"The councils of the Church"

Over this week, saint ben’s members Jamie Howison and Dan Draper are in Halifax serving as delegates to the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Canada. This is the second in a series of occasional updates.

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t is just after 7:00am, and I am comfortably settled in at “Uncommon Grounds,” a coffee place located just a couple of blocks away from St Mary’s University where the meetings of our 2010 General Synod are taking place. I found this place on our first morning in Halifax, and it has become part of my daily ritual to get up early enough to have at least an hour here on my own, before getting immersed in the the activities of the day.

This is day six in a nine day stretch of meetings (and on most days, we have sessions in the morning, afternoon and evening), and I have to confess that on more than one occasion I’ve wondered, “why did I let myself get nominated for this?” Some of the resolutions we’ve been dealing with seem worth wrestling with, there have been some presentations that have been really quite engaging (the address by Suheil Dawani, the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, shed some new light on life in the middle east), and there are some really good conversations being shared over meals and coffee breaks, but after five days it feels like it would be nice to be doing something else. And I have to say, I’m getting bit tired of our accommodations in the university residence… trying to figure out how to time things in the morning when there is only one shower for the five of us in our hallway is probably as challenging as some of the resolutions arising in our plenary sessions.

There is this point in the ordination liturgy when the bishop says to the ordinand, “Now you are called to work as a pastor, priest, and teacher, together with your bishop and fellow presbyters, and to take your share in the councils of the Church,” and in the end that is what has brought me here. Frustrating as it can be, this is the way this church does its work. We gather people from across the country to spend a significant chunk of time together, and in some ways we design it to be a bit inefficient. Today, for instance, we are spending virtually no time dealing with resolutions. Instead, we will take part in bible study groups, see “Roots Among the Rocks” (a drama that has been created  for the church by a group of students) hear an address from the presiding bishop of the American church, gather in regional groups to elect people to the “Council of General Synod” (basically the national board for the next three years… and no, I have not allowed my name to stand for that!), attend a worship service at St Paul’s Church in downtown Halifax, and then go to a big celebratory dinner.

Most days find us more involved in the nuts and bolts of actual church governance than will today, but even on those days there is always space for study and worship, and for the building of relationships. I think somewhere along the line someone figured out that if we didn’t make time for those things, the “business” part of these gatherings would be more marked by conflict and politicking. As I said in an address I gave to Synod regarding my work on the Primate’s Theological Commission, “It is hard to sit defensively in your theological corner when you’re listening to someone tell a great story or share a significant piece of life.”

Still, I have to confess that I am a bit “peopled-out” at this stage. Rather than join the other 300 or so delegates at the banquet tonight, I’m going to go and watch my two nieces play soccer (it is my niece Molly’s first soccer outing, which is a bit of a historic event), and then go out with my brother-in-law for a lobster dinner. I think the church can live without my counsel for at least one night.

Jamie Howison

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