The dates were June 27 to July 2, 2023, and the place Calgary, Alberta. General Synod was supposed to happen in 2022, but because Covid wasn’t far enough in the rear-view mirror, the prudent decision was to wait one more year. So, representatives from coast to coast to coast made their way by planes, trains and automobiles to gather on the campus of the University of Calgary for five days of community building, prayer and deliberation on behalf of the Church.
The Diocese of Toronto was well represented by three bishops, seven clergy and seven lay delegates, in addition to one youth member. And there were other Toronto folk playing vital leadership roles to make sure the synod ran smoothly: Janet Marshall, director of Congregational Development, chancellor emeritus Clare Burns, and interim Dean Peter Wall. In total, more than 300 were gathered on the floor of General Synod.
We Anglicans were not alone, of course – far from it. We gathered on our own for part of the time and then in Assembly with more than 100 delegates from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for the remainder. We have been in full communion with the ELCIC since 2001. The last time we assembled with our extended family members was in 2013. We made this particular assembly so special by welcoming the Moravian Church into full communion with us. The Moravian Church is one of the oldest Protestant churches. While there are few Moravian congregations within the Diocese of Toronto (one, to be exact: New Dawn Moravian Church on Glenora Avenue in Toronto) there are more numerous communities across Canada, particularly in Alberta and Newfoundland. What a gift it is to include, multiply and grow in communion.
Motion after motion was debated. Opinions were expressed at the microphones, for and against. Some you agreed with, others you did not. I must say, for the most part, the level of decorum and respect was better at this synod than at most. Maybe we’re getting somewhere. We stood to declare our vote when asked. By the fifth day, the seats seemed to get harder and harder. Sitting for so long takes stamina. Our own delegates played a very active role in crafting and debating resolutions and decisions. In a gathering such as this one there are moments that are challenging and difficult, as well as those that are celebrative and hopeful.
Challenging and difficult? The decision not to extend the term of a Primate beyond the age of 70, within the last year of a triennium. This means that Archbishop Linda Nicholls will need to retire before we gather for General Synod in 2025. Hopeful? The decision to reassert our pledge to support peace in Palestine and Israel, pastoral liturgies for journeys of gender transition and affirmation, five transformational commitments for the future, faith formation and dismantling racism, visions of the emerging Indigenous Church. Celebrative? Participating in worship three times a day. Singing, praying and reflecting on scripture and our ministry. Dancing a round dance with 300 of your closest friends. Listening to elders, archbishops, youth and visitors. A night out with the delegates from Toronto!
The 43rd session of General Synod is a wrap. We come home knowing that there is much work to do as we lean into the future. The 44th session of General Synod will take place in 2025. May God bless the earth beneath our feet and the path upon which we will travel.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto
P.S. This will be my last Friday letter to the Diocese until the fall. I hope and pray that you will find time and space to rest, recreate, travel and play. Until September!