In a changing world, Anglicans must rise to the challenge and once more become a “community of disciples,” National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said as the 42nd General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada got underway.
That call for discipleship and renewal suffused MacDonald’s homily at the opening worship service of the week-long meeting. The evening celebration of the Eucharist took place on Wednesday, July 10, at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, blocks away from the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre where the majority of synod would take place in the coming days.
MacDonald’s vision of a revitalized church in part responded to difficulties that the church and the world currently face. In his homily, the bishop cited the Book of Revelation as a “reliable guide to the world we live in today.”
“For all of us, we live in a time when money has overcome the culture to such an extent that life itself has become commodified in ways that even our grandparents couldn’t even imagine,” MacDonald told synod members. “We, all of us, are living in the economy that is described in the Book of Revelation as the prelude to God’s intervention in human history, in a final and definitive way.”
For the most part, he added, the church’s response has been “feeble,” and perhaps disappointing for many Anglicans who are “saying things that an increasing number of people don’t want to hear.” Much of this feebleness, MacDonald suggested, comes from the church’s changing relationship to an increasingly secular culture.
In the past, the Anglican Church of Canada developed as an institution with a “cozy relationship” to society—a relationship, often referred to as Christendom, that has now disappeared. In such a situation, “it is essential for us to begin to imagine something else.”
In place of resuscitating “the corpse of something that’s passed,” the national Indigenous Anglican bishop called on the church to “look for a resurrection in our midst…to understand and see and believe that God can do something great in the midst of us—and that Jesus can be someone who is alive and living and real for us in a way today that will not only be saving for us, but will be a message that has an important impact on the world that needs it so desperately.”
To move towards this vision, he appealed to Anglicans to make changes in four different ways.
First, as opposed to being merely “members of an institution,” Anglicans must “become once again a community of disciples…. It is necessary for us to be disciplined in how we listen to the word of God, how we interact with one another, how we care for one another.”
Second, the church must be “be a community of openness to all people, in a way that we never have been before”—a product of the love that Jesus cited as the primary output of proper Christian discipleship.
“Christendom, which was good for many people in our church, was not so good for a lot of other people in our church,” MacDonald said. “We were pretty rough on people according to race, according to religion and according to gender. In these three ways, we did not show the kind of love that Jesus showed to us. We may have acted as a good institution. We did not act as a community of disciples, and we are called to something greater.”
Third, the church must renew itself in its love for all of creation. Finally, Anglicans must recover “the presence of Jesus in our midst,” which the bishop cited as the “true glory” and power of the church.
The national Indigenous Anglican bishop’s calls for renewal were echoed by Archbishop and Primate Fred Hiltz, who presided at the opening worship.
In remarks near the end of the service, the primate thanked Dean Peter Elliott and the staff of Christ Church Cathedral for “the privilege of worshipping in this absolutely gorgeous, holy space.” He said synod members would return to the cathedral on Saturday, July 13, for the election of a new primate, and then on Tuesday, July 16, for the installation of the new primate.
Synod members chuckled warmly when the primate quoted Psalm 118:24 in reference to the installation day: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Yet the primate quickly made clear the sincerity of his remarks.
“I really pray that that’s the kind of moment it is for the whole church,” he said, “a moment of real rejoicing as we look to fresh leadership in the ministry of a new primate.”
With the Anglican Foundation of Canada serving as visionary sponsor for General Synod 2019, executive director Judy Rois also addressed synod members and tied the past of the church to its future.
She said that since its founding more than 60 years ago, the foundation had helped support church ministries with more than $34 million in grants and bursaries for construction projects, theological education, community initiatives, choir camps, arts and children’s programs.
“The tagline for the Anglican Foundation is, ‘Imagine more,’” Rois said. “So for this General Synod, we say: imagine. Just imagine what this synod can do to build up the church in positive and life-giving ways for all people.”
The beginning of the worship service included a land acknowledgement noting that the 42nd General Synod took place on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Opening music and drumming by the Kwhlii Gibaygum Nisga’a Dancers featured songs of peace and welcome. A hymn played during communion, “I Have Called You By Name,” reflected the theme of the General Synod and was composed to honor the primacy of Hiltz.
Bishop Larry Robertson officially welcomed all members present to General Synod on behalf of Archbishop and Metropolitan Melissa Skelton, who was unable to attend the opening Eucharist due to illness. Hiltz had conversed with Skelton that evening, assuring her of the synod’s love and prayers for her. He in turn conveyed to synod members the metropolitan’s “love and prayers for this holy synod.”