Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, is inviting Anglicans across the country to open up about what their faith and their church mean to them in a series of guided conversations beginning this fall.
“This year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of General Synod, and to mark this milestone I am inviting the church to listen to its heartbeat,” Hiltz said in his opening address to the Council of General Synod (CoGS), which is meeting in Mississauga, Ont. June 1-June 3.
“I’m inviting people to come together in conversation circles in their homes, churches or whatever venue will work with them, to talk with one another about their life as followers of Jesus, and to talk about the health and vitality of this church.”
Shane Parker, dean of the diocese of Ottawa, together with a small team of national office staff, Hiltz said, had recently created an “instrument” to help guide these conversations. The instrument, he said, involves several steps, including a reflection on the prayer of mission written by Archbishop Howard Clark, primate from 1959-1970; an invitation to “speak from the heart” on matters such as: “When and how do you pray?” “Describe a time when prayer came from deep within your heart.” “Where do you meet God?”; and reflection on the “Farewell Discourse” in the gospel according to St. John, in which Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, exhorts his disciples to love one another.
The resource also asks participants, Hiltz said, to “describe a time when our church made your heart glad, made it sing; a time when our church made your heart ache; and a time when our church gave you hope.” The activity will conclude with participants pondering what their “heartfelt prayer” is for the church, he said.
Hiltz said he would write a pastoral letter this month, inviting everyone across the Anglican Church of Canada to take part in the exercise, scheduled to take place from mid-September 2018 to mid-May 2019. A video on the conversations will then be presented to General Synod when it meets in July 2019, he said.
Hiltz issued his invitation after citing, in his address, some of the thoughts expressed by previous primates on meetings of General Synod over the decades since it first met in 1893. A number of these reflections concerned dividedness in the church—the view expressed by Archbishop Derwyn Owen, primate from 1934-1947, for example, that the church needed “more people thinking in terms of the whole church.”
Owen wrote, Hiltz said, “I view with a kind of horror any signs of widening divisiveness among us. The spectacle in an age like this of the church giving its energies to domestic differences when the foundations of faith itself are being undermined would be a spectacle to make angels weep.”
Hiltz also cited Archbishop Samuel Matheson, primate from 1909-1931, who quipped before one meeting of General Synod, “May God the Holy Ghost be with us in our meeting, and make it the best of all past synods and the worst of all of the future.”
Added Hiltz, “I’m kind of feeling that way as I look to 2019.”
A required second vote on a resolution to allow for same-sex marriages in the church is to be held at General Synod in 2019. The issue has proved divisive, and Hiltz earlier this spring said that many bishops are hoping, for the sake of unity in the church, that Canadian Anglicans will come to be more respectful of different views of marriage.
Hiltz also spoke of a number of other anniversaries of important events in the history of the church that have recently been marked or that will be marked this year, such as the 55th anniversary of the first Anglican Congress, held in Toronto in 1963.
He quoted Clark, in his opening address at that event: “If there’s to be a rebirth of our Anglican communion, it must be a rebirth of loving service to the world.”
Hiltz also said he had also been thinking of how the ideas of personal and political transformation are combined in the Magnificat, or Song of Mary. The recent life of the Anglican Church of Canada, he said, in some sense also expresses these two themes.
“The song of our church is in many respects becoming more and more the Song of Mary,” he said, citing a wide range of church accomplishments including improving food security, fighting human trafficking, fostering right relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and building fruitful relationships with other churches of the Anglican communion, such as those in Cuba and the Holy Land.
Hiltz said he felt grateful for all those in the church who had performed this work. The time, he said, calls for prayer that the church will continue to be inspired to perform its service to the world.
“What a time of prayer this needs to be,” he said. “Prayer for the grace of God, the leading of the Holy Spirit, coming as she does fresh from the future that is God’s, and beckoning us to inhabit that future even now.”