A Sermon for General Synod 2019 - July 14, 2019

This Sunday we remember that we are part of a larger Diocesan and National Church. These last few days clergy and lay delegates, as well as Bishops have been meeting together in Vancouver in the triennial gathering of General Synod.

It has, in many ways, been a momentous gathering. First the good news: The new primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, elected yesterday is the Rt. Rev. Linda Nicholls, Bishop of Huron. She will now be known as Archbishop Linda, taking over that leadership role from Archbishop Fred Hiltz, who has served in that capacity since 2007.

Archbishop Linda is the first female Anglican Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. She was formerly Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Toronto, serving in the Trent Durham Area. Before that she was a priest at Holy Trinity Church, Thornhill, in our own Deanery.

I served as a parish priest in Trent Durham and was appointed by Bishop Linda as incumbent of the parish of Bobcaygeon, Dunsford and Burnt River. I had the privilege of travelling to the Holy land for ten days with her as pilgrimage leader in 2016.

I can testify to her spiritual depth and strong leadership as a Bishop, and I believe she will be an excellent Primate.

Second, the General Synod approved autonomy for indigenous Anglicans within our national church and elevated indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald’s position from Bishop to Archbishop. Archbishop Fred gave an impassioned follow-up to the apology made by Archbishop Michael Peers in 1993 to Indigenous Anglicans for the wrongs done to them by the residential schools system and other forms of discrimination.

But, unfortunately, the two thirds super-majority required for changing the marriage canon to allow same gender marriage were not met. I will now read a message from our Bishop Andrew Asbil on that subject.

Last night at General Synod, the motion to change the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage canon to include same-sex marriage did not receive the required two-thirds majority. The support for change in the houses of laity and clergy was very strong. And yet the motion was defeated in the House of Bishops by a very narrow margin. I know that this is devastating news to our LGBTQ+ community, families and friends. I share in that sense of devastation, knowing that this decision comes after decades of ongoing discussion, prayer and the courageous sharing of experience from the LGBTQ+ community. I had hoped that our Church was in a different place and would arrive at a different decision. I assure all of our LGBTQ+ siblings – beloved children of God – of my love and support. I know that it is tempting in this hour to lose heart. And yet let us take comfort in the words of Paul: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9.

I am also aware that many of our fellow Anglicans are greatly relieved by this decision to maintain the existing Marriage Canon. To them, I ask for charity and graciousness as their fellow Christians grieve. I commend this Church to God’s safe keeping as we continue with important deliberations at General Synod. I will speak to you again in a video message at the conclusion of our gathering.

 However the Council of General Synod was prepared for either outcome of the Marriage Canon vote. The council, an executive body which meets between the triennial General Synod meetings, formulated a preface for the changes to the marriage canon plus a set of affirmations called “A Word to the Church” which passed overwhelmingly.

The preface stated that “faithful members of the Anglican Church of Canada have different understandings and teachings about the nature of marriage and that Anglicans are entitled to hold different views provided they recognize and respect that others may, with integrity, hold different views.”

The preface also recognized “that indigenous communities have particular understandings about the nature of marriage as well as their own ways of making decisions…and will continue to discern whether same sex marriage will be acceptable in their communities.”

While that wasn’t enough to convince a small number of Bishops to change their position, the “Word to the Church” passed earlier did offer a strong endorsation to a set of affirmations...with an 85% yes vote.

General Synod affirms the right of Indigenous people and communities to spiritual self-determination in their decisions regarding same-sex marriage; affirms that bishops and synods in the Anglican Church of Canada hold diverse understandings of the existing marriage canon; and affirms that there is a diversity of understandings and teachings about marriage within the church, and that these are held with ‘prayerful integrity.’

The resolution also affirms the commitment of the General Synod to presume good faith among those who hold diverse understandings and teachings. Finally, it affirms the commitment of the General Synod to walk together and preserve communion with each other, in Christ, within the church and the Anglican Communion, and with ecumenical partners.

I am left with mixed feelings after watching the critical debate on a livestream into the wee hours of Saturday morning.

I am very disappointed that our rules prevented a change in the marriage canon which was favoured by all but a few bishops, clergy and lay delegates. I am also disappointed at the Bishops who frustrated change. Twenty-four bishops supported the change, while only 14 were opposed. Three bishops, included Bishop Peter Fenty, were not able to vote because of illness and all were in favour of the change.

All this was a devastating blow to LGBTQ delegates – clergy, lay and Bishops who argued passionately and eloquently during the debate for the change to support same gender marriage. Many, including our Toronto Suffragan Bishop Kevin Robertson, spoke of their own experience of the joy of being married to a partner of the same gender, and be blessed by the church in that sacrament.

The greatest pain was among youth delegates who saw this as a repudiation of their personhood, and a reflection of rejection, not Christian love.

Having written about this issue as a journalist for 40 years in church and secular publications, I was impressed by the commitment of LBGTQ people to continue the struggle for full equality in marriage, despite the lack of any substantial contrary arguments by those who opposed same gender marriage. They cling to a literalist view of the Bible which dismisses those with different sexuality as sinners based on an ancient understanding of sexuality which has little to do with our modern understanding of same gender attraction.

We believe that LGBTQ persons are born with that inclination, just as heterosexual people are, and that we come to a gradual awakening to our sexuality as we grow to maturity. God gives us our sexuality as a gift. God would not give anything that was not good and life-giving. So let us pray that God will comfort those who are in pain as a result of this decision, and give thanks that in our diocese and in some others same gender marriage will continue to be an option for people who desire the sacrament to recognize their committed relationships.