Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, began the spring meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) with a reflection on the theme of “trust in the coming of the Holy Spirit,” and what that means for Anglicans across Canada as they face challenges, including decisions about amending the marriage canon and standing with Indigenous people as they seek reconciliation and justice.
Starting with passages from the Gospel of John, in which after the last supper and washing of feet, Jesus speaks to the disciples about what it means to abide and dwell in him, Hiltz said: “in the promised gift of the Spirit, the disciples are called to trust…that was the call to the followers of Jesus then, and I think it is the call to the followers of Jesus now.” And he noted that the theme for this meeting of CoGS is “trust in God, trust in each other.”
Hiltz went on to describe some of the ways he sees the Spirit at work in the church, mentioning the creative ways Canadian Anglicans have embraced the Anglican Communion’s Marks of Mission. “That’s a work of the Spirit, reminding us of who we are and what we are called to do as a church-proclaiming good news; teaching the faith; nurturing believers; helping people in need, wherever they may be; transforming unjust structures of society and challenging violence; pursuing peace and reconciliation, and caring for the earth.” They remind Anglicans, he added, that “we are called to be the church in the world and for the world.”
He also mentioned that the council has been entrusted with the work of helping the church align its ministries with the priorities and practices outlined in its guiding document, Vision 2019, and that progress has been made.
Some of the work that General Synod directs to CoGS is welcomed and received with joy and enthusiasm, Hiltz said, while other work is received with “varying degrees of angst…[with] an acute awareness of the burden of responsibility that lies upon us and…an acute awareness of our call to be attentive to the movement of the Spirit through a difficult conversation.” Council members know that the church is watching what they will do, he said. “In this work, that can be pretty heavy…we embrace it in a spirit of trust, in the Spirit’s guidance.”
However it is viewed by others, the primate said he thought that the way CoGS has handled the resolution to amend the marriage canon-as directed by General Synod 2013-has been “a work of the Spirit.” He noted the care that has been taken in how to appoint a marriage canon commission “and the care that we are going to have to take once we receive the report as to the process of how we engage the conversation on the floor of General Synod.”
Hiltz said he also saw the work of the Spirit in the creation of the Primate’s Commission on the Doctrine of Discovery, Healing and Reconciliation, which was inspired by discussions with members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP).
And referring to ACIP’s call to the church to reform church structures and move toward self-determining Indigenous ministry within the church, he also called it “a movement of the Spirit.”
Following meetings with Indigenous bishops and priests the previous day, Hiltz said he had not sleep well. “I have to confess that the first time I heard the call, my eyes got kind of stuck on the last couple of pages and the challenging invitation that is within those pages about structures and finances and borders,” he said. But as he listened yesterday, he said his “mind and heart were caught by the urgency of a plan for Indigenous ministries across the church…[and] the crisis in the communities they serve.”
One of the things that kept going through his mind, Hiltz said, was a reference in the Mississauga Declaration of 2011, in which it says: “empowered in faith we will live and work to overcome the crisis that brings overwhelming death to the peoples of this land.”
“We are a people called to proclaim life: new life, abundant life, life that is good, just and right for everyone,” he said.
Hiltz reminded the council to “never forget the pastoral context: who is our neighbour?” That, he said, is a fundamental question that sometimes gets overlooked or pushed aside in discussions of constitutional issues.
But, the primate added, he knows there is a genuine will in the church “to stay focused and try to address the crisis that if the rest of the country can’t recognize, we as church will. We have to because we belong to Christ.”