Monday, July 8, 2013

Joint Assembly - Days Five and Six

Sidetracked by late nights and general weariness, here is my delayed report on the last two days of the Canadian General Synod and our Joint Assembly with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

The Anglican Journal story on the Anglican Covenant debate came out including a quote from me as the No Anglican Covenant Coalition's Moderator.  I had several fruitful discussions about the Covenant which only served to confirm my opinion that the project is fundamentally at odds with Anglican ecclesiology and that the Canadian church would almost certainly never be prepared to sign.

Following a presentation from First Nations elders and others from Northern Ontario, General Synod approved a process to establish a new Indigenous Diocese in the area. The new diocese, as yet unnamed, would effectively replace the existing diocese of Keewatin. The remaining bits of Keewatin will be reallocated to other dioceses - mostly Brandon and Rupert's Land.  It was a joyful climax to the decision making business of the General Synod.

Or at least, it should have been. We had earlier dealt with a motion directing the Council of General Synod to initiate a process leading to a draft canon permitting Anglican clergy to solemnize same sex marriages. Several things went or nearly went sideways during the debate. Very conservative bishop Stephen Andrews and very liberal dean Peter Elliott combined to propose an amendment that outlined the consultative and theological work required. A brilliant bit of drafting, it offered some assurance to conservatives that their concerns would be heard. Unfortunately the original mover and seconded did not immediately understand what was being proposed and offered up a subamendment that would have cut the guts out of the very eirenic amendment. The subamendment, fortunately, was defeated.

After a very rational debate, the amendment passed. Then things decided to go sideways again.  A very few people called for question after almost no debate at all on the resolution as amended, the Primate called for the vote and off we went for a break.  When we returned, the Primate acknowledged this error, and also that he'd missed a valid request for a vote by orders. So, instead of ending on a high note with the Cree diocese, instead we took all the air out of the room and returned to the marriage resolution. Because we were now almost an hour behind schedule - the reception before the banquet was already started - there was no appetite to re-open the debate. The vote by orders passed in every house (with a two-thirds majority even though only a simple majority was required).

The way the debate played out left a bad taste in the mouths of many conservatives. At the final session of Joint Assembly, the Bishop of the Arctic gave voice to those frustrations. I spoke to him afterwards to say that there were many progressives who were also unhappy with how the debate concluded so abruptly. A productive and occasionally emotional conversation ended with the mutual assurance that, at the end of the day, we both want to be at the same table.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Joint Assembly - Day Four

The innocuous resolution on the Anglican Covenant (deferring any decision until 2016) passed, as expected. The Synod resolved into Committee of the Whole to allow for a broader discussion of the Covenant rather than a narrow discussion of the resolution. While I did put forward the mischievous suggestion of defeating the motion (which would have meant we would not be obliged to discuss in in 2016) there was no real pick up.

There is clearly no appetite in Canada for the Covenant. Even the most overtly pro-Covenant speaker essentially conceded it was unlikely ever to pass. Indeed, there was not one speaker prepared to deliver a fulsome defence of Rowan's folly, which was something of a surprise. The only real argument against an immediate "no" seems to be a fear that rejecting the Covenant would somehow remove us from the conversation - even though both Scotland and Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia are fully at the table for every conversation that matters.

Several speakers, while not expressly anti-Covenant, focussed on the various initiatives that actually are mending relationships across the Communion: the Dialogue of North American and African bishops; the Continuing Indaba; Companion Diocese relationships. I closed the debate by emphasizing that the Covenant is a distraction from these real, meaningful and effective programs. 

While HMS COVENANT is still afloat, she is clearly holed below the waterline and dead in the water. I have it from reliable sources that even the man who originally conceived the idea has now concluded it was a serious error and a distraction from the real business of strengthening the Anglican Communion. All in all, a good day's work.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Joint Assembly - Day Three

After a further joint session this morning, we had the first parallel Anglican and Lutheran sessions this afternoon and evening.

The early parts of the Anglican General Synod started a trifle roughly as the chair and officers worked out how to use the electronic voting technology more effectively.  The interim result was that simple and uncontroversial votes took far longer than necessary while the election of the next Prolocutor took about 15 minutes instead of most of the afternoon.  The problem was exacerbated by the Primate's initial insistence that the results of each and every vote needed to be walked over to him rather than being posted immediately screen.  The bulk of these issues were corrected in the evening sitting. Although we are still slightly behind on the resolution committee's work plan, it is less urgent than it had been.

A good supply of our Coalition's "Yes to Communion - No to Covenant" buttons arrived last night.  Without a dedicated distribution spot like we had last year at the Episcopal Church General Convention I can't say distribution has been brisk, but the buttons are moving.

The main challenge Covenantsceptics face, of course, is the optimistic assessment that the Covenant is a dead letter.  The fact that Anglican Communion General Secretary Canon Kenneth Kearon didn't mention the Covenant at all during his brief address tends to reinforce the general complacency. The widespread hope seems to be that simply punting the thing down the road for three years will mean it's disappeared before ever the Canadians need to set aside our cultural politeness and actually say anything. Fortunately the complacency is somewhat shaken when Synod members discover that the Church in Hong Kong adopted the Covenant just a few weeks ago.

I have been testing the prospect of urging the Covenant's critics to vote against the motion from the Council of General Synod. A first blush, it seems to make little difference if the resolution is passed or not. Either way, there is no way for Canada to take a position prior to 2016. However, as I pointed out last night, passing the motion obliges the Council of General Synod to keep the conversation going and to present another motion in 2016. By contrast, defeating the motion proposed means that neither CoGS nor General Synod 2016 are obliged to do anything at all.  This would not preclude further discussion or even further resolutions in 2016, but it would mean that the Anglican Church of Canada need not waste resources discussing a proposal which would be unlikely ever to pass any Canadian General Synod.

One other fun fact about the Covenant came to my attention today when speaking to my own Metropolitan. The constitution and canons of the Province of Rupert's Land are fairly clear that certain actions of General Synod have no force in the ecclesiastical province unless and until they are ratified by the Provincial Synod. In other words, in the unlikely event the Canadian General Synod ever did pass the Covenant, it would continue to be of no force in the (geographically) largest internal province of the Canadian Church. I don't believe any of the other three internal provinces have the same kind of provision, but at least I'd be safe.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Joint Assembly - Day Two

Thus far, all the sessions have been joint sessions with our Lutheran brothers and sisters. I've tweeted several comments and at least one picture from the day.

The other piece of business I have been involved with is the resolutions committee.  We met this morning to priorize the resolutions and to identify those to be assigned to the no debate list.  The Council of General Synod resolution regarding the Anglican Covenant has been allocated 45 minutes, and a recommendation has been made that the Synod resolve into committee of the whole in order to accommodate a wider discussion of the Covenant rather than merely the strict terms of the resolution.

From the No Anglican Covenant Coalition perspective, the resolution isn't entirely satisfactory.  Like the Episcopal Church last year, the Proposal is to punt the issue further down the road. One might argue, ironically, that the net effect is the same regardless of whether the resolution is passed or defeated.  If passed, discussions continue until 2016 and another resolution would be presented to the next General Synod. If it is defeated, it would be politically untenable for the Council of General Synod to take any action on the Covenant in advance of the 2016 General Synod.

However, the resolution does direct the Council to take certain actions to continue the discussion. It has been argued that the defeat of the motion would mean Council has no authority to do anything to advance the process and no obligation to present any resolution at all to the 2016 session on this issue.  Further discussion with the rest of the Coalition is needed before the scheduled debate on Friday, but it seems to me the best position for us is to argue for a "no" vote. This would, I argue, put us in a similar position to the Church of England - a de facto (if not strictly de jure) rejection of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

A supply of the Coalition's "Yes to Communion - No to Covenant" buttons has arrived - after accidentally having arrived at the wrong hotel.

I'm late getting to bed tonight, and I have an early breakfast with our diocesan delegation, so that's enough for now.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Joint Assembly - Day One

I've been rather lax in my blogging, despite a wealth of potential subject matter. Over the next week, I hop to blog at least daily as I attend the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.  This year, we are meeting jointly with our full communion partners, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Unlike last year, when I attended the Episcopal Church General Convention as an observer, I am here in sunny (well, rainy right now) Ottawa as a member of the General Synod, representing the Diocese of Qu'Appelle. Complete information for both the Anglican and Lutheran meetings can be found at the Joint Assembly website.

Now off to dinner with the Qu'Appelle delegation. Back tomorrow.