Secretary General’s Address to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada • July 9 in Toronto
Prayer for the Unity of Christians
Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one, we pray to you for the unity of Christians, according to your will, according to your means, may your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin and hope beyond all hope. Amen.
I offer my thanks to Archbishop Fred for his invitation to be with you in these opening days of this 41st General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, with its chosen theme, “You Are My Witnesses.” The guests that you have invited from Canada from among your national ecumenical partners and from the Anglican Communion bear witness to your sense of catholicity, and of your commitment to the communion of all under the Lordship of Christ.
In this spirit I bring greetings on behalf of the churches of the Anglican Communion, and the instruments that serve us; I bring particular greetings from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The contribution of the Anglican Church of Canada to the Anglican Communion
It is impossible to think of the Anglican Communion without the historic and ongoing contribution of the Anglican Church of Canada. From the promptings from this church that led to the first Lambeth Conference in 1868, to the most recent gatherings of both the primates and the Anglican Consultative Council this year, Canadian Anglicans have borne faithful witness to Christ in their service of the Anglican Communion.
The gracious and moderating presence of Archbishop Fred at the Primates’ Meeting and Gathering in January of this year helped us through days of uncertainty, and gently and profoundly contributed to the communion that was maintained.
At the meeting of ACC-16 this past April in Lusaka, Zambia, the Anglican Church of Canada distinguished itself through the leadership of Mrs. Suzanne Lawson and Archdeacon Michael Thompson (your general secretary), and by Bishop Jane Alexander, who was unanimously elected to the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
Members of the Canadian Church have borne particular witness to the work of the Anglican Communion Office in recent times of transition. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan was the interim Secretary General from January to the end of June. She was indeed my immediate forerunner in costly ways at a time of great suffering and loss in her own life. My colleagues and I remain in her debt. Archdeacon Paul Feheley was of great help to us in the transition from one Director of Communications to another, especially at ACC-16.
As well as taking their places on various Instruments of Communion and governing bodies such as the Standing Committee, Canadian Anglicans serve on our ecumenical dialogues: Bishop Linda Nichols is a key member of ARCIC, Canon Philip Hobson on our dialogue with the Orthodox, and Archdeacon Edward Simonton on our dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox. Dr Eileen Scully until recently served as the chair of the Inter-Anglican Liturgical Consultation. And Bishop Linda has recently been appointed to the Primates’ Task Group.
I would particularly like to add a final word of thanks to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) for its moral and financial support of the Anglican Alliance, and especially to Adele Finney who has served for the past four years on the Anglican Alliance’s Board of Trustees. The PWRDF has been a core part of the Anglican Alliance since the earliest days of its inception in 2010.
Human sexuality and the Anglican Communion
Following the 2008 Lambeth Conference, Canadian bishops have been eminent members of the Consultation of Anglican Bishops, a gathering that brings together bishops from Canada, Ghana, Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Burundi, Zambia, England, and the United States. The Consultation emerged after the 2008 Lambeth Conference as a way for bishops from different backgrounds to continue an ongoing, respectful dialogue in the midst of significant disagreements, primarily over the issues of human sexuality and same-sex marriage. It has been a parallel and complementary process to the ACO-led program on “Continuing Indaba and Living Reconciliation.” I note Canadian staff support from Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Dr. Andrea Mann, and, in a particular way, the Rev. Canon Dr. Isaac Kawuki Mukasa, your global relations officer for Africa. The text from this body, A Testimony of Unity in Diversity [PDF], merits a careful and respectful reading across the Anglican Communion at this time.
As you know, the decision of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church one year ago to make provision for the marriage of same-gendered people, could not be received by the majority of the provincial churches of the Anglican Communion, who hold to Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1:10 as the standard of the Anglican understanding and practice of marriage. The first step towards a similar provision by the Scottish Episcopal Church passed earlier this year, and will also be variously received by the other churches of the Communion.
You will be reflecting on the same question at this gathering, from your unique Canadian context, and from out of your typically Canadian and commendably transparent process that led to the report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon: ‘This Holy Estate.’ While I would wish for a wide reading of this report across the Communion, I think in so many of our churches, its conclusion will be difficult to receive.
In my own African context, and more specifically my Nigerian context, the single most pressing issue around human sexuality is the criminalization of homosexuality. While Lambeth 1.10 condemns homophobia, successive Primates’ Meetings have gone further and have vigorously condemned not just homophobia, but governments who have advocated the criminalization of homosexuality, which includes imprisonment and even the death penalty in some places. In Canterbury this year the primates stated:
- The Primates condemned homophobic prejudice and violence, and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation. This conviction arises out of our discipleship of Jesus Christ. The Primates reaffirmed their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.
- The Primates recognise that the Christian church and within it the Anglican Communion have often acted in a way towards people on the basis of their sexual orientation that has caused deep hurt.
- Where this has happened they express their profound sorrow and affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression. (Walking Together in the Service of God in the World”)
The struggle for the legal, social, spiritual, and physical safety of our gay and lesbian members is our issue in Nigeria and other places in Africa; we are no strangers to the tragedy that occurred last month in Orlando. The prophetic task for Anglican Africans is to denounce violence and civil disabilities supported by members of our own communities and leadership. This is about changing attitudes, and we need the space and time to do this work on our own.
In a perfect world, human rights and human flourishing ought not to be at odds with one another, but we are not in that perfect world, yet.
However you are led by the Spirit in your reflection on the marriage of gays and lesbians in Canada, I pray that your decision may be received in such a way by the provinces of the Anglican Communion that will help and not hinder our equally vital agenda to change attitudes that will make people safe.
Mission and evangelism
The January 2016 meeting of the primates was divided on many things, including how to express the non-reception of the Episcopal Church’s canonical decision to include same-gendered couples within Christian marriage. We almost came apart on this question. But, in the end, we did not. The primates left us with a communion in unity and diversity, unity in difference and a unity in disagreement.
What kept the primates together was clearly not their agreement with each other, but rather the irreversible communion with each other in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the gift of his Spirit, and his commission to us all: “You are my witnesses.”
The most refreshing part of that meeting was a presentation on evangelism. The primates were energised by the opportunity to share experiences of evangelism.
The primates committed themselves — and their churches — to proclaim throughout the world the person and work of Jesus Christ, inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel. They said:
- We, as Anglican Primates, affirm together that the Church of Jesus Christ lives to bear witness to the transforming love of God in the power of the Spirit throughout the world.
- It is clear God’s world has never been in greater need of this resurrection love and we long to make it known.
- We commit ourselves through evangelism to proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ, unceasingly and authentically, inviting all to embrace the beauty and joy of the Gospel.
- We rely entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us speech, who brings new birth, who leads us into the truth revealed in Christ Jesus thus building the church.
- All disciples of Jesus Christ, by virtue of our baptism, are witnesses to and of Jesus in faith, hope and love.
- We pledge ourselves together to pray, listen, love, suffer and sacrifice that the world may know that Jesus Christ is Lord. (“Walking Together in the Service of God in the World,” Addendum B)
Eleven weeks after the primates met in Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council convened in Lusaka. One of its first tasks was to receive the formal report of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the January meeting. ACC-16 affirmed and endorsed the commitment of the primates of the Anglican Communion to walk together. ACC-16 also made the commitment to continue to seek appropriate ways for the provinces of the Anglican Communion to walk together with each other and with the primates and the other Instruments of Communion.
ACC-16 and Mission
The theme of the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council was missional: “Intentional Discipleship.” This is simply another way of expressing the theme of your General Synod, “You are my witnesses.” We experienced something of a vital experience of mission in the Province of Central Africa, and more especially in Zambia and in the city of Lusaka.
All the conversations, presentations, prayers, and engagement with one another and with the local church came together in the last day, when the members of ACC-16 passed 45 resolutions. The creation and discussion of resolutions is one of the most exciting parts of a council or synod of the Church, because in a distilled form, here the concerns for mission are most explicitly articulated.
I often think that if you want to know where the mission concerns of a parish are, listen carefully to the intercessions: Lex orandi, lex missionis — prayer shapes mission!
And if you want to discern the missional heart of church conference, or synod, or council, look at the resolutions!
The 45 resolutions that were passed on the last day of ACC-16 all reflect, in one way or another, the theme of “Intentional Discipleship.” They bear witness to how Anglicans around the world are responding to our Lord’s words, “You are my witnesses.”
I won’t read them all, and you can find them yourselves on the Anglican Communion website. But I urge you to read them, and to see for yourselves how they express the mind of the Anglican Communion on issues of mission and evangelism, gender justice, youth, the family, growing in unity and faith with sister churches, interfaith relations, the environment and climate justice, and engaging with the United Nations and civil society.
One of the series of ecumenical resolutions at ACC-16 dealt with the Lutheran World Federation and its member churches, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, your full communion partner here. It encourages Anglicans around the world to join in the 2017 commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and to use with Lutherans the materials prepared around the theme of “Liberated by God’s Grace.” As part of the Anglican Communion’s contribution to the 2017 commemoration, ACC-16 “welcomed and affirmed the substance of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church.
ACC-16 passed a number of resolutions on “Safe Church” by establishing a Commission
- to identify policies and procedures currently in place for the safety of persons in the provinces of the Anglican Communion; and
- to develop guidelines to enhance the safety of all persons especially children, young people and vulnerable adults, within the provinces of the Anglican Communion for consideration by the Anglican Consultative Council at its the next meeting, and thereafter for implementation, as far as practicable, by each province; and
- to develop resources for the effective implementation of the guidelines in the provinces,
The ACC now requests each province of the Anglican Communion to implement the Protocol, and report to the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.
I urge Canadian Anglicans to be part of this process, which is about the mission of the Church. If you have not already read the “Report of the Safe Church Network” [PDF] and the new “Charter for the Safety of People within the Church of the Anglican Communion” [PDF], I commend them to your careful study and response. Both can be found on the Anglican Communion website.
One of the unique initiatives of the Anglican Communion has been the establishment of the Anglican Alliance, to coordinate work within the churches of the Anglican Communion in the areas of development, relief, and advocacy as a core part of the Church’s mission. Its global priorities at this time are: supporting the empowerment of women and youth; working to end human trafficking/modern slavery; raising the rights of migrants and refugees, and supporting people affected by disasters and conflict; and advocating for climate justice, to share skills on food security and to sustain the life of the Earth.
At Lusaka, ACC-16 noted the Anglican Alliance’s contribution for strengthening the sharing of prayer, capacity, skills and resources for development, relief and advocacy through the churches of the Anglican Communion, with their agencies and networks as part of their intentional discipleship. ACC-16 encouraged the participation of all provinces of the Anglican Communion in the activities of the Anglican Alliance, reaching the most remote and marginalized.
Resolutions implementation committee
As you know, the resolutions of a Lambeth Conference, or a meeting of the primates, or of the Anglican Consultative Council are, in the end, very strong recommendations to the churches of the Anglican Communion, as they reflect the mind of the global Instruments of Communion.
But the 45 resolutions of an ACC cannot simply remain on our ACO website or in the appendix of the Report of ACC-16. They must be received in one way or the other into the lifeblood of the churches.
To this end, I have set up a small five-person committee that will monitor and encourage the programmatic work of the Anglican Communion Office — and of the churches of the Anglican Communion in general — to meet the expected results of the resolutions approved in Lusaka. This committee will report to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, and eventually to ACC-17 that meets in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2019. The member of this committee who represents Anglicans in the Americas — North, South, Central, and the Caribbean — is the primate of the Province of the West Indies, Archbishop John Holder.
I am excited by this initiative, and am eager to see how the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, with its provincial and diocesan synod, will study, consider, and live into the resolutions of ACC-16.
This is an exciting time to be an Anglican, and to be part of the Anglican Communion. I pray that the Spirit of the Risen Christ will richly bless the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and all the officers and members of this 41st meeting of the General Synod. I assure you of my prayers, and the prayers of the churches of the Anglican Communion in the coming days as you discern how Christ calls you to be his witnesses.