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Last night, as a part of our learning about the ministries of General Synod, we formed groups to tour around a variety of ministries - Resources for Mission, Global Relations, Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice, and the work of the General Secretary’s Office. 

Sometimes it can seem in parish life that the work we contribute to on a national level is a million miles away. The work may be important (it is!) and yet, how do we build interdependent networks of communication and mutual support? Do we know what is being done through the staff and committees of General Synod to support our collective participation in God’s mission? 

I have to admit that oftentimes, that the work being done at a national level is not the work in front of me. In some ways, it’s easy not to pay attention. It’s easy not to know what is happening when it’s at a distance while we're engaged in the local realities in our communities and dioceses. 

Being here in Toronto for these meetings, spending time with staff and committee members, I started to glimpse the ways our church, as a national body, does vital work at a national and international level. This is work that our church might not be able to do as effectively and skillfully on a local level, and is something for which I’m grateful. If you’re curious about any of these areas of ministry, consider watching these videos prepared for General Synod 2023 as one easy way in.

Communications Committee

The Communications Committee reported on the work it has been doing in recent weeks and months. One of the big pieces of work has been to redraft the Journalistic Policies and Practices for the Anglican Journal’s editorial board. The version presented to (and adopted by) the Council has been used in draft form for many months, helping to clarify the murky lines that exist because the Anglican Journal is a news outlet that is published by General Synod.

What was made clear in the last session of CoGS was that there was a lack of clarity and poor decision making by Synod management interfering in the Journal’s intent to publish a story about sexual abuse in the church. The new policy clarifies these and many other issues, seeking to provide guidance to the Paper as well as to Synod management how to approach a variety of issues in a complex relationship. This is another step in a good direction. 

Sexual Misconduct Policy

The second half of our morning, we looked at the national misconduct policy. We were joined by the General Synod’s Chancellor, Clare Burns, via Zoom to discuss the policy, and to provide feedback.

Misconduct policies attempt, in some ways, to lay out a pathway and a framework in which an organization deals with instances of alleged misconduct, harassment, and abuse. Most (including our own) are written to protect institutions from liability. 

And yet, at CoGS meetings in March and November of 2022, the Council of that time made statements committing, in part, to improving General Synod’s policies and processes in ways that are trauma-informed and victim centered. As part of this work, the Council invited Mandy Marshall, the Anglican Communion’s director of Gender Justice, who made it clear that churches need to realize the impacts of trauma, its symptoms, and to respond and resist by preventing future trauma. As we entered this discussion, I had these commitments in my mind, wanting to ensure that we follow through, and do better for those who experience the trauma of misconduct in the church. 

In providing feedback, the council spoke to a variety of issues that need to be addressed or explored. Here are a few highlights: 

  • Pastoral Care: People need to be cared for. We are concerned about whether the correct location for spiritual care is someone from the organization where the alleged abuse took place. How can we consider other options for support that don’t serve to re-traumatize victims?
  • Investigations: How do we ensure that investigations are truly independent, trauma-informed, and with clear procedures for vetting and disclosure of conflicts of interest? Can an investigator with ties to the Anglican Church of Canada be (or be perceived to be) truly independent? If it needs to be internal to the church, how do we ensure that those who perform this function have the required high standard of specific, intentional, trauma-informed training.
  • Restorative Justice: We wondered what role and options there are (or might be) for restorative justice models. How might our model provide circles of support to those impacted? How might our approach include an option for the complainant to choose (but not be forced into) a restorative justice approach? What can we learn from the Anglican Council of Indigenous People
  • Non-Disclosure Agreements: Elsewhere, Mandy Marshall who addressed CoGS in 2022 is clear that NDAs “are a tool created by the powerful for the powerful to remain powerful. We have heard some say that the Church does not use NDAs. The motion presented at General Synod in Calgary suggested that a public commitment not to use NDAs could address a gap in policy and send a clear signal in and beyond the church that people subject to misconduct, harrassment, or abuse will not be silenced if they come forward. It’s one thing to say “we don’t use NDAs,” and quite another to clearly and publicly say “we won’t because we believe silencing victims is wrong.” We suggested that further steps could be taken in the policy not just to say what we won't do, but to take positive policy steps that promote transparency.
  • Addressing Power Dynamics: We wondered about the way in which the current policy invests too much power and responsibility in the office of the General Secretary when dealing with this matter. It was suggested that General Synod consider ways of sharing responsibility for this work through the formation of a group with expertise in and oversight of this area. 

As the afternoon progressed, we discussed a (resolved) cyber attack on General Synod as well as an update on the Primate’s Commission. This commission is meant to deal with the reality that the structures of the church are not adequately equipped to support ministry now and into the future. The Commission, whose work has begun, will not be complete before the next General Synod, but is already underway. I do believe that this work will be critical going into the future, and should in many ways include review of General Synod’s funding model–a model dependent on a reality that no longer exists. 

Picking up the work we started yesterday, we began to triage the remaining C motions that never made it to the floor of Synod. In our table groups, members of Council discussed each of these motions, and considering ways in which they might be carried forward. A number of these motions are already being reformulated for consideration at the next scheduled in-person meeting of CoGS (or perhaps an earlier meeting on Zoom if we can get that scheduled). There were a number of motions that did not make it to the floor of Synod for a variety of reasons. These include motions on Communications, Discipleship and Evangelism, Diversity, Ecumenism, Elections Processes for Council of General Synod, Medical Assistance in Dying, Non-Disclosure Agreements, and Organ Donation. If these issues are of concern to those who read these notes (whether members of General Synod or not), you’re free to get in touch with the members of CoGS to speak with them about these issues, and their importance. 

After a long day of work, we gathered together to sing Holden Evening Prayer in the chapel. For me, this was a wonderful way to end the day, recentering me and giving focus to both why we do what we do, and the context in which we do it–the context of God’s extravagant, life-giving, transforming love for us and all of Creation.