members from across our entire Canadian Anglican Church gathered in downtown Vancouver, B.C., for seven days to worship, share in Christian community, listen and learn about our common ministry and mission, and make decisions about the future work and priorities of our Church. Much has been spoken, written, tweeted and put on Facebook about the experience since then. And while the hugely important steps taken to support our self-determining Indigenous Church have received accolades from all corners, the outcomes (yes – plural – the debates, vote, and various follow up statements all factor in) of the proposed change to Canon 21 on Marriage seem to have generated the greatest interest and analysis.
Much has been reported (and needed to be) about the pain, disappointment, and finger-pointing that emerged in the immediate aftermath of the vote that failed to pass. There have been many sensitively-balanced pastoral statements by bishops and others interpreting what took place, attempting to place this outcome in the larger context of church and society over the last couple of decades. And there have been numerous conjectural anecdotes trying to speculate the “what-ifs” that might have brought about a different outcome.
But the deeper and more important question that we need to grapple with is, “Where is God in all of this?” It’s too easy to imagine God looking upon the discussion, debate, outcome and response of a Synod from a “50,000 foot vantage point” – only to step back into the “picture” afterwards and help us pick up the pieces.
But for weeks, if not months in advance of this General Synod, many of us have been praying this prayer:
“Almighty and everliving God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in the General Synod for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honour and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” [emphasis mine]
Do we believe God was indeed acting in and through this Synod? And if this is the case, can we also believe that God is now acting in and through us as we work through the ramifications of the result and the diverse ways that different parts of our Church are responding? I am not suggesting that what took place represents God’s perfect will. But I am affirming that God knows us – and knows what God has “to work with” in the people and processes of our Synod.
Of this much we can be sure. God called us together in this Synod – particular people from particular places to do particular work. And God knew that we were imperfect people who would use imperfect processes that would result in imperfect outcomes. There is something that sounds vaguely familiar about this. Jesus called together imperfect disciples, who would try to implement imperfect actions (including outright denial) and the result would be imperfect outcomes – especially as measured on Good Friday! But what those broken, disappointed, and disillusioned disciples soon discovered was that God was not watching from a distance in those final days of Jesus’ life – God couldn’t have been any more embedded in their midst!
I don’t know if those disciples ever asked, “Where is God in all of this?”, but they were at least open enough to receive the revelations of the Risen Christ and the indwelling Spirit in the days that followed. The most important work that lies ahead for all of us – the most hopeful and encouraging path we must follow – is to be faithful to our call together as the ecclesia of God and to continue to seek the God who will indeed reveal in God’s own way the answer to “where is God in all of this?” – Don Phillips, former Bishop of Rupert’s Land
Photos by Anglican Church of Canada / Milos Tosic.