Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, says he hopes a prayerful spirit will prevail at General Synod this July, despite the tensions likely to be stirred by discussions of, and voting on, same-sex marriage.
“Some of our work in synod is just an absolute joy and a delight, and some of it is challenging, and it’s a struggle,” Hiltz says in a video reflection on General Synod released by the church’s national office this March.
“No doubt in this synod there will be some stress and some strain, but I hope and pray that in the grace of the waters of baptism in which we have been made one with Christ, that we will be able to continue to do our work in synod and that we’ll know that in the midst of it all, we are, in fact, members one of another.”
This General Synod, the 41st in the history of the Anglican Church of Canada, is expected to be momentous, involving as it does a vote to change the church’s canon (law) on marriage.
“That’s a fairly huge issue for our church, so I think people who come to this General Synod will rightly have some anxiety about that,” says General Synod Deputy Prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner, in another video released by the office of General Synod.
It also seems likely that, whichever way the estimated 269 delegates assembling in Thornhill, Ont., July 7-12 vote, the impact will be felt in Anglican churches across Canada. In an April 12 interview, Hiltz told the Anglican Journal that bishops are concerned that clergy and parishes may decide to leave the church if the vote is not acceptable to them. (Avowals to this effect have also been made by followers of the Journal’s Facebook page.) Hiltz also said he believed some clergy, if faced with a “no” vote, might decide to marry same-sex couples anyway.
The primate said he hopes General Synod members will live the theme chosen for this General Synod-“You Are My Witnesses,” a phrase from Isaiah 43:10, which deals with God’s promise to the Jews of the restoration of Israel, and alluded to in the New Testament by Jesus, when he sends his disciples into the world.
“It’s a beautiful theme, it’s a challenging theme, because it speaks to me of the manner in which we’re called to go about our work in the synod…in ways that are respectful, in ways that are prayerful,” Hiltz said in his video reflection.
In an interview, Hiltz said that although much attention has been focused on the marriage canon resolution, General Synod will deal with other important matters.
Among the topics he’s most excited about, Hiltz says, is Indigenous ministries, to which an entire day-Sunday, July 10-will be dedicated. It will begin with Indigenous spiritual leaders leading delegates in morning worship, followed by an afternoon discussion of the Mission Statement for an Indigenous Anglican Spiritual Ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada. A document presented by Indigenous bishops to Council of General Synod this March outlines the objectives of future Indigenous ministry in the church.
Hiltz says he hopes the day will conclude with the commissioning of a Council of Elders and Youth, charged with holding the church accountable to Call to Action #48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), dealing with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Among those expected to be present during the proceedings, he says, is TRC Commissioner Marie Wilson.
“When I was sharing with her that we were going to take this move, she was very excited and said she would just love to be present at that moment in synod,” Hiltz says.
Hiltz says he also eagerly looks forward to seeing Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio, of the Episcopal Church of Cuba, and Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, primate of Brazil, partly because the Canadian church stands at an interesting time in its relationship with both these partners in the Anglican Communion.
The nature of the Canadian church’s relationship to the Cuban church is widely thought to be uncertain as the church in Cuba prepares to return to The Episcopal Church; the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican province of Brazil, on the other hand, are moving toward re-establishing a formal relationship after a lapse of some six years.
Hiltz said that as he reflected recently on the upcoming General Synod, the words from an Anglican night prayer came repeatedly to mind: “What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done. Now let it be.”
Asked what he felt had not been done, Hiltz questioned whether Canadian Anglicans had given enough thought to This Holy Estate, the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon; or enough consideration to what he called the “lived experience of gays and lesbians.”
Now, with General Synod looming ever-closer, Hiltz said, “We just now need to ‘let it be,’ and allow ourselves to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.”