By Rev. Canon Grayhame Bowcott
For years, I have often wondered what it would be like to be part of the national council of the Church that gathers once every three years for a time of worship and fellowship, of communication, of addressing business and ministry actions concerning Anglicans across the country, and for a time of telling the story of how God is alive and at work through the outreach of local congregations, dioceses and in our responsive caring of the needs of people around the world.
This triennium gathering is called General Synod, and it was a privilege for me to experience it as a representative of the Diocese of Huron this year.
In a series of orientation presentations leading up to our week-long gathering in Calgary, the General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, Ven. Alan Perry, described General Synod as “The Anglican Church at Its Best.”
What did he mean by this? Well, Alan explained that it is only when the church gathers together representatives from all our diverse, respective dioceses and communities that we are able to see and hear the tapestry of cultures, geography, traditions and theology that make up the whole of our church. This was certainly my first impression of General Synod this year!
Beginning with an indigenous smudging ceremony hosted by National Indigenous Archbishop Chris Harper and respected elders, our gathering blended together a week’s worth of worship and meetings. Reflecting the tapestry of our full communion relationships, our worship was expressed by Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran and even Moravian traditions of Christianity. This year Anglicans in Canada voted to embrace a full communion relationship with Moravian Christians in Canada. Our two churches share our origins from the Reformation Movement. Anglicans and Moravians also share episcopal traditions and a foundation of creedal beliefs. As a gift to us, the Moravians hosted a Love Feast. If you have never heard of this liturgy before, I invite you to Google it! It is a beautiful expression of Christian fellowship.
While there was much business to attend to, our meetings were deeply steeped in prayer. From early morning Eucharist services to Midday prayer to a beautiful Lutheran Holden Evensong, our times of praise including music and prayers from various genres, styles and eras. This brought a liturgical richness to our worship that appreciated the past while embracing some contemporary innovation and new musical compositions.
General Synod, this year, was also referred to as “Assembly”. The reason for this was that delegates from Anglican dioceses across Canada discussed matters of business alongside our sisters and brother from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, highlighting both the commonalities of our churches and some differences! Our respective national bishops, Archbishop Linda Nicholls and Bishop Susan Johnson, have journeyed as friends for many years. They have led us in their vision of further cooperation in the years ahead.
Sometimes Anglicans disagree, strongly! Sometimes we hold different conflicting views of outreach, governance or theology. This was certainly the case this year, however, for the most part, it seemed that most disagreements were expressed with high degree of respect and even with the changing of opinions. If ever you hear someone suggest that there is a single “Anglican way” of doing things, my experience has taught me that this is certainly not the truth. Anglicans, at least in Canada, are diverse in their opinions, in their theology, in their cultural histories, in the financial resources within their ministry contexts, and even, sometimes, in their understanding of what the Church should be and how it should operate. Yet, General Synod draws us together as one family of Anglicans, with many shared ministries, values and Christian outreach.
Among the items of business addressed was the introduction of a new liturgy in the Anglican Church that had been designed to embrace and support members going through a gender transition. It was moving to witness the majority support for this liturgy, but even more moving to see a number of youth delegates speaking passionately, from their own experiences, in support of it.
We also explored the role of governance in the Church, particularly relating to the voting rights of bishops. Should a diocese, like Huron, only have one bishop able to vote at General Synod when others like the Diocese of Toronto or the Diocese of the Arctic have several bishops who are able to vote? How is the vote of a bishop representative of the diocese that individual serves? As you can imagine, there were a number of resolutions debated and then, ultimately, deferred to allow for further time to research, discuss and frame any potential changes for general assemblies in the future.
Yet another gift was the report of the PWRDF and Anglican Foundation. We got to see and celebrate how much of an impact Canadians make in our own country and around the world: in supporting poverty initiatives, health care, international development, through advocacy, education and through ministries of reconciliation. We don’t always get the chance to appreciate the breadth and depth of our national ministries, because often in our local congregations we don’t hear about all the details.
Among the many highlights of my first experiences of a General Synod was to see members from our own Huron delegation recognized for their deep commitment to our Church. Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs was elected as the Deputy Prolocutor of General Synod; Huron also celebrated the election of Dorothy Russell-Patterson to the Council of General Synod.
The only aspect of General Synod that, at least in my opinion, didn’t reflected the motto of “The Anglican Church at Its Best” was our discussion around a resolution that would have extended Archbishop Linda Nicholls’ term as Primate. Next year Linda turns 70 – a mandatory retirement age for the Primate. A resolution was moved to extend Linda’s term to allow for her to serve (less than one year) past the retirement age right up until General Synod 2025. Sadly, for various reasons that included a great deal of politics, this resolution was defeated. This means that our Primate will retire next year and that we’ll have an acting Primate in the person of Archbishop Anne Germond (in addition to her other roles as the Bishop of Algoma, Moosonee and Archbishop of Ontario).
The final announcement of General Synod 2023 was to share the news that in 2025 we will be hosting General Synod in London, Ontario! This will be an exciting opportunity to showcase who we are and how Huron’s Anglicans are part of the great tapestry of “The Anglican Church at its best”.
Rev. Canon Dr. Grayhame Bowcott serves as rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains and as Program Director for the Licentiate in Theology at Huron University.
Photo: Team Huron at General Synod 2023