Archbishop Michael Peers
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario
5 July 2001
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. I trust that you feel a deep loyalty to and pride in your local church and your diocese. I expect, too, that you rightly feel a sense of responsibility to those who have sent you to this place. Now I ask you also to think of yourself not only as delegate to, but member of this General Synod - the body that makes policy and sets the direction for our national church. 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.
I offer a special greeting, and genuine appreciation, to the bishops, clergy and laity of our host diocese of Huron. Through you, let me express the gratitude of this Synod to the Local Arrangements Committee, and to the many volunteers who have worked to make us welcome. Hospitality is a gift that St. Paul singles out as central to our life in Christ. I thank you for yours. I also express my appreciation to the University of Waterloo. Those of our number who have been working with the University to prepare for this meeting have had nothing but high praise for the responsive manner and the expertise demonstrated by the staff of this university.
I welcome with glad heart the partners who share in this meeting with us. With us are partners from sister churches in the Anglican Communion, partners from the Episcopal Church, USA, with whom we share a special relationship in North America, ecumenical partners from other denominations in Canada. Your listening, participation and sharing will help us come to know ourselves better, and enable us to discern God's call more clearly. Thank you for joining us - we will try hard to be attentive to the word you speak to us. I want to single out Bishop Steven Charleston, whose preaching blessed us last night. Steven has been an incredible friend to us, making time - sometimes when there has been little enough in his life - to help us. Two years ago, he facilitated a meeting of the House of Bishops and the Anglican Council of Indigenous People, spending time with each group separately as well as enabling fruitful conversation between both. He has been a voice on behalf of the Anglican Church in the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, telling our story there. Steven, again, thank you.
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.
We are meeting in a moment when we know real pressure in our life as a national body. A sense of urgency rises out of the costs of the litigation we continue to face. There is also a lack of clarity as we have found our dealings with the government painfully slow. Urgency joined with a lack of clarity makes for a difficult context in which to move ahead. There is a need to make decisions about our future, but we are in a place where that feels enormously perilous.
Sometimes it is the choosing that provides the clarity. So we need not be afraid of deciding. I ask, however, that our moving forward be deeply rooted in the context of prayer and discernment. Some months ago, I wrote a piece on General Synod for Ministry Matters in which I said:
"the most important thing we will do is to place ourselves, in the way of God, to lean into the love that seeks to guide us, to lean into the wind of the Spirit which refreshes and strengthens us, to lean into the crucified and risen Lord who accompanies and leads us."
That remains my deep conviction. Four times have been set aside in our agenda for consideration of the future of the national church. The first is scheduled for this afternoon. Those will be key in helping us to decide the way ahead.
I will return to this theme towards the end. However, we are still the General Synod. We have work to do - important work, gospel work, mission work - and we need to turn our hearts to it. Whatever the future shape of the institution, our mission will always be fundamental.
Partnership, Friendship, Meeting
We have welcomed our partners. It is not often that General Synod has had as many partners. But partners are always with us - in almost any national gathering. And it is with the idea of partnership that I want to begin. Some of you will recognize these themes, but I make no apology for traveling some familiar ground. It is not merely because I have reached a certain age that I repeat myself; it is because I want to underline these thoughts and to ask you to think about them with me.
In 1992, General Synod adopted a Mission Statement for our Church. The opening sentence of that Statement is this: "As a partner in the worldwide Anglican Communion and in the universal church, we proclaim and celebrate the gospel of Jesus Christ in worship and action." That is the way we identify ourselves. In the Anglican Communion - "as a partner." In the Anglican Communion, there are Ten Principles of Partnership to which we have enthusiastically subscribed and which we helped to shape. It would be unimaginable for us to meet without partners in this Synod, in the Council of General Synod or in most of the Standing Committees. Partners bring the perspective of, and help us keep in touch with, the wider church. Partnership has been central to our self-understanding as a church.
At the same time, I believe we must think again what partnership entails. Two years ago, I attended the first annual Romney Moseley Lecture at Trinity College in Toronto. The lecturer, an Anglican priest originally from Barbados, was Dr. Kortwright Davis, Professor of Theology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. In the course of his address, Dr. Davis said this:
"Caribbean people have come to realize that there can be no genuine partnership between the rich and the poor. They even quake under the rigors of the partnership between the rich and the rich. My experience has led me to recognize that the rich would never do anything that diminished the advancement of their own self-interests… Poor people survive in spite of the rich, not because of their help… (P)artnership… is a virtual impossibility between unequals."
Those words come as a significant and demanding challenge for our life in the Anglican Communion, and for our own life as a church in Canada. When we speak of partnership - at home and abroad - we mean mutuality, interdependence, belonging to one another. But the question is "Can that really be?", especially when one party is seen as having resources and wealth that another doesn't have, can we truly be partners?
Not long after, I shared some of this in a meeting of the House of Bishops. Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita in the Church of Melanesia and former national staff member serving in Partnerships, was our guest. He offered some helpful comments at the end of our time. Wondering aloud about the possibility of re-framing 'partnership' in terms of 'friendship', he asked a series of questions that go to the heart of our mission:
"Is friendship possible between rich and poor… between powerful and powerless… between men and women… indigenous peoples and descendants of European settlers... heterosexual and homosexual people... bishops and their people… parents and their children?"
Is friendship possible? This question calls us to explore the nature of our relationships within the Body of Christ. Bishop Brown's conclusion is: "Yes, such friendship is possible, but not without the grace of God, an awful lot of hard work and, indeed, total conversion and transformation." What does it mean to be a partner, friend, companion? What does it ask of me as an individual? What does it ask of us as a church? I believe with all my heart that the first thing asked of us is that we meet. Friends gather. How many times have I repeated Desmond Tutu's insight that the glue that holds together the Anglican Communion is that we meet with one another? There is nothing more important in our life than being together. It is in meeting that we come to befriend each other, and know the friendship of God. "Whenever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst."
In John's gospel, as he approaches the Cross, Jesus says to the disciples: "I do not call you servants any longer, because a servant does not know what his master is doing; I call you friends because I have revealed to you everything I heard from my Father." (John 15:15) We speak the language of servanthood, and I know that is right. Our mission is defined by the sign of the towel - we seek to give ourselves in service of others. Jesus calls us to go deeper still, and to see the heart of our relationship with God as friendship. He calls us friends, no longer servants. Friendship is marked by the act of revealing what is most important in one's life: "I have revealed to you everything I heard…" This is transparency - a willingness to share who one is, what is most true, what most hurts and what is most life-giving, to another. Transparency - perhaps another word for vulnerability - makes it possible to move towards healing, reconciliation and new life.
I am not yet willing to let go the word 'partner' - it is found often in the reports and resolutions that are before us, and I don't intend that we rewrite all those documents! "Partnership" has helped us move to a richer understanding of communion. But I see its limitations, and I am thinking that it would be good at least to try on 'friend' to see where it takes us. So I turn to some of the concerns that lie before us, and ask you to think of them through the lens of friendship.
Friendship between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous 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 laboured, 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.
The Celebration of Full Communion with the ELCIC
General Synod last met in the Diocese of Huron forty-nine years ago, in 1952. A matter addressed then - both in the sermon at the opening Eucharist (preached the Very Rev. W.R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England) and in the charge to Synod by Archbishop Walter Barfoot- was one very much on our present agenda: Christian unity. Dean Matthews proclaimed three ways in which every part of the universal church could "serve the cause of unity." The first was to "keep the vision of the one undivided Church before our people as the will of God." The second was "to keep a sense of proportion": neither forget "the causes of division", nor "magnify minor differences into great obstacles". And the third, to cooperate with other Christians "on every possible occasion when that can be done without compromise of principle." Good advice then, and now. Archbishop Barfoot reported from the Third Conference on Faith and Order in Lund, Sweden. That conference gave us the Lund Principle: churches should "act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately."
In those days, we were in conversation with the United Church of Canada - a conversation which resulted in the Plan of Union. In 1975, on our initiative, the Plan was abandoned. That was a difficult moment in our history, and we have not been in any significant talks with the United Church until recently. Discussion is beginning again. For that I give God thanks. But I am also grateful that in a number of other ways - in local relationships between congregations, in many shared ministries, in the work of coalitions, in joint representations to government - we remain committed to serve together in Christ's name.
We remain in conversation, both in Canada and internationally, with Roman Catholics. In Canada we celebrate 25 years of annual meetings of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops, a record unmatched anywhere else in the world. Because we became friends and know each other so well, we are in a position to contribute significantly to the worldwide Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue.
I acknowledge also the presence of Gary Walsh from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Historically, the EFC is not a fellowship to which we have belonged - although many Anglicans, and a number of Anglican parishes do belong. Our links have been with the Canadian Council of Churches, and more specifically with other 'mainline' denominations. Those friendships are vital for us. At the same time, we are coming to recognize that we need a wider vision, and that we impoverish ourselves when we are unconnected to such a significant Christian presence in Canada. So we are seeking observer status with the EFC. I am glad of this beginning, and I am particularly delighted that Gary is with us as we move into a deeper relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
The profound blessing on which we reflect at this moment, is the gift of our friendship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The Waterloo Declaration details something of the history our relationship with one another. The Introduction points out that Lutherans and Anglicans never "experienced formal separation from each other". But neither have we experienced the richness of full communion. This week, we have opportunity to deepen our relationship. That decision is in our hands, and in the hands of the Lutheran convention, as we each vote on the Declaration. We have come to this in a particularly Canadian way - allowing for convergence rather than insisting on it. That is what friends do. One of the root words for friend is the old English word freond meaning both to "love" and to "be free". This is not a merger in which two partners lose their identity in the creation of something new. We each remain free to be who we are. A benefit will be not only transparency to each another, but a greater transparency even to ourselves. We will learn more about who we are as Anglicans even as we come to know more intimately our Lutheran friends.
Friendship entails commitment. The Joint Working Group deserves our heartfelt and earnest gratitude for its commitment to clarify questions, pressing us to work at them, and for refusing to fudge issues or avoid controversy. I also believe that patient, prayerful and attentive dedication, genuine dialogue and growing friendship at the congregational level, gatherings of laity and clergy, regular conversations among bishops of both churches have brought us to this day. If we choose to move forward, all that will need to continue. The prayers and encouragement of others in our worldwide communions have helped us enormously. And the importance of this time in Canada is signaled by the presence of friends from both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Lutheran World Federation.
Friendship and Justice
To be a friend is to stand with another in his or her pain. There are many resolutions that will come before us that call us as a church to be with others for the sake of healing, or justice, or simply out of a sense of following our Lord to places of sorrow and oppression where he is to be found. I want briefly to note three.
It seems to me that we have not spent much time recently thinking about our justice system in Canada. There is considerable debate in our country about youth crime, penitentiaries, and identifying particular offenders when they are released into the community. But most of the energy in the discussion is focused on stronger penalties, harsher punishment. I think there is another voice to be raised, and I am glad to see in the convening circular a motion on restorative justice. In the earliest days of the Church's life, prisoners were our friends. In fact, many members of the church would themselves have had first hand experience of a Roman prison, or known someone with that experience. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus says that our willingness to be friends of the marginalized reveals the truth of our friendship with him: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, …ye have done it unto me". Among the 'least' identified by Jesus are the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the sick. We, and most of society, can connect with ministry that includes the poor, with food programs, hospital work. But the last of those with whom Jesus links himself is the prisoner. Matthew's contemporaries would not have difficulty understanding his words. But somehow, we have lost the connection. I think we need to recover it, especially when the trend is to simply put folks away. In our society, prisoners' advocates and friends are few; perhaps we can number ourselves among them.
Palestine and Israel
Two months ago, along with my Lutheran colleague Bishop Sartison, with United Church Moderator Marion Pardy and two other delegates, I returned to the Holy Land - a place that holds for us profound spiritual significance, but which is experiencing profound sadness. We had gone at the request of our partner churches, and our time was spent with them. On previous visits, I had witnessed the plight of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, but never was it so destructive as I observed this time. The present policies of establishment of settlements on occupied lands, in defiance of international convention and United Nations resolutions, will guarantee strife forever.
With our Canadian hosts from the Christian Peacemaker Teams (one of whom has since been arrested and beaten), we were confronted by an angry American settler, whose hostility was more than palpable. We heard from our partner Sabeel, an ecumenical centre for liberation theology, that security for one cannot be achieved by creating insecurity and injustice for another. Our partner churches and church-related organizations continue to struggle against the occupation and all other forms of domination. Their persistent articulation of the need for a just peace based on an inclusive formula of mutual co-existence, and their work toward those ends in the face of sadness and despair, is itself a source of tremendous hope. But our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land are not only few and decreasing in number, they are a double minority. As Palestinians, they are a minority in Israel or in the territories where they endure the occupation, and as Christians they are a minority among their Muslim compatriots. Our visit was to them, to be with them and to pray with them in their difficulties.
A rabbi once asked his students to define when the dawn has come and thus time for morning prayers. One suggested, "it is light when you can tell a donkey from a horse. Another said, "When you can distinguish a fruit tree from a fig tree." The rabbi turned away all their answers, and told them: "When you can look into the face of every man and woman and see there the face of your brother and sister, then it is light. All else is darkness". Our partners have encouraged us to work with all who share their vision of an inclusive and just peace, a vision that is apparent only in this light.
For years now, the Women in Black - a group of Israeli women - has witnessed against the occupation each and every Friday. As part of a worldwide vigil last month, an Israeli mother whose 10 year-old daughter was killed by a suicide bomber addressed the Jerusalem group: "For me, the other side, the enemy, is not the Palestinian people. For me the struggle is not between Palestinians and Israelis, nor between Jews and Arabs. The fight is between those who seek peace and those who seek war. My people are those who seek peace." Our fundamental values as Christians call us to join as her people, those who seek peace. We can do that by moving dialogue forward.
I think that one way to do that is to begin to seek dialogue partners in Canada from among Muslim, Jewish and Arab groups, who seek an inclusive and just peace in the Middle East. Furthermore, we need to continue to work ecumenically in Canada to strengthen our partnerships with the Jerusalem churches. And finally, I invite you to join the Psalmist who bids you and me: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem".
Dignity, Inclusion and Fair Treatment
When General Synod met in Montreal, three years ago, there was a resolution to adopt a set of Human Rights Principles for our Church. Those of you who were present will remember that it was carried in the orders of clergy and laity and defeated in the order of bishops. You may also recall that the Primate of Brazil who was present as a partner had the intriguing comment: "In our Province, it would have been the other way around". At the conclusion of Synod, I remarked that the Canon on the Primacy speaks of the obligation of the Primate to give direction in the shaping of policy and direction in the life of the church. And so I said "Human Rights is still on the agenda." It is good to see the document Dignity, Inclusion and Fair Treatment before us. It takes seriously the discussion of the last Synod. Much was said then about the need to distinguish between the language of the law or the courts and the language of faith, and that is reflected in the proposal. The question is about respecting "the dignity of every human being". How do we make real the friendship we know in and with Christ in our relationship with all people?
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."
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 Saviour 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.