While recent years have seen much talk of “unity” in certain quarters of the deeply divided Anglican Church of Canada, unity is not just an end in itself, says Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada.
In a November 20 presentation to Council of General Synod (CoGS), Thompson described the unity of the church as “not just about getting along with each other for the sake of getting along,” but being a “part of our ministry and witness.”
Thompson said that in a time of rising “nativist and nationalist movements…in which people are narrowing their vision to what they perceive to be their own good, even while ignoring the reality that if the common good fails, personal good is hard to achieve,” the church must be a witness to co-operation and respect across deep differences.
In the wake of a particularly fractious General Synod in July, where a controversial motion to allow the marriage of same-sex couples passed its first reading, Anglicans need to work to understand each other better, he said.
In response to frustrations voiced at General Synod regarding the legislative structures and processes of the church, Thompson sounded a note of caution about the idea that changes to the church’s decision-making process would foster a greater sense of unity.
“We still have not listened to one another to the point of building understanding of those differences among us that trouble us most,” said Thompson. “If we do not take the time it takes…to understand that diversity as a dimension of our faithfulness, then there is no process of discerning and deciding that will allow us to avoid the consequences that we experienced at General Synod.”
Instead, Thompson said, it is a matter of “the whole church understanding the whole church as legitimately the church.”
Thompson also offered a concrete example of one way he thinks the church has been successful in this.
He related a conversation between himself and the Rev. Eileen Scully, director of faith, worship, and ministry at General Synod, about a conversation she had had with the Rev. Robert Oliphant, a United Church minister and Liberal MP who served as chair of the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying.
According to Thompson, Oliphant had told Scully that the Anglican Church of Canada was the only organization to make a submission to the committee raising the question of how legalizing assisted dying would affect Indigenous communities.
Thompson said that was “a moment in which we, I think, heard and spoke…to who we are trying to be and become.”
Thompson also drew attention to the written report he had submitted to CoGS, which consisted mostly of brief summaries of the work being done in the departments of the national church.
He also encouraged synod members to read a second report he had sent to CoGS explaining the voting errors at General Synod 2016.
In his report, Thompson explained that the error was caused by a failure to record Thompson, MacDonald and Canon (lay) David Jones, chancellor of General Synod, as voting members in the database that was used by Data-on-the-Spot (DOTS), the company hired to facilitate electronic voting at synod.
While Jones realized that an error had been made regarding himself and Thompson, he did not realize MacDonald had been left off as well. And when Thompson was coded into the system, he was registered incorrectly as a member of the laity.
Three other members, two clergy and a layperson, also reported that their votes in favour of the motion had not been recorded, but the report says there is “uncertainty” as to whether this was due to errors on their own part or problems with the devices they used in voting.
Thompson concluded his report by noting that electronic voting will only be used in the future if these issues can be addressed in a satisfactory manner. However, he said he has been in contact with DOTS, and they have proposed measures to ensure greater assurance that votes have been properly recorded, such as assigning a number to each voting device, or providing visual proof that a particular member’s vote has been registered.
Thompson said that CoGS’ Governance Working Group would explore the problem further and propose additions to the handbook to govern electronic voting, including, for example, whether clergy and laity should vote at the same time, as opposed to separately.