Here is my attempt to summarize the events and decisions at our General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada which is held every three years.
The first decision is, I think it would be fair to say, monumental. That is that Indigenous Anglicans now have formed their own Province within the Canadian Church. Until now there have been 4 (I hope I have that right) such Provinces each with their own Archbishop/Metropolitan with a great deal of authority. There are many Indigenous Anglicans in Canada and (I think the number is right) 11 Indigenous bishops. This is somewhat reminiscent of when the British bishops left places like Nigeria and Uganda after independence. Those churches exploded with energy and power (from 2 million to 22 million Anglicans in Nigeria for example) under their own bishops. This is the result of years of work and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Indigenous Anglicans are for the most part highly evangelical and their place in our discussions is quite powerful.
The second item was the motion to change the marriage canon (church law) to state that anyone who can be legally married by the state in Canada can be married by the Church. Because this is a change in canon law it requires that two successive General Synods approve it. Also it must receive a 2/3 majority in the 3 houses (laity, clergy and bishops). At the first reading in 2016, this motion passed in the first 2 houses and passed by 1 vote in the house of bishops.
On second reading (this General Synod) the motion passed in the first 2 houses again (laity and clergy) but failed to achieve the 2/3 majority in the house of bishops.
What this means is that the Church’s, until now constant teaching on marriage (that is a life long union between one man and one woman) remains unchanged.
We might ask 2 things. First, why do we place so much importance on what the bishops think? Bishops are, in a sense, not just one more section of the church. Anglicans along with Roman and Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and others view bishops as the successors to the apostles. When we say we believe in the “apostolic church” in the creed, this is a part of what we mean. Bishops carry the “deposit of faith” the teaching of apostles in direct line (we can pretty much trace this) from the apostles. Bishops ordaining other bishops in a line reaching back almost 2000 years.
Second, we might ask. Why do they tend to be somewhat more conservative? This is for a couple of reasons. First, as you can see, it is their job to conserve. It is their job to make sure that the church is not losing its teaching by responding to what seems to be the “burning issue the day” whatever that happens to be. Secondly, bishops are in direct contact with the universal church. In our case, this means the other thousand or more Anglican bishops in the world. So no national group of bishops moves on their own. As as we well know the Anglican Communion exists 165 countries speaking 2000 languages and is composed of 85 million people. The majority of Anglicans and their bishops were in the majority world (Africa, Asia, the South Pacific especially and also increasingly in South America). (I also might note the enlarged presence of Indigenous bishops in our church was a major factor in traditional teaching on marriage being upheld).
The world’s bishops meet every 10 or so years (Lambeth Conference) and its Primates (chief Archbishops) meet regularly. All under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. So to change doctrine is not just a local matter and bishops exist to ensure we remain walking together. Lambeth, the Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury have consistently said 2 things about marriage. First that it is, as stated a life long union between and man and a woman (as revealed in scripture and in natural law). And also that gay and lesbian people are to be welcomed, listened to and treated with the utmost hospitality and grace. That we must hold these two together, as difficult as that may seem.
The final matter is the election of our new Primate. This is Bishop Linda Nicholls of the diocese of Huron. She is our first female Primate. I know little about her except that she seems extremely thoughtful and is well respected by the rest of the house of bishops. We have been secretly hoping that our own Archbishop Greg would not be elected Primate as that would mean he would move to Toronto. He certainly made a good showing but we are very happy that he was not elected so he can remain with us.