“Jesus, on the night of his betrayal and arrest, kneels at the feet of his disciples and in an act of intimacy and humility washes their feet and gives them his final message. They are to love one another,” Archbishop Melissa Skelton said in her homily to the delegates of the 119th Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada.
She went on to describe how we in the church should love each other. “For John’s Jesus, love is not about disposition or feeling. Love is something one does. Love seeks the well-being of others in concrete efforts on their behalf, even if this means the giving of our very lives in the process, giving in a way that costs.”
It’s easy to seek the well-being of others who think like we do. But put over 250 lay and clergy delegates in a room for a two-day conference and there will be some strong differences of belief about core issues, issues that might cause people to leave the church or vilify others.
If I want to love the way Jesus did, I need to stand with and keep loving people who believe I am dangerously wrong and vice versa. Love asks me to stand in my truth and allow the other to voice their thoughts and questions without shutting them down or dismissing them. Even if we have opposing views on indigenous rights, climate change, or what defines marriage, we are called to somehow stand together in unity.
At our table discussion over the affirmations proposed by Primate Fred Hiltz, one woman bravely asked, “Why should we ‘affirm the right of Indigenous persons and communities to spiritual self-determination in their discernment and decisions regarding same-sex marriage’? Why would one cultural group have rights to do as they please while others don’t? And if we allow each diocese to decide whether they feel it is right to perform same-sex marriages or not, where will that lead? It could be a slippery slope. Will they begin to decide about other things too and act independently?”
Two delegates avoided eye contact and said nothing. A priest and I offered explanations from our viewpoint.
When we broke for lunch, I thought of the courage it took for her to speak up and thanked her for asking those questions. She seemed surprised and disarmed by my gesture. We had been sitting across the table from each other, so I invited her to sit in the empty place beside me. We ended up having a lovely conversation about our lives.
That afternoon delegates expressed their views calmly yet passionately from microphones around the room. Archbishop Melissa asked us to honour whatever was offered without responding collectively (clapping or booing), and we did.
Two days later, I hosted a dinner with three dear friends. Ten years ago when we began meeting monthly, we were all in the same church and of one mind theologically. Now we’re not. It’s uncomfortable at times, and I’m sad that I can’t share things close to my heart and feel supported. As I was cleaning up the kitchen, I wondered if I wanted to continue meeting with these women. But I love them and so I will pay the cost of love.
“Relationships never end; they just change. In believing that lies the freedom to carry compassion, empathy, love, kindness and respect into and through whatever changes. We are made more by that practice.” –Richard Wagamese, Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations
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At Synod, we delegates overwhelmingly passed Resolution 6 to support the choice of the Mission and Ministry Development Committee that Urban Aboriginal Ministries (UAM) receive care + share givings for 2020-2021. UAM is a ministry of St. Mary Magdelene Anglican Church and supports Prayer Circles, Four Annual Feasts: Easter, Thanksgiving, Winterfest, and Christmas, Traditional as well as Ceremonies and Pastoral Care. This is an example of “doing” love. Desiring reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sisters means we support ways for them to recover their language and traditions and heal from the abuses of colonialism and the residential school system.