A Word to the Church from the Council of General Synod

A Word to the Church from the members of the Council of General Synod who met in Mississauga, Ontario, November 7-10, 2019.

The Council of General Synod (CoGS) met from November 7-10, 2019 at the Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga. The primate, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, was in the chair throughout the meeting. This was the first meeting of Council following General Synod, and the first for the primate in her new role.

Council was invited to engage in a process of seeking “the sense of the meeting” (often referred to as “consensus decision-making”), as an alternative to divisive decision-making processes. This continues work done in the Council beginning in 2007. The process in place asks participants to work as a team towards decisions that represent, as much as possible, a shared sense of the good of the church in its ministry.

A major focus for the meeting was the call from General Synod for a strategic planning process leading to consideration of a new strategic plan at the 2022 meeting of General Synod in Calgary, Alberta. Council considered this process a number of times over the course of its meeting, led by the chair of the Strategic Planning Working Group, Ms. Judith Moses. Other members of the working group are the Rev. Monique Stone, Mr. Ian Alexander, Ms. Cynthia Haines-Turner, Archdeacon Valerie Kerr, Ms. Dale Drozda, as well as the primate (Archbishop Linda Nicholls) and general secretary (Archdeacon Michael Thompson). Ms. Moses presented a distillation of members’ input near the end of the meeting.

The strategic planning process will be widely consultative, with dioceses and provinces, with committees, with Council of General Synod and Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, with Anglican Communion, ecumenical, and Full Communion partners, with other national Anglican ministries, and with Church House Management Team and staff.

The strategic planning process will connect with the House of Bishops through a “link bishop” for each Ecclesiastical Province: Archbishop Ron Cutler (Canada), Bishop Andrew Asbil (Ontario), Bishop Geoff Woodcroft (Rupert’s Land) and Bishop David Lehmann (British Columbia and Yukon).

The theme chosen by the Planning and Agenda Team for these three years is “A changing church, a searching world, a faithful God.” Among the ways in which the church is changing is a significant reduction in the number of members, of those attending Sunday worship, and of those contributing financially to the church. The Rev. Dr. Neil Elliot, General Synod’s statistics and research officer, presented a report outlining those reductions. Dr. Elliot asked Council to take the statistics seriously, and to understand that a smaller church will not have the financial and human resources that it had in the past. Archdeacon Thompson noted that Dr. Elliot had provided a similar report to members of the House of Bishops at their September meeting. They formed a working group under the leadership of Bishop Mary Irwin Gibson of Montreal, to explore what further data should be gathered to provide a more complete picture of the state of the church across Canada. Sunday attendance, parish membership, and the number of donors, while significant data, do not fully describe the reality of the church.

Council members also heard two descriptions of “green shoots” – new and vibrant community ministries, and had opportunity to share their own stories of vitality in the life of the church.

Archbishop Nicholls identified dismantling systemic racism as a priority for our church at this time. The National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop, Mark MacDonald, engaged council members in consideration of the reality of systemic racism, and its impact on all member of our church and society. In her partner’s reflection on the last day, Ms. Noreen Duncan, partner from The Episcopal Church, challenged the Council and the Anglican Church to deepen its commitment to dismantling racism, and to make that commitment visible in the makeup of its governing bodies and leadership.

Council heard from the Vision Keepers, the body responsible for monitoring our church’s commitment to the articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which the General Synod endorsed during its 2010 meeting. Currently, the Vision Keepers is entirely Indigenous in its membership. Current members have identified the importance of non-Indigenous membership in this body, as it is doing work on behalf of the whole church.

The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) provided a substantial update on the progress towards self-determination among Indigenous Anglicans. A gathering of the Sacred Circle next June in Orillia will consider a constitution for the National Indigenous Ministry. Of note was the growing participation of young people in this work, a deepening understanding of the presence of Christ in Indigenous culture and spiritual life, and a growing sense that the vision of the elders is being realized more and more.

CoGS also received the report of the Jubilee Commission, the group established by the last Council to seek a just and sustainable financial plan for the National Indigenous Ministry.

A number of the homilies offered as Council gathered daily for the Eucharist addressed the importance of moving into the future with hope. In particular, Archbishop MacDonald spoke of the temptation of seeing our role as “managing decline” when it is our responsibility to rediscover hope in our relationship with God.

In the bible study that began each afternoon, members reflected on the story of the encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, from Luke’s gospel, both in the familiar translation of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and in an Indigenous telling of “The Road to Warm Springs”.

Members had an opportunity to learn more about the ministry of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, of “Engage Freedom!”, the joint work of Public Witness and Global Relations on the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery (including “Freedom Sunday” to be observed in February, 2020) and of Kairos.

In addition to this being the first meeting for Archbishop Linda Nicholls as primate, it was also the first meeting for the Rev. Dr. Karen Egan as prolocutor, for Ms. Judith Moses as deputy prolocutor, and for the Rev. Monique Stone and Ms. Cynthia Haines-Turner as co-chairs of the Planning and Agenda Team. At the March meeting, a joint meeting with the National Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Rev. Louise Peters will join the meeting as chaplain.

Council missed the presence of the chancellor of General Synod, David Jones, and was well-served in his absence by the deputy chancellor, Ann Bourke.

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