No Indigenous translations of marriage canon report, CoGS hears

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Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton says the working group is not abandoning the idea of communicating the marriage canon report with Indigenous members and the rest of the church. Photo: Marites Sison
Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton says the working group is not abandoning the idea of communicating the marriage canon report with Indigenous members and the rest of the church. Photo: Marites Sison

A working group tasked with, among other things, looking into translating “This Holy Estate” and other materials related to the marriage canon into Indigenous languages has decided that such an undertaking would not be worthwhile, Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard Saturday, June 24.

After “considerable conversation” within the task group and consultations with people outside of it, “it was decided at this point in time that translation of the documents into [Indigenous languages is] not going to be helpful, it’s not what’s going to be needed,” working group member Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton said in a presentation to CoGs.

“This Holy Estate”  is the report of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Commission on the Marriage Canon, released in September 2015.

The working group on the marriage canon was formed last fall  and mandated with facilitating the discussions within dioceses on the motion to change the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriages. Included in the working group’s mandate was the translation of materials related to the proposed change to the marriage canon into Indigenous languages, a desire expressed by some members of last summer’s General Synod.

The motion passed its first reading at that General Synod, but needs to be approved at a second reading in 2019 before it is passed. In the meantime, it is expected that dioceses discuss the motion.

Asked to provide more details on the decision not to translate the report, Sidney Black, Indigenous bishop for Treaty 7 territory in the diocese of Calgary and a member of the working group, said it was based on discussions within the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples as well as conversations he had had with National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Indigenous Ministries Co-ordinator Canon Ginny Doctor. In the end, it was decided the time and resources needed, the difficulty of deciding which of the many Indigenous Canadian languages to translate the report into and the comprehensiveness of the document would all make the task very difficult, he said.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, asked whether the group had considered translating only the executive summary of the document.

“Im a little anxious that the position that’s been taken may be received with some dismay on the part of some members of General Synod, including Indigenous members, who really were asking for some translation work to be done…I think we just need to be mindful of that. I don’t want us to be going into General Synod without having done our work,” Hiltz said.

MacDonald replied that translating the executive summary would involve the same difficulties as translating the entire report. Many Indigenous Anglicans he had spoken to about the issue, he added, have not been anxious to see a translation.

“When we’ve discussed this…there hasn’t been interest, in part because the people who are discussing this most directly and most completely are also reading it in English,” he said. “We could reconsider that—the summary—and I’m willing to do that if that’s the request of this body, but at this point there’s no interest in it.”

Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, added that other forms of engagement about the issue with Indigenous Anglicans, such as face-to-face talks with elders, would likely be more valuable.

McNaughton said she wanted to assure CoGS that the working group, in deciding not to translate This Holy Estate, was not abandoning the idea of communicating the marriage canon report with Indigenous members and the rest of the church.

“We will work on that—be assured it’s not dropped. It’s just, ‘How do we look at the complexity of that?’” she said.

The working group was also tasked with preparing resources to facilitate discussions within provinces and dioceses, McNaughton said. The group wants to hear more from them about both what resources they are already using and what they might need, she said. It is also working on building a list of skilled facilitators for these conversations.

The group is also hoping to practice a “listening process” with CoGS members at its meeting next November, for practicing “respectful and generous conversation,” in which each side is able to express the opinion of the other. The working group hopes that provincial and diocesan synods will be able to incorporate useful elements of this process into their own conversations, she said.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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