A Word to the Church: Considering the proposed amendment of Marriage Canon XXI


A Word to the Church: Considering the proposed amendment of Marriage Canon XXI


This Word to the Church was passed by consensus by the Council of General Synod on March 16, 2019.


Historically, the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the Anglican Church of Canada – in its parishes, congregations and communities from coast to coast to coast – has been actively under consideration for many years. It has been a major topic in a number of meetings of General Synod. In some of those meetings, the General Synod passed resolutions that expressed the mind of the General Synod and contributed to the teaching and policy of the Anglican Church of Canada.

In the midst of all these proceedings, there has been the desire to hear all voices, and to remain integrally a church which respects the dignity of each person and remains faithful to our calling to love one another.

In preparing for the second reading of the proposed amendment to the Marriage Canon, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) itself has consistently undertaken a respectful listening process. The Council has exercised its responsibility to encourage consideration of A051-R2 throughout the church between first and second reading by diocese and provinces. We have received and listened to the considerable feedback submitted by dioceses and provinces, the House of Bishops and the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. The Council is returning the resolution to General Synod for second reading with some possible amendments.

CoGS asks General Synod 2019 and the whole church to take note of the following discussion and make the affirmations that follow.


Since the 1980s, the General Synod has held discussions and considered resolutions pertaining to same sex relationships, and the blessing of same sex unions and marriages in the Church. For example:

a. 1992: General Synod held an open forum on sexuality and requested that the House of Bishops and the National Executive Council (now the Council of General Synod) commission a study of homosexuality and same-sex relationships.

b. 1994: Hearing Diverse Voices, Seeking Common Ground: A program of study on homosexuality and homosexual relationshipswas published by the Anglican Book Centre as a resource for parishes and groups.

c. 1995: General Synod affirmed the presence and contribution of gays and lesbians in the church.

d. 2001:  General Synod adopted A Call to Human Dignity: A Statement of Principles for the Anglican Church of Canada on Dignity, Inclusion, and Fair Treatment.

e. 2004: General Synod deferred the decision to affirm the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod, with the concurrence of its bishop, to authorize the blessing of committed same sex relationships. It also passed the resolution “affirming the integrity and sanctity of committed, adult same-sex relationships”. The General Synod asked the Primate to refer the issue to the Primate’s Theological Commission.

f. 2005: The Primate’s Theological Commission published the St. Michael Report, stating that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine “but not core doctrine”.

g. 2007: General Synod defeated a motion (that was deferred in 2004) to affirm the authority and jurisdiction of any diocesan synod, with the concurrence of its bishop, to authorize the blessing of committed same sex unions.

The General Synod also passed the following resolution (Act 33):

“That this General Synod accept the conclusion of the Primate’s Theological Commission’s St. Michael Report that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine, but is not core doctrine in the sense of being creedal and should not be a communion-breaking issue.”

h. 2010: General Synod adopted a statement (Act 70) with respect to the blessing of same-sex relationships that said, in part:

“We acknowledge diverse pastoral practices as dioceses respond to their own missional contexts. We accept the continuing commitment to develop generous pastoral practices. We recognize that these different approaches raise difficulties and challenges.”

The statement also said:

“We are deeply aware of the cost to people whose lives are implicated in the consequences of an ongoing discernment process.  This is not just an ‘issue’ but is about people’s lives and deeply held faith commitments.”


“Above, in and through all of this, and despite all our differences we are passionately committed to walking together, protecting our common life.”

The General Synod also unanimously adopted a resolution opposing criminalization of homosexuality, and calling on our partners in jurisdictions with such legislation to do the same (Act 75).

i. 2013: General Synod adopted a motion (C003) that directed the Council of General Synod to prepare a motion for the consideration of General Synod 2016 that would: “change Canon XXI on Marriage to allow the marriage of same sex couples” (Act 38). In response to resolution C003, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) formed the Commission on the Marriage Canon to undertake the work requested in the resolution and report back to CoGS.

j. 2015: The Commission presented its final report, This Holy Estate, to the Council of General Synod on September 22, 2015.

k. 2016: A resolution to amend the Marriage Canon came to General Synod in 2016. The resolution was amended to permit the solemnization of same sex marriages that were authorized by the diocesan bishop. The existing conscience clause for clergy would not be changed. General Synod 2016 gave first reading to the amended resolution (A051-R2) and by a two-thirds majority of those voting in each of the orders of laity, clergy, and bishops.

The resolution was referred to provincial and diocesan synods for consideration as required by the Declaration of Principles.

l. 2019: A051-R2 returns to General Synod 2019 for second reading, as required by the Declaration of Principles for change to a canon pertaining to doctrine.

If A051-R2 receives the necessary majorities in each of the orders of bishops, clergy, and laity at General Synod 2019, it will become an Act of Synod; if it does not, it will be defeated.


In the 2004 resolution concerning “the integrity and sanctity of committed adult same sex relationships”, the third clause read:

To affirm the principle of respect for the way in which the dialogue and study [of the blessing of same-sex relationships] may be taking place, or might take place, in Indigenous and various other communities within our church in a manner consistent with their cultures and values.

At the 2010 meeting at which General Synod adopted its Sexuality Discernment Statement, it also passed, at second reading, changes that completed the establishment of the office of National Indigenous Anglican Bishop within General Synod and adopted Canon XXII.

Synod enacted two other significant resolutions with respect to Indigenous ministries.

i. The first was the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery; and

ii. the second was the endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The UN Declaration includes among its articles at least four that speak directly to the rights of Indigenous persons and communities to come to their own decisions regarding this or any other spiritual matter:

  • Article 3 – To self-determination

  • Article 4 – To self-government

  • Article 11 – To the practice and re-vitalization of culture

  • Article 12 – To manifest, practice, develop and teach spiritual and religious traditions

That is to say, the commitments our church has made, in 2004, in 2010, and in many other times and places, require us to acknowledge with humility that conversations among Indigenous persons and communities about same-sex marriage belong to those persons and communities, and will take place in their own way and in their own time.


In the memo of 2016 June entitled ISSUES IN DEALING WITH RESOLUTION A051 (the motion to amend the Marriage Canon), the Chancellor of the General Synod, David Jones QC, wrote:

There is no specific prohibition of same sex marriage in the existing canon.

Not passing the resolution is not the same as passing the opposite resolution.

… In the absence of a prohibition by General Synod against same-sex marriages, Provincial Synods have authority and jurisdiction with respect to “… the authorization of special forms of prayers, services and ceremonies for use within the province, for which no provisions have been made under the authority of the General Synod or of the House of Bishops of The Anglican Church of Canada”: Section 7 viii) of the Declaration of Principles.

…In addition, bishops retain some inherent “powers, jurisdiction
and authority”: Section 9 of the Declaration of Principles.

Subsequently, for a variety of reasons, some diocesan bishops and synods authorized liturgies for the solemnization of marriage between two persons of the same sex; others have not.


In its January 2019 report to the Council of General Synod, the House of Bishops referred to the “currency of grace” present in their discussion, and identified a number of ways that the nature of marriage is understood and taught in the church:

a. For some, any change is seen as a repudiation of a universal Christian tradition held since time immemorial and commanded by scripture;

b. some hold to a close interpretation of the theology of the Book of Common Prayer, and see marriage as a means of God’s grace and an ordinance beyond the Church’s capacity to transform or change;

c. others see marriage as a first order commandment of God within the order of creation itself;

d. still others have a view that the liberating work of Christ can and should transcend the structures which are seen to be of human construction, and that same sex marriage is a prophetic response to the Spirit’s command to draw all persons to the grace and love of Christ;

e. still others see the love and grace of Jesus demanding a transforming view of justice which includes all persons – including those whom the church traditionally interpreted as sinners condemned by scripture, and seek to repent of language and attitudes which oppressed the LGBTQ2S community and injured their dignity both as persons in civil society and as beloved children of God;

f. still others combine portions of these theologies in a way that works for their own community and context; and

g. each of these and many other variations on the teaching of the church value scripture and take their view of this matter from the holy scriptures themselves.[1]


For many in leadership in our church, the 2010 statement (Act 70, referred to above), which achieved virtual consensus, represents a significant pastoral moment in the life of our church. Among its virtues were:

a. The recognition that it was possible to hold and act on divergent views in good faith, and that missional context would necessarily inform pastoral practice;

b. the affirmation of “aboriginal voices in our midst”;

c. the recognition of the cost “to those people whose lives are implicated in the consequences of an ongoing discernment process”; and

d. the recognition of the pain engendered by diversity, and the commitment to care for one another in that pain.

As we prepare to vote on the proposed change to the Canon XXI – On Marriage, we take time to acknowledge that though the question now is marriage, many of the dynamics remain in place. While our diversity remains painful, there continues to be a strong commitment to our communion in the Body of Christ.


This has been a long season of deep pain for the whole church.

We have witnessed disdain and failure of charity toward those who hold differing understandings of marriage:

a) toward the LGBTQ2S+ communities;

b) toward those who stand in one of the traditions regarding marriage that would lead them to oppose the change;

c) toward those who stand in one of the traditions regarding marriage that would lead them to favour the change;

d) toward Indigenous persons and communities; and

e) toward those who have proceeded in good faith to authorize rites for same-sex marriage.

Whatever the actions of the church at this General Synod, we lament the harm that has come to persons and communities in the course of fifty years of conversation, not all of it measured or loving.


Council of General Synod asks General Synod and the whole church to make the following affirmations.

Affirmation #1
Indigenous Spiritual Self-determination

Whatever the action of the church at this General Synod, we affirm the right of Indigenous persons and communities to spiritual self-determination in their discernment and decisions regarding same-sex marriage.

Affirmation #2
Diverse Understandings of the Existing Canon

We affirm that, while there are different understandings of the existing Marriage Canon, those bishops and synods who have authorized liturgies for the celebration and blessing of a marriage between two people of the same sex understand that the existing Canon does not prohibit same-sex marriage.

Affirmation #3
Diverse Understandings and Teachings

We acknowledge the ongoing reality that there is a diversity of understandings and teachings about marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada, and we affirm the prayerful integrity with which those understandings and teachings are held.

Affirmation #4
Our Commitment to Presume Good Faith

We affirm our commitment to presume good faith among those who hold diverse understandings and teachings, and hold dear their continued presence in this church.

Affirmation #5
Our Commitment to Stand Together

We affirm our commitment to walk together and to preserve communion, one with another, in Christ, within this church, within our Anglican Communion, and with our ecumenical partners.

[1] Direct quote from COGS document 018-01-19-03: Report from the House of Bishops to the Council of General Synod

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Archbishop Fred Hiltz on Primate's Role - from the Anglican Journal

‘Servant leadership’: an interview with Archbishop Fred Hiltz on the primate’s role

BY TALI FOLKINS - March 13, 2019

"The primate’s ministry is to always be attentive to how we create a holy spaciousness, so that everybody feels that they have a place in our church," says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: Tali Folkins

"The primate’s ministry is to always be attentive to how we create a holy spaciousness, so that everybody feels that they have a place in our church," says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: Tali Folkins

According to the canons of the Anglican Church of Canada, the primate’s role is to “lead [the church] in discerning and pursuing the mission of God.” To find out the primate’s own view on the nature of his leadership, the Anglican Journal sat down with Archbishop Fred Hiltz, who has served as primate since 2007, to hear his own thoughts on the role. This interview has been edited for brevity.

How would you describe the authority of the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada? 

It’s not based on jurisdiction. I think the authority of the primate is relational, and that you are given some authority at installation to be—to the best of your ability, and by the grace of God—a kind of locus of unity for our church. That’s very daunting. In my experience, it’s tied to the ministry of encouragement and of always reminding the church of the big picture, of the New Testament vision of the church— that it is essentially the body of Christ, and insofar as we have structures, that those structures have to serve the gospel.

Some would say there’s an authority of suasion, or persuasion, and a kind of moral authority to hold the church accountable for values, habits, disciplines, and practices that are in keeping with the gospel. The other authority, I think, that’s vested in the office of the primate is around enabling the church to know its vocation to be in and for the world. And so the canon on the primacy talks about the primate writing prophetically to the church and the world. The social justice issues, the moral issues of our time—the church expects the primate will write with some degree of authority to address those issues.

When you say the primate’s authority isn’t based on jurisdiction, do you mean the primate doesn’t have the power to discipline? 

Yes—that’s all the work of the diocesan bishops and metropolitans. The primate’s ministry is to always be attentive to how we create a holy spaciousness, so that everybody feels that they have a place in our church.

How does the primate actually do that? 

In my experience, through your preaching and teaching; through your visits to parishes and dioceses. People feel like they see in the face and heart of the primate— one hopes—a visible expression of their belonging to the wider church. If people are feeling a bit on the edges, there is, I think, an obligation on the part of the primate to go to those people and hear what their needs are, and then bring those to the wider church. When people are clearly in a conflict, where they’ve gone past the point of being able to talk with one another, then I think there is a role for the primate to say, “Let’s have a conversation, let’s see if we can discern how God might be calling us to move through this time of tension and conflict into a healthier way of being together as the church.”

What has worked when you’ve undertaken this? 

Rather than saying, “So here’s what the agenda for the day is,” you kind of open it up and say, “Thank you for coming together. I appreciate that. Now this is your meeting. Let’s figure out together what it is that we think we need to talk about today, what it is that we hope to accomplish today.” And so you create a space in which people feel responding to this invitation was actually worth it. And then at the end of the day you take some time to ask some questions— “Was this day a good day? Was it a holy day? Did you have a holy conversation? Do you feel like you were able to participate in it fully? What do you think we accomplished today, by God’s grace? What more do we need to talk about? Would you like to talk again?” And certainly that’s been my experience with some folks that I’ve met with—we’ve always asked at the end whether we’d like to meet again, and in my experience very many people have said, “Absolutely.”

Is this understanding of authority an attempt to replicate the authority that Archbishop of Canterbury has, as first among equals? 

Correct. The ministry of primacy is grounded in that sense of being the first among equals within a particular church. There are varying degrees of authority among the provinces of the Anglican Communion that are given to primates. But historically, in our communion, a primate doesn’t have any capacity for binding authority on any matter of jurisdiction. As the Archbishop of Canterbury is often described as the locus of unity in the Anglican Communion as a whole, so the primate of each province is the locus of unity for that church.

Are there advantages to having a church be led by someone with this kind of authority? 

I fully believe that if you look over the history of the Anglican Church of Canada, the “detached” model of primacy has actually served our church very well. The other thing, of course, is that there’s an image of servant leadership in the model we have of the primacy that is really quite unique. The primate cannot just waltz into a diocese; you have to have the permission of the bishop. You are called to serve everybody and you have to be content with the fact that you don’t have the same kind of authority that diocesan bishops have. The primate will do what the primate’s invited to do. When it comes, for instance, to Sacred Circle, you’re a guest—you’re there to listen and learn, and to speak when you’re invited to speak.

Do you think this “servant leadership” reflects in some way the role of Jesus in the gospels? I’m reminded of the image of him washing the feet of his disciples. 

You’re exactly in the same headspace I am. Given the nature of primacy in our church—and I can only speak for myself—I have to live out of what’s called the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel, where Jesus is in the upper room and he washes [the disciples’] feet. And he models servant leadership. And then he teaches them, but he teaches by modelling it. And then once he’s done that, he goes on to talk with them about other things: loving one another, going into the world bearing fruit, fruit that will last. He prays for his own consecration, for their consecration, and for all others who will come to believe through their word.

The beauty of that conversation is that we’re drawn into it. It’s an abiding conversation Christ has with his disciples of every age. I’ve often found myself personally needing to place myself again inside that upper room and hear again what Jesus is saying to the disciples, listening for some fresh insight about the kind of community he wants us to be—not just for our own sake but for the sake of the world for which he is about to stretch out his arms on the cross. The kind of authority that the church invests in the office of the primate—that’s its source, that’s its origin.

History and Role of the Primacy - from the Anglican Journal

‘A mirror for the life of our church’: The history and role of the primacy


The primatial cross is the only official symbol of the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. It was first presented to General Synod in 1937 after the submission of numerous designs. The cross is made of silver gilt and features the arms of General Synod and of the four original dioceses of the Canadian church. Photo: Saskia Rowley

The primatial cross is the only official symbol of the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. It was first presented to General Synod in 1937 after the submission of numerous designs. The cross is made of silver gilt and features the arms of General Synod and of the four original dioceses of the Canadian church. Photo: Saskia Rowley

When delegates meet in Vancouver this July for the 42nd General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, they will vote for a new primate to succeed Archbishop Fred Hiltz. But what does being primate of the Anglican Church of Canada really entail?

The primacy has evolved throughout the history of the church. In 1893, the church’s first primate was a diocesan bishop chosen from among the metropolitans, whose only specific duties were to serve as president of General Synod and of the House of Bishops.

Since that time, the office of primate has steadily grown to encompass a national episcopal ministry, in which the primate serves as a figure of unity and a reflection of the diversity, challenges and ministries of the church.


National Marriage Canon XXI - Deanery Discussions


To the Clergy and Members of the Diocese of Saskatoon, 

Greetings in Christ our Lord and Saviour, in July 2019 the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada will gather in Vancouver to bring to the vote, changes to the Marriage Canon XXI. Leadership of the church recognizes the divisive nature of change and thus far, we the church have been far from exemplary much less Christian to change. To ensure that all voices are heard and that we the Diocese of Saskatoon and its representatives hear you, and that we who will attend General Synod 2019 vote with the greater voice, other than our own... I ask that we gather at Regional Deanery discussions to address the changes and how we as a family in God and community, will step up and forward as a Diocese in faith. 

As a Diocese, we know that we are diverse in practice and thinking as is every community. We as a church need to recognize and respect each other in the upcoming discussions for the diversity that we are as children of God, in the Family of God, for at the end of the day we will still need to walk with each other in love, respect and faith, and believe that God is leading us to something greater than ourselves. There can be unity in diversity, there can be love and hope in a lost and broken world, and it begins with us and our faith witness, and knowledge that God Almighty has this. 

In the Deanery discussions, we will gather to hear an opening presentation from Rev. Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers and myself, then we will listen to you and your voice, respecting each other and the values that make us who we are in the family of God and a community of faith. We will set as a foundation for the discussions the following passages which will be the center of our dialogue:

1 Corinthians 12:12-20  

 John 17:11-18  


"This Holy Estate" - Commission and report


In closing, I do ask that you do your home work and read the passages of scripture, search out the reports in the Link provided and attend the meetings with an open heart, speaking and listening with respect and faith. 

In Christ’s service,


A Call for Prayer


A Call to Prayer from the Primate for General Synod 2019


Dear Friends,

The General Synod of our Church will be meeting July 10-16, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The theme is drawn from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, “I have called you by name.”  One of the important pieces of work in this Synod will be the calling and installation of a new Primate.

In the Church’s discernment of who will be called, there are several periods for which I earnestly ask your prayers.

In the first period, bishops are nominated for this office.  This is the responsibility of the members of the National House of Bishops. I ask you to pray for those who are invited to let their names stand. Pray for those who wrestle with an invitation and for those who accept it.

In the second period, there is a balloting process which takes place at the next meeting of the House of Bishops in March. Balloting continues until a minimum of three or up to five bishops have been named. I ask you to pray for them, for their families, and for their diocesan families.

In the third period, which takes us to General Synod, there is conversation throughout the whole Church, not only about the nominees, but about the nature of primatial ministry. It is, as we all know, one of huge responsibility in:

  • leading our Church in God’s mission in these times;

  • visiting all of our dioceses and territories;

  • pastorally caring for our bishops and nurturing them for their apostolic leadership;

  • working in a particularly close relationship with the National Indigenous Bishop, with respect to the emerging of the self-determining Indigenous Church;

  • representing our Church throughout the Anglican Communion;

  • strengthening our relations with other Churches, particularly in Canada;

  • writing and speaking prophetically to the issues of our times, and

  • forging relationships with people of other faith traditions and all people of good will dedicated to the building of a truly just, healthy and peaceful world.

I ask that your conversations be grounded in prayer.

In the fourth period, the General Synod meets. The election will be held in Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday, July 13th. Following a celebration of Holy Communion, the lay and clergy delegates commence the work entrusted to them. The proceedings are chaired by the Prolocutor Ms. Cynthia Haines-Turner. As the bishops do not vote, they meet apart from the session to uphold the delegates that they may know the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Once an election is declared, the bishops join the delegates in welcoming the Primate-elect.

In that short span of a couple days between the election and the installation, the new Primate will be asking for our prayers. In my own experience, it is heartening to know that one is remembered daily by name and for need of grace, strength and wisdom in the exercise of this ministry.

I pray that for our new Primate such respect, good intent and care on the part of the whole Church will be a blessing beyond measure.

The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz
Primate, Anglican Church of Canada

“Almighty God, giver of all good gifts, look on your Church with grace, and guide the minds of those who shall choose a Primate for our beloved Church, that we may receive a faithful servant who will care for your people and support us in our ministries; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”