It was a hot and muggy week in Ottawa, July 3-7th, 2013, as hundreds of delegates representing churches from across Canada began to descend upon our nation’s capital. A total of 505 delegates from the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) met together in a Joint Assembly (JA) for the first time since they joined in full communion in 2001. At that time, the Waterloo Declaration was passed, representing “the fruit of almost twenty years of Canadian dialogue and experience” and among other things, allowed both churches to fully recognize the ordered ministries of the other. It was already a huge shift for the ACC. In past years, “General Synod” (GS) had been held over a course of at least 7 days. This years’ Joint Assembly was made up of 4 days – with a total of approximately 1.5 days’ worth of time for General Synod (ACC) business. That said, they were still long days. Delegates were expected to be in their seats for 8:30am, and evening prayer began anywhere from 9-9:30pm.The event began with a pre-assembly youth gathering, attended by the DNW youth delegate, Alex Starr. Alex reported that they “played some icebreakers, and learned about Saturday’s event on Parliament Hill, which [had] been pretty mysterious up until [then]. As youth, [they’re] helping lead groups of delegates in prayer for Canada and her waters (preservation, accessibility to clean water, and other issues the spirit moves us to consider)”. The morning of Day 1, delegates were encouraged to attend an orientation session which provided information on the differences between the Anglican and Lutheran churches, oriented them to the Ottawa Convention Centre, and introduced them to Data on the Spot (DOTS). This was another first for General Synod: voting had always been done by a show of hands or by cards. DOTS, on the other hand, is an electronic voting system which sees each delegate receiving their own “clicker” similar to a small remote control. Delegates viewed resolutions on screens and used their clickers to vote. Each clicker was registered to a specific delegate, which made counting votes by order (ie. Bishops, clergy and laity) almost instant. Another interesting side-effect of the DOTS system was that every vote essentially became a “secret ballot”, as no one can see how another delegate is voting.
JA officially began after lunch on Day 1, July 3rd, with an opening service, one of the most memorable moments of which was the dismantling of a huge inukshuk which greeted delegates on arrival to the main conference room. From the pieces of the inukshuk, a podium, Altar and Font were created. Primate Fred Hiltz presided over the Eucharist, with ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson preaching. In her address, she reminded delegates that they are called to discipleship, not church business. She challenged delegates to share with the world in word and deed and to take the risk of sharing something about our faith with other delegates.
The actual business of JA began after the service with some light-hearted banter about the differences between Anglicans and Lutherans. Some humourous practicing with the new clickers, and a table exercise where delegates were asked to write their hopes and prayers for JA on paper “leaves” which were tied to a branch. The branches were later used to decorate the backdrop of one of the podium stages. After dinner, delegates were welcomed to Algonquin territory by Elder Annie Smith-St.George before the first keynote address by the Reverend Dr. Christopher Duraisingh. Duraisingh is a faculty member of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass and has a global background in ecumenical and Third World theologies and his keynote address called both Anglicans and Lutherans back to focussing outside the “church” – back to mission. Duraisingh reminded delegates that the theme of JA, Together: For the love of the world must not be simply another project to be undertaken, but a posture of being in the world. He said; “The single raison d’etre of our gathering is to be driven out as quickly as possible… All we should hear at the end of our services is ‘get on with it’!”.
The presentation which followed Duraisingh’s address called delegates to do just that. The theme was homelessness and affordable housing. Through stories of mental illness and single parenthood, delegates were confronted with the realities of both urban and rural homelessness and the lack of affordable housing. The table groups discussed both the sad realities, and the great moves forward – including the profound work of the Rev. Matthew Johnson who sees Christ in all he encounters in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside.
The morning of Day 2 began with greetings from The Anglican Communion by the Reverend Canon Kenneth Kearon,
Secretary General, and from the Lutheran World Federation by Reverend Martin Junge, General Secretary. Appropriately, these greetings were followed by a report by the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission on next steps in the full communion relationship. This report would form the background for what would later be an almost unanimous vote to continue in the full communion relationship.
Responsible resource extraction went from being a nice catch-phrase to a very present reality when the next presenter asked delegates to put on the table any items that were made of resources that had been extracted from the earth/environment – including jewelry, all pieces of technology, paper etc. It was an eye-opening experience when delegates were asked to consider how these items held personal and professional significance for them, and if they had ever wondered or considered what circumstances had led to these items coming in to their possession. The audience heard from several speakers, including National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald, who spoke about the “commodification of life” and how for indigenous peoples, it is not about quality of life, but about life itself.
The afternoon of Day 2 saw the first of several separate sessions where Anglicans convened to do the business of GS. After opening announcements and formalities, GS delegates were introduced to the nominees for Prolocutor of General Synod, which included DNW Business Administrator, Rob Dickson. Later, after two votes, the Ven. Harry Huskins was elected Prolocuter. Primate Fred Hiltz gave his Presidential Address, during which he spoke of the resounding hope he sees in the church across Canada, and his view that “here is a clear shift in our church from a culture of membership to a culture of discipleship”.
On the evening of Day 2, GS convened in Provincial caucuses. The DNW delegation joined with other members of the Provincial Synod of BC and Yukon to vote for members to represent the Province on the Council of General Synod (CoGs). Due to the fairly complicated rules for eligibility and the system of nominations, it only took one ballot to elect Bishop Larry Robertson (Yukon), Ven. Lynne McNaughton (Clergy - New West), Ms. Melissa Green (Lay – APCI), Mr. Donald Wilson (Lay – BC), and Mr. Alex Starr (Youth – New West) to the Council. Due to the structural changes happening at the National level, it is yet unclear what CoGs will look like, but all agreed that BC and Yukon should receive some sort of prize for perhaps the quickest vote in Provincial Caucus history!
As GS re-convened as a whole, two very important movements were made. The first was a unanimous vote to support the National Indigenous Ministry in the Canons of the National Church, and the second was the proposal for the restructuring of the standing committees of GS. This motion was proposed by Dean Peter Elliott and was spoken to by several DNW delegates. The vote on the resolution was passed, and as one DNW blogger wrote: “the standing committees are sitting down”. Instead, the Standing Committees of General Synod have been replaced with the following Coordinating Committees of General Synod:
i)Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee
ii) Partners in Mission and Eco‐justice Committee
iii) Resources for Mission Committee
iv) Communications and Information Resources Committee
v) Anglican Journal Committee.
Day 3 dawned with ACC and ELCIC delegates once again together as JA. Several greetings were given to the Assembly, including a moving greeting from Rev. Canon Jonas Allooloo who described the 34 year process of translating the Bible into Inuktitut! Delegates witnessed an “interview” with the heads of both Anglican and Lutheran relief organizations and learned more about what they do, and some of the youth involved as well. JA then moved to consider and pass the resolution on homelessness, affordable housing and responsible resource extraction. DNW delegate, Glen Mitchell made a very strong and moving statement for the resolution, calling JA to be as brave as those he had met in his travels to El Salvador, and to stand in solidarity with them.After lunch, JA once again split and GS of the ACC once again convened. GS heard reports from Faith, Worship and Ministry as well as the Governance Working Group who were speaking to the resolution regarding a new formula to be used for the election of members to GS. The new formula would change from a system of delegation numbers based on the number of paid clergy to delegations based on Sunday attendance at churches. There was much debate on the issue, with one of the points being that even if the number of clergy and lay delegates changed, the one thing the resolution did not address was the fact that some dioceses have many more bishops than others – changing the numbers of delegations in a different way. Bishop Michael spoke for the resolution, saying; "Size and wealth should play no role in our deliberations…the only way to change, is to change". The vote was done by orders (Bishops, clergy and laity) and passed.
The afternoon became no less heavy as motions on the Anglican Covenant and Peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel were presented. Both were hotly contested, but none more so than the Palestine/Israel resolution. Although, on one hand it was stated that unlike many other motions and processes, this one is supporting a document that has come from multiple parties involved, it was also pointed out that there are many areas of the world that are in conflict and the General Synod does not get involved. Dean Peter Elliott introduced an amendment to the original motion which was eventually defeated and the original motion, with a “friendly amendment” was eventually passed by 73%. So, too was the resolution regarding further study into the Anglican Covenant carried, despite one claim that it is “trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube with a spatula”.
DNW Business Administrator, Rob Dickson in his role as Chair of the GS Finance Committee then presented the budget, which was passed without a single question or comment. The floor was then given to the Council of the North, who expressed their gratitude to the whole church for their generous support. New ways to engage ministry and mission are realities thanks to the support from the apportionment shares from dioceses across Canada.
The last full day of the Joint Assembly began with delegates walking to Parliament Hill and witnessing to the need and right for clean water, as planned by the youth delegates from both denominations. The rest of the day was spent entirely as General Synod. After a resolution on “creation care” and an addition to the baptismal covenant regarding the safeguarding of creation was passed, the Synod moved to look at Resolution C003. This resolution would “direct the Council of General Synod to prepare and present a motion at General Synod 2016 to change Canon XXI on Marriage to allow the marriage of same sex couples in the same way as opposite sex couples”. The resolution was spoken for and against, and at one point, an amendment was proposed (and defeated) which included a typo that changed “same-sex” to “sane-sex” which provided the Synod with a much-needed chuckle! The motion was eventually carried, and due to some procedural problems, was voted on again by houses (bishops, clergy, laity) and passed once again.
Saving the “best for last”, GS rose to witness the procession of the Elders of the Diocese of Keewatin as they presented on their process and motion towards the division of the Diocese of Keewatin so that the area defined as Northern Ontario Region by the Constitution of the Diocese of Keewatin may become a separate indigenous diocese. One particularly moving speaker reminded delegates; “Be mindful my friends that we may do things differently in ministering to the needs of our people but we will do so within the Anglican Church of Canada”. The motion was moved unanimously with a standing ovation.
Delegates who attended the closing banquet on Saturday evening were treated to a lovely meal and a stellar view of the sunset behind the Ottawa skyline, though perhaps “Closing Banquet” was a misnomer, as the JA once again convened to hear closing remarks from Dr. Duraisingh who provided some feedback on our JA experiences. Organizer the Very Reverend Peter Wall, concluded by saying; “On Tuesday we came together for the love of the world. Today we ARE together for the love of the world.” The Assembly officially concluded with a closing worship service which wrapped up with the Inukshuk, which had been disassembled at the opening worship, being re-built in its original form – Together: for the love of the world.
Images: Top and Homepage, evening prayer. Middle right, The Caucus of the Ecclesiastical Province of BC and Yukon prepare to meet. Middle left, Dean Peter Elliott on the big screen beside the head table. Lower right, the results of Resolution C003. Lower centre, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa - Keewatin Resolution