A commission is to be formed that will find ways of funding the self-determining Indigenous Anglican Church—including, possibly, a tithe on sales of church property.
The commission would also look at how compensation for Indigenous clergy, a high proportion of whom are unpaid, might be brought closer to the salary levels of other clergy in the church, according to a resolution passed at Council of General Synod (CoGS) Friday, June 1.
The resolution, proposed by Riscylla Shaw, area bishop for Trent-Durham within the diocese of Toronto and co-chair of the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice, calls for CoGS to appoint a “Jubilee Commission” that would “propose a just, sustainable and equitable funding base for the self-determining Indigenous Anglican church.”
The commission, the resolution states, “would be charged with examining historic and current funds made available for Indigenous ministries at various levels of the church’s structure, assessing current funds designated to Indigenous programming, and assessing broader property questions.”
This new body, it continues, might consider “current salary levels of Indigenous clergy and strategies to move towards parity, possible redistributions of portions of property sales on a principled basis and increasing alignment between funds for Indigenous ministries and Indigenous oversight of these funds.”
Asked by CoGS prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner to explain the phrase “on a principled basis,” Shaw replied, “It wouldn’t be just random here and random there. There would be an organized structure and a way that’s agreed upon—a principled way—of how to do redistribution of funds.
“The loose concept is a tithe on property sales,” Walsh said on further questioning. “It would be a principled tithe.”
A vote by consensus—in which voters indicate their level of comfort with a motion using their hands—showed two members of CoGS felt a need to discuss the issue in more detail. John Rye, of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, said he felt there had not been enough discussion on the idea of the new planned commission.
He and the rest of CoGS, he said, “would do virtually anything inside our power to fix what has been done wrong in the past.” Yet, he added, “I am afraid that this motion will not be the quickest way towards a strong, independent, self-funding, self-propagating Aboriginal church—that it will add another layer of supervision to what is happening.”
Several members of CoGS then spoke out in favour of the resolution.
Canon (lay) David Jones, chancellor of General Synod, said he supported the motion because it meant that the issues the commission would be tasked with resolving would be “addressed in a thoughtful, comprehensive way.” The commission, he added, would not itself be making decisions on the issues it is mandated to consider—these would have to be made by the appropriate church bodies.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said a virtue of the proposal was that the commission would work to build a more equitable relationship between the church and Indigenous Anglicans by focusing on the “mission priorities” of the present and future, rather than laying blame for actions done in the past.
“There are quite a bit of church properties being sold these days,” he said. “The church is not without resources.”
Larry Robertson, bishop of the diocese of Yukon, called the resolution “long overdue.
“Justice costs. Love costs,” he said.
Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of General Synod, said he saw “creativity and imagination” in the process envisioned by the resolution.
“I’m hopeful for the first time in a long time that there’s a way through this that actually makes the whole church richer in the most important ways, by sharing the wealth that allows us to enter into God’s mission with a clean conscience and good relationships,” he said.
After confirming that Rye and the other CoGs member who had earlier expressed a desire to discuss the matter more deeply were now satisfied with the resolution, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, declared it adopted.
The adoption of the resolution, Hiltz said, marked “a very important moment” in the life of CoGS and of the Anglican Church of Canada, and was in the spirit of a number of important milestones of reconciliation between the church and its Indigenous members.
The vote was held during a session on the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice, a commission that was formed in 2013 to find ways the church can put into practice its 2010 repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, a concept used by Europeans to justify the colonization of the Americas. With the commission set to wrap up in 2019, it has lately been discussing how the work of reconciliation might continue beyond that date, Walsh said, and the idea of the Jubilee Commission arose out of these talks.
Members of CoGS were also shown a short film on the Doctrine of Discovery recently produced by the office of General Synod. The film is actually a promo for a planned one-hour documentary dealing with the topic, said Lisa Barry, senior producer at Anglican Video, the division of the office of General Synod communications department that creates video and multi-media resources. Barry said she encountered a great deal of interest in the film while making it, and hopes to share it outside the church when it is finished—with schools, for example.