With the arrival of autumn comes the departure of the heat and humidity of summer. Short sleeves are changed out for sweaters. The days become shorter and the nights longer. Leaves turn to colour before letting go and falling to the ground. By its very nature, autumn invites us to fall too, into a time of reflection, remembering and looking back. It’s a time of pulling things in, tugging things back, like drawing the harvest into the barn before the snow comes.
I always feel a little more sentimental in the fall; more hopeful and grateful too for the simplest of gifts and the myriad of blessings that I have received in the year. With the advent of the fall comes the need to put summer away – storing the garden furniture, turning the garden, raking the leaves and putting things to rest.
For the Anglican Church of Canada, this was quite a summer. A Tale of Two Cities, written by Charles Dickens, opens with the familiar phrase: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
Dickens could very well have been describing General Synod 2019. There were moments of light and darkness, of having everything and not much at all. There were times when it seemed we were all going directly to heaven and when it appeared we were all going directly the other way. The headlines in the newspapers and the coverage in the media captured some of what happened. However, it seems to me it will take time to sift through the leaves of GS 2019 a little longer to know what really took place there for those seven days in the summer of 2019.
There were times of great light and wisdom. We bade farewell and thank you to Archbishop Fred Hiltz, who served so faithfully. We welcomed Archbishop Linda Nicholls as our new Primate. We made great strides in supporting the self-determining Indigenous Church.
It was also a time for apology, by our Primate: “Tonight, I offer this apology for our cultural and spiritual arrogance toward all Indigenous Peoples – First Nations, Inuit and Métis – and the harm we inflicted on you…”
It was a time for the elders who were present to receive the apology: “This is an historic week in the life and future of our Church. We did it together! We are partners in change. It was our finest moment as a Church. As a fully recognized self-determining people within the Anglican Church of Canada, the Apology is timely in reinforcing that the Church is walking side-by-side with us as we continue our spiritual journey for healing.”
It was a time of incredulity and despair for many on the floor of Synod following the vote on second reading of the Marriage Canon. It was a time of upset no matter which way you cast your vote. I must say, though, even in that most difficult moment there was grace. After the vote, when the evening session closed and as the room emptied, the Diocese of Toronto’s delegates huddled together off to the side, in a collective group hug, to talk, weep and pray… and then I bought the first round! We were all hurting and yet we found solace together.
It was a time for apology again, this time by the House of Bishops following the vote on the second reading of the Marriage Canon: “We, members of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, see the pain and anguish inflicted on LGBTQ2S+ people, on members of the General Synod, across the Church, and in the world, as a result of the work and the vote on the matter of Canon 21, concerning marriage. We see your tears, we hear your cries, and we weep with you. We have caused deep hurt. We are profoundly sorry…”
What do I take with me from General Synod 2019? I take with me a deep sense of hope for a way forward on a great many issues, in particular on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Word to the Church, which General Synod overwhelmingly approved on July 12, holds before us affirmations of who we strive to be; Indigenous spiritual self-determination, diverse understandings of the existing canon, diverse understandings and teachings on marriage, our commitment to presume good faith and our commitment to stand together.
I take great hope in the statement from the House of Bishops: “We are walking together in a way which leaves room for individual dioceses and jurisdictions of our Church to proceed with same-sex marriage according to their contexts and convictions, sometimes described as ‘local option.’”
Since 2016, our diocese has lived by pastoral guidelines allowing for the marriage of same-sex couples. These guidelines will continue to be in place. As I stated in my video following General Synod, “If your parish feels called to offer marriage to same-sex couples, please follow, for now, the current guidelines, write to me, ask for permission, and I will grant it.”
In the weeks to come, I will be consulting with colleagues in the House of Bishops, clergy and lay leaders in our diocese and working closely with the College of Bishops to develop a more clearly defined understanding of what we mean by “local option.”
In the meantime, we have work to do reconciling with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. We have work to do in reconciling with our LGBTQ2S+ community and family members, who through the legislative process of General Synod experienced pain beyond words in such a personal and public way. We have work to do to ensure that those of us who hold to the traditional teaching of marriage have a cherished place in the Church.
Hope comes in the fall. It’s time to reflect, remember and look back. It’s time to pull things in, to tug things back, like drawing the harvest into the barn before the snow comes.