Members of the General Synod Planning Committee gather in Vancouver. Submitted photo

General Synod Planning Committee prepares for Vancouver

In January, members of the current General Synod Planning Committee (GSPC) gathered in Vancouver for their first face-to-face meeting to plan the next General Synod, which will take place from July 10-16, 2019 at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre.

One of the challenges that the planning team is addressing , General Secretary Michael Thompson said, was to find new ways of dealing with the agenda in a way that would create a sense of belonging for all synod members—a dynamic that he described as creating a “synod on a human scale.”

“Given the extraordinary diversity in our church, how do we accommodate that diversity so that there really is as close to full comfort and participation as we can get, in a meeting of human beings talking about things that aren’t always easy to talk about?” Thompson said.

From a second reading on changes to the  marriage canon, to further steps towards Indigenous self-determination, to a Primatial election that will determine the successor to Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the 42nd meeting of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada will feature a packed agenda that the GSPC is working hard to organize in the run-up to 2019.

Facilitating dialogue

Prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner, who serves on the GSPC as a representative of the Council of General Synod (CoGS), said that members of the planning team are “really working hard to try and have as balanced an agenda and approach and process as possible” as General Synod members prepare to look at the second reading of proposed changes to the marriage canon.

“That’s a sensitive issue, and I think it’s important for the General Synod Planning Committee to create … the best process so that people may be able to contribute and participate in that vote without leaning one way or the other,” Haines-Turner said.

Another major priority for the GSPC is to shape the life of the General Synod in a way that Thompson described as “more accessible [and] more welcoming to what one might call Indigenous ways of knowing, Indigenous ways of exploring, of deciding”—in part through close consultation with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP). Bishop Sidney Black, ACIP co-chair, represented ACIP at the meeting of the GSPC.

The General Secretary surmised that could involve more time for conversation during the synod before moving to parliamentary procedures.

“I think it has to do a lot with how we prepare—not just to have a vote, but to be a community that’s having a vote and to emerge from that vote with a continuing sense of being a community,” Thompson said.

Location, location, location

By holding their first in-person meeting in Vancouver, GSPC members were able to get a sense of the community that would be hosting the next General Synod, with Bishop Melissa Skelton welcoming members to the Diocese of New Westminster and the ecclesiastical province of BC & Yukon and sharing a meal.

The planning committee includes many Anglican leaders from the diocese, including Executive Archdeacon Douglas Fenton. Other members from the Diocese of New Westminster include the Ven. Dr. Lynne McNaughton—representing CoGS in her role as Deputy Prolocutor—and the Very Rev. Peter Elliott, who chairs the Worship Committee.

“Obviously, I love our diocese, and I think it’s really important for the wider church to have a sense that this is a country that goes from coast to coast,” McNaughton said.

“To be able to host [General Synod 2019], it helps people in New Westminster [and the ecclesiastical province] have more sense of the national church … To have a big event like this really is exciting for Vancouver.”

Because of the location of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver only three blocks away from the Sheraton Wall Centre, members of General Synod will able to access the cathedral for worship, including opening and closing services and the election and installation of a new Primate.

Though no final decisions have yet been made, Elliott is hopeful that delegates and others will have the opportunity to participate in Sunday worship at local parish churches.

“It’s a bit of an organizational challenge to get 200-300 people from downtown Vancouver into various parish churches across the diocese,” he said. “But I think we’re up to the challenge, and I think it’ll be good both for members of the General Synod to experience worship in a local parish church—and also for local parish churches to receive visitors from across Canada, some indeed from across the world, who make the General Synod more than just the meetings in Vancouver.”

Primatial election and visions post-2019

The decision by Archbishop Fred Hiltz to resign as Primate at the conclusion of General Synod 2019 did not come entirely as a surprise to members of the GSPC, who had some inkling the Primate’s retirement might be a possibility.

With much of the site work already done, news of the impending retirement did not put any significant extra pressure on the committee.

“We were surprised and sorry to hear that the Primate is retiring, but we had some sense that it might be happening, so we were in some ways prepared,” GSPC chair, the Very Rev. Peter Wall said. “And we had already been planning, in terms of the length of time of General Synod given, that we knew there was a possibility that it might happen, [so] we made sure initially that we had enough time for it.”

The election of a new Primate, Wall noted, comes right as the Anglican Church of Canada begins to create a new set of priorities to succeed Vision 2019, which has guided the church in its ministry and mission since 2010.

“We’ve had Vision 2019 in front of us, so what’s post-2019 in terms of the vision for ministry and mission for the church?” Wall asked. “How do we look forward to 2022 and the next Joint Assembly? What’s going to happen in terms of the ongoing work on self-determination for Indigenous Anglicans? All of those things are big pieces of what General [Synod] is going to have before it and what the church has before it.”

The GSPC will hold two more face-to-face planning meetings this year, including a meeting in May, and will update CoGS at its next meeting in early June.

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