The first day of General Synod commenced on July 7, 2016 at the Sheraton Parkway North Toronto Hotel and Suites in Richmond Hill, Ontario. General Synod members, guests, partners, staff and observers registered throughout the day.
Members of General Synod assembled in the Grand York Ballroom in mid-afternoon for an orientation session. The Very Rev. Peter Wall, chair of the General Synod planning committee, facilitated the session, welcoming members along with invited guests, partners, and observers as he offered information focused on the “who, what, when, where, and how” of General Synod. He introduced several speakers highlighting different aspects of the event.
Brian Bukowski, web manager for the General Synod, explained the GS2016 app and how to use the tablets distributed to each member, walking them through each feature of the app. Noting it was the first time General Synod would be utilizing such technology, he reminded members that they would receive a survey at the end of Synod to report on their experience using the app.
“Tech wiz” J.P. Copeland followed with an explanation of how to operate the electronic clickers being used for the first time at General Synod. The clickers would allow members to instantly cast votes, recording their last response within a certain time frame.
Next, the Rev. Greg Carpenter, responsible for overseeing pastoral care at General Synod. He talked about the role of the pastoral care team and volunteers, identifiable by their distinctive green badges and who would be available to offer pastoral care at different points throughout the gathering.
The Rev. Martha Tatarnic, chair of the General Synod worship committee, brought members’ attention to the artwork produced by Elizabeth Adams for General Synod including different pieces of art on each table, all designed with prayer and intentionality in mind. Tatarnic expressed her hope that through worship, members would note the central role of Scripture and how the word of God has passed down through many successive generations. She said that the environment of General Synod was designed to function as a sacred space in addition to handling the business at hand, and hoped that members would keep their hearts, eyes, and ears open through worship to be attentive to the new things God would be saying in their midst. Each member of General Synod received a worship book to use throughout the General Synod, and which also serves as a tangible reminder of their prayers.
Janet Marshall, who is facilitating neighbourhood discussions regarding changes to the marriage canon, followed by explaining some of the procedural aspects of the process.
Meghan Kilty, director of Communications and Information Resources for the General Synod, discussed the role of communications and relations with invited members of the media. Comparing General Synod to a family gathering, she described the media as friends and guests trying to make sense of members and their decisions, and added that Synod would welcome them with hospitality and graciousness. She reminded members that they had the right to be interviewed and to speak for themselves, but not to speak on behalf of General Synod as a whole.
Wrapping up the orientation session, Wall reflected on how blessed those in attendance were to have staff members and volunteers who had worked so hard to make General Synod successful. He described General Synod as a wonderful gift and a privilege, but one that required hard work, and counselled members to make sure they got enough sleep, food, and exercise if need be.
Members departed for a buffet dinner and some free time before re-grouping later that evening.
General Secretary Michael Thompson welcomed members, guests, and observers back to the Grand York Ballroom for the opening worship service.
Prior to the opening procession, members received an official welcome to Richmond Hill from Mayor Dave Barrow. The General Secretary noted that this year’s General Synod was the first following the establishment of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, the ministry of which members warmly applauded. Bishop Bruce Myers, the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Quebec, welcomed ecumenical and interfaith guests who were present for the evening but would not be staying for the entire Synod.
Following the opening procession and asperges, the first Bible reading at the worship service was Isaiah 43, the passage that inspired the theme of this year’s General Synod, “You Are My Witnesses.” A subsequent reading consisted of a passage from the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus refers to those who have perceived his resurrection as his witnesses.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, reflected on the theme in his opening sermon. He asked members to imagine the tiny community of believers who constituted the infant Christian church and what they might have spoken about regarding how they understood Jesus’s commission, his references to the Holy Spirit, and how their own witness might be remembered in time.
The Primate then asked members to look around the room and see themselves as another tiny community—a microcosm of the church who were likewise called to follow Jesus in serving God’s mission to the world, commissioned through baptism and inspired by the Marks of Mission. He recalled the history of the Anglican Church of Canada, looking at moments when its witness had been strong and fulfilled its mission, but also when it had been misguided. Throughout that history, Archbishop Hiltz said, the church had struggled with disagreements often centred around inclusion—the place of women, of young people, of different religious communities, of Indigenous Peoples, and of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning people and their equality of access to all ministrations of the church, including marriage.
With so many in the church at large looking over the coming five days to the members of General Synod, the Primate asked members to conduct themselves with the sense of grace and goodwill epitomized by the Sexuality Discernment Statement from General Synod 2010 in Halifax, which stated that despite disagreements, members were committed to walking together in their common life within the church.
The Primate then offered a prayer seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Church leaders from across the country led the Prayers to the People, speaking in a multitude of languages including Cantonese, French, Oji-Cree, Spanish, Portuguese, and Inuktitut. Hundreds of General Synod members, guests, and observers celebrated the Eucharist together.
Following opening worship, those in attendance gathered in the Grand Richmond room for an opening reception. Members and guests conversed while enjoying drinks and food from the West Indies, China, and other cultures over the sound of live music featuring steel drums. At the end of the reception, they departed for the night, resting up in preparation for the work of the days ahead.
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