In a wide-ranging address, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, opened Council of General Synod’s (CoGS) first meeting of the 2016-2017 triennium by encouraging members to see their church’s social justice work as grounds for unity.
“There is so much more that unites us than divides us,” he said, noting the broad support that exists in the church for anti-poverty work and refugee sponsorship. “In that is our strength, in that is our hope.”
It was the first meeting of the council since the tense and emotional General Synod in July, when a controversial motion to allow priests to perform weddings for same-sex couples passed its first reading.
Following the announcement that the vote had passed, several General Synod members, unhappy with the result, walked out of synod. Eight bishops later signed an open letter expressing their “public dissent” from the decision.
However, Hiltz said the House of Bishops meeting in September had been productive, and that the bishops had left that meeting “not in a state of disarray, but in a state of having had an open, honest, frank conversation with one another.”
While there remains a “deep divide” in the house on issues of human sexuality, “that is just our reality,” he said.
Hiltz also reminded the council, which meets twice a year and serves as the governing body of General Synod between its triennial meetings, that in the three years leading up to the second reading of the motion, debates about same-sex marriage should be taken up by dioceses and parishes, rather than the national church.
Instead, he encouraged the council to adopt the theme of General Synod 2016-“You are my witnesses”-to guide its own work over the coming triennium, and to be inspired by it to focus on pressing issues facing the church and the world. These include issues ranging from religiously motivated violence, human trafficking and climate change to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and strengthening theological education, he said.
“When we are feeding the hungry, when we’re housing the homeless, when we’re opening our parish halls, when we are caring for the poor, we are answering God’s call, God’s claim on our lives-‘you are my witnesses,’ ” he said.
Hiltz closed his address by telling the council about his recent trip to Rome, where he received a “Lampedusa cross,” made from the wreckage of refugee boats that washed up on the shores of the Italian island of Lampedusa, in the southern Mediterranean. Hiltz, who said he now takes the cross with him everywhere he travels, held it up as an example of the challenges the church needs to address.
“[The cross] is a reminder to us of the suffering of so many people in the world, and the need for us to respond as people of compassion,” he said.
Following Hiltz’s address, most of the first day was taken up in orientation and activities designed to introduce council members to each other and to the committees and bodies that perform the work of the national church.
Several CoGS members who spoke to the Anglican Journal expressed relief at the less stressful tone of the council meeting, compared to the tensions of last summer’s General Synod.
“People seem to be here knowing there are divergent opinions but wanting unity,” said Katie Puxley, a lay member from the ecclesiastical province of Canada. “People have come because they want to be together; they don’t want that diffidence to continue, but they are not sure how to proceed yet.”
Melanie Delva, representing the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, agreed.
“I had anxiety going into General Synod that I don’t have coming into this meeting,” she said. “Thus far, the conversations that I’ve had have not been as fraught as the ones I had at General Synod. So I feel like things have calmed down a little bit.”
The Rev. Vincent Solomon, from the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, said he felt the CoGS meeting was, so far, much more “congenial.”
“There doesn’t seem to be the us/them attitude that there was at General Synod,” he said.
Editor’s Note: A fact in the fourth paragraph has been corrected. There were eight, not seven bishops, who signed an open letter expressing their “public dissent” at General Synod’s decision to pass the marriage canon motion on first reading. Seven bishops initially signed the letter and one more affixed his signature later.