When General Synod 2016 gathered in July in Richmond Hill, the Diocese of Huron was represented by thirteen people. Each brought with them a unique set of diocesan experiences (geographic, historic, committee work, involvement with the wider church).
The greater issues addressed at General Synod 2016 have been recorded in detail by the Anglican Journal (both in print and online). At the request of the editor, and with a limited amount of column space, I offer these personal observations… and encourage you to speak with all members of our delegation, to hear their stories, opinions, and reflections.
During legislative sessions we sat in diocesan groups, but for most of our synod time members of synod were assigned to a table group, which consisted of bishops, clergy, youth, and lay members from assorted dioceses. This was a tangible way to experience the depth and breadth of our national church. Seated at most tables were people of varying theological and geographical perspectives… but who shared the common bond of being followers of Jesus in an Anglican context. On two occasions our table groups merged with others for a larger “neighbourhood group”… which again was an opportunity to share in the diversity of our One Church. For me this is the best part of any synod – sharing with people from other contexts, hearing their perspectives, and considering how all of our decisions will affect life in their church as well as our own.
I was fortunate. The members of my table group were respectful and caring. Our membership included a bishop from one of the more progressive dioceses as well as two laity from more conservative regions. Our discussion was civil and honest, and showed that many parts of the church had seriously discussed what changing the Marriage Canon would mean to them and their diocese. It also revealed that many parts of our church had not had an opportunity to study and reflect – and so three years of directed study and reflection (as is mandated in the resolution itself) would benefit. When the actual debate began, we witnessed passionate and pastoral reflections from members who supported and from those who opposed the change. On two occasions (first when the motion had not reached the required mandate, then the next day when it was determined that it had passed) we watched our church hurt. In times like this, there are no “winners” or “losers”… only believers who are trying to discern what it is God is saying to us in both the decision and in the experience that brought us to this point.
During this session of synod, two members of our diocesan delegation served on sessional committees – Canon Paul Rathbone (Honorary Lay Secretary) and Canon Rob Towler (Agenda Committee). In the course of synod, two members were elected to serve on a Standing Committee – Canon Paul Rathbone (Financial Management Committee) and Archdeacon Jane Humphreys (Resources for Mission). I am sure we will hear more about the ministry of these two committees, and how we in Huron can contribute to and benefit from them, in the coming days.
During the years between synods, the Council of General Synod is the governing body of the church. Its membership is elected by the provinces. We in the Province of Ontario are represented by five voices (two lay members, one cleric, one youth, and one bishop). Despite our best efforts, the Diocese of Huron does not have a member on CoGS during the 2016-2019 triennium, but know that we are well represented through: Bishop John Chapman (Ottawa), Canon Kevin Robertson (Toronto), Grace Delaney (Moosonee), Susan Little (Niagara), Siobhan Bennett (Niagara – youth).
Perhaps the one thing that stands out most in my mind is the contribution of the youth members of General Synod. To me, they were a shining example of how our church should be. Like us, they came from different backgrounds and experiences, and were not all of one mind on a number of issues (most notably the Marriage Canon). Yet – they were able to accept that, and continue to live together and love one another, knowing that we are all one church. On the night of the first vote I spoke with one who was visibly shaken because she had so many friends she knew would be disappointed because the motion had been defeated (even though she herself was against the change in Canon). The next day, when the result was changed, these same friends had gathered around her in love and support, all with tears streaming down their faces.
It was an honour to again attend General Synod as a member of the Huron delegation. I thank our synod for the opportunity to do so, and for the tremendous team of people I shared it with – both from Huron, and from the wider church.
Rev. Canon Rob Towler is rector of St. Andrew’s, Kitchener