I greet you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Greetings first of all to you who have come from every part of this wonderful land–chosen by your diocese as delegates to this Synod.... Through the length of this meeting, I invite you to remember that you are here for the well-being and mission of the whole church. I encourage you to speak your mind and heart. We need to hear your voice–whether in plenary debate, in your home group, or in other settings within Synod. At least as much, I ask you to listen with your mind and heart. . . .
Finally, I greet those who are here as “indigenous partners.” You are more than partners; you are “us.” It is good that you are here, for you bring with you crucial insights for us to consider. We need your voice, your wisdom and your spirit. Your presence is precious indeed as together we seek the gifts of healing, reconciliation and new life that God has to give. And for those members of Synod who come from places in which there has not been opportunity ever to connect with aboriginal persons, I offer this word from one of our indigenous members: “Well, for someone who says they’ve never met an Indian, here I am!” It is time to get together....
Friendship between indigenous and nonindigenous peoples
The theme of this Synod is one that recognizes that the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples has been one characterized by a history of colonialism, racism and broken trust. Treaties were made and then often ignored by the dominant society. Land was confiscated, people dislocated, rights abused. Within Canada, events in Oka ten years ago and, more recently, in Burnt Church, make visible the deep pain that continues to plague our society. It is now five years since the release of the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and for the most part, its recommendations remain ignored. The Government of Canada has demonstrated little enthusiasm for dealing with the Report. Healing and reconciliation cannot be forwarded by a refusal to deal with our history.
Within our own Anglican community, it is in the history of the residential schools that we most clearly see the wounds. The history of the schools is well known to us. But think back: what did you know of this story ten years ago, or even five years ago? Those who had been students in the schools, and their children and grandchildren knew what they experienced. It was written in their souls, in their hearts. And sometimes it was simply too difficult, confusing and painful to voice. It is only as people have found courage to share their stories, to speak of hurt and anger that the history has begun to seep into the souls and consciousness of the rest of us. And as it has, we have responded in a variety of ways: sometimes disbelief and denial, sometimes with a word that says “But it was meant well . . . ,” sometimes with our own anger, sometimes with deep sorrow and shame.
The Primate of Wales, Archbishop Rowan Williams, in a recent book, Lost Icons, contends that in modern European/ North American culture, we seem no longer able to think of ourselves in concepts that were once potent. He reasons that there are areas “in which some kinds of discourse seem to be getting more and more labored, more and more inaccessible to our culture…” (p. 4). One of the areas he includes is remorse. We are finding it increasingly difficult to be remorseful, to mourn when we have done wrong. Archbishop Williams points to a kind of contemporary leadership that simply wouldn’t imagine saying sorry. Rather, it might own “errors in judgment” or “inappropriate” actions. Sometimes it simply shifts blame. So failure becomes “failure to sustain a visible style” rather than actual moral failure. Loss of image is held dearer than loss of trust. “Remorse,” says Archbishop Williams, ‘has to do with an uncomfortable powerlessness. . . To acknowledge the past, the past in which I am enmeshed with countless others and which I cannot alter by my own will, is entirely and unavoidably a risk, an exposure of vulnerability.” (p.109)
I agree with him: concern for image is concern to remain in control, and that distances us from one another. Remorse holds the potential for recovering intimacy and friendship.
To acknowledge and mourn together the deep wounds of the past means listening when we would rather not hear, voicing apology when we would rather be silent, naming an offense we would rather conceal. But friendship demands openness. How can we in the dominant society learn to be a friend, if we cannot mourn our history of cultural imperialism? Friendship depends on transparency, and transparency is the furthest thing from damage control. In a few days, a service of healing will take place to which we are all invited. Our purpose is to come before God seeking healing for ourselves and for our church, for all relationships that have been broken by sin. We will listen to stories, there will be opportunity to speak our apology, to seek the laying on of hands, to ask God’s blessing and reconciling love to reach into the depths of our life together. This service is not an end; it is a moment when we move towards one another knowing that our Lord is in our midst. It is a step towards life.
The work of healing has hardly begun, but it has begun. It will be the work of generations to come. It is our privilege to lay foundations, so let us pray that we lay them well. Some of the stones are in place: the Sacred Circles, the Covenant, the working document “A New Agape,” the Healing and Reconciliation Fund, the commitments we have made to stand in solidarity with aboriginal peoples in Canada in their struggle for land rights. But the cornerstone is found in Christ Jesus who calls us friends, who leads us into a new life with each other and who calls us to be at home with one another....
Friendship under strain
Our Church in Canada plays a unique role within the Anglican Communion. At the Primates’ Meeting in Kanuga in March, I showed the video (produced for the Diocesan Consultations) on residential schools litigation and our commitment to healing. The response ran from near disbelief that so much of our legal expense resulted from government action against us, to amazement about our willingness to be so open. I have used the word “transparency” a number of times. Let me do it again. The former Primate of Central Africa has said of us that “you are the most transparent church” in the Communion. I suppose that is a boast. But I think it reveals, too, our commitment to foster genuine sharing and solidarity with Anglican sisters and brothers.
We know the discord that has developed recently in the Communion–more of which has been apparent in the last few weeks. I have said my piece before, so I will restrain myself now. Most of the controversy is rooted in a discussion of what place gay and lesbian persons will have in the church. We know this to be a major concern in our own church. In this regard, I want to commend the Bishop and people of the Diocese of New Westminster. Although Bishop Ingham comes in for his share of demonization, I want in the strongest way possible to commend his openness to listen and his willingness to stand in the difficult place. As well, the members of the diocesan synod have shown an ability to speak and listen to one another as friends even when it has been the toughest of tasks.
A warden in one of the diocese’s parishes who was present at Synod, wrote this reflection for his parish newsletter:
The atmosphere was tense at the beginning and remained so throughout… The tension… came not from the subject itself… [but] from deeply felt concern that somehow we risked alienating one another . . .
That is precisely the point. It is exciting to hear this person’s testimony:
What we can all take from Synod… is that we as a church can talk to each other respectfully about anything and that differing even substantially on major issues, need not imply division.
I cannot tell you how significant that is. “I call you friends. No love is greater than to lay down one’s life for the sake of one’s friends.” [John 15:13, 15]
Perhaps the gift we best can share in the Communion is that of a style of dealing with difficult and divisive issues. Within our church are views and theologies in which we often find ourselves at great distance from one another–experiencing real strain and tension. We are not immune from conflict. But, at least to this point, we have found it possible to hold together, to talk to one another. Friendship costs at least as much as separation. But it is surely worth the price.
Friendship and the future
These thoughts bring me back to the matter I mentioned earlier and to which I promised to return: the challenge of litigation, bankruptcy and the future of the national church. Never before have we contemplated a possibility such as the one we are now facing. We have come to a moment in history in which we may be facing the winding up of the General Synod. There are some things I want to say about this.
The first thing is to invite you to share what you are hearing in dioceses and parishes. At the outset of this address, I asked you to speak and to listen with your mind and heart, as a member of Synod, and with a sense of loyalty to those who sent you here. I emphasize that again. Many of you will have been involved in consultations between General Synod and dioceses that took place last year. They have helped enormously in opening up issues identified throughout the church. However, here we are a gathering in which every diocese is present together, and together we need to hear what is being said across the whole church. I invite you to some deep sharing. What are you hearing? What stories do you bring? What are you seeing? What word needs to be spoken and reflected upon in this gathering? We need to think and talk through all this together as friends in Christ.
The second thing has to with principles. For two years, the Diocese of New Westminster worked together at finding a way to enter a hard discussion together. It is difficult enough to enter into dialogue with brothers and sisters on an issue that presses people apart. It is even more difficult to do that in the public eye. The nature of the issue was such that it could not help but be in the public gaze. Everyone– conservative, liberal, parish, individual– becomes a target, and the temptation is to be distracted, to let others determine your response. I invite you to take the high ground: to be focused on friendship rather than on division, to be focused on prayer and listening to God, rather than on the prurient interests of the media. Being in the public gaze is both taxing and alluring. We must put up with the stress, but we must also resist the allure that distorts and sidetracks. Pay attention to the Lord who calls you friend and to the friends who gather here with you.
The third thing I want to say has to do with being clear about the issue. What is under threat nationally is the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, not the Anglican Church of Canada. We will remain the church. Whether it is the General Synod, or some dioceses, it is the structures that are at risk, not the essence of our life. Because the structures have served us well, and continue to do so, we sense the possibility of real loss. We have been negotiating with the government because we believe that the program and the systems that deliver it are of great value, and we do not want to see that disappear. Structures are important– whether they are physical buildings, or the ways in which we organize our life and mission. I am under no illusion that if these things vanish, it will be a blow that we would grieve for years to come. Nevertheless, we are a community held together first and foremost not by structures, but by relationship. Relationship endures and it will prosper. And we can dare to face the future with hope, with heart and confidence because we are people of faith in God who has called us into relationship. Our God heals, our God reconciles, our God offers new life in Christ Jesus. God has been Friend and Savior in both past and present, and we believe that the future is equally God’s home.
I do not minimize the pain, or the potential of our circumstances to undo what has been built over more than a century. But nor will I minimize the strength and power of God to raise up life from the depths. So I invite you to be friends to one another, and to a ministry of friendship in the world. I invite you to explore together the future, to be what you are in this week–the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, discerning the presence and call of God for us in our time and context. We are held and set free by God who loves us in Christ, and who, through us, desires to make known his love for the world.