Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, was a special guest at the Feb. 20 meeting of Diocesan Council.
After welcoming her, Archbishop David Edwards gave her the floor and she spoke about her changing role during the pandemic and the role of the national church.
Her usual role of weekly travel has changed a great deal in the past year. Instead she has been using Zoom to stay in contact with churches across the country, as was the case during the Council meeting. She offered her take on how the pandemic is playing out in the Church.
“When I pray, I see visual images in prayer,” she said. “One image in John is of the vine being pruned. That’s true of the Church and certainly myself.”
She likened the process to bringing in her geraniums from the garage and pruning them back to almost nothing so they’ll bloom large, beautiful and healthy this summer.
“I believe we’re being pruned from our addiction to buildings,” she said, adding sometimes a pruning takes too much, in this case, the Eucharist.
A blessing prompted by the pandemic, though, is the rediscovery of the Daily Offices and the renewal of that tradition.
“We’ve been stripped back to what is essential to meet God,” she said. “Traditions are wonderful, but they do need periodic examination. Which are life-giving and which are barriers?”
Citing the structure of the Anglican Church of Canada, she said, “I have little or no authority. The authority rests at the diocesan level.”
The creation of the national church was done to network and share resources. The work of the ACC centres on liturgy, connecting to ecumenical partners and sharing the stories from the dioceses.
There is also the continuing work of reconciliation with the First Nations community as they develop their own indigenous church.
The primate is also grieved by the racism she knows is present within the Church. She told Council members that every racialized priest she’s questioned within the ACC has told her they have been discriminated against — in their church role — because of the colour of their skin.
“We can choose not to see,” she said. ‘The challenge is to take the blinders off and listen deeply to the diversity of our church.”
Human trafficking is another issue that deeply affects the primate. She spoke of a trip to Zanzibar, Tanzania in Africa, one of the centres of the slave trade. An Anglican cathedral was built literally on the site of the slave market in the late 1800s in celebration of the end of the slave trade.
She noted that human trafficking did not end 150 years ago as she related the story of a high school girl living at home but also under the control of a pimp.
Gospel-based discipleship and climate change are other issues and interests during her mandate.
Q & A
She took questions from Council members, which mostly centred on pandemic effects.
On people from elsewhere joining Zoom worship: “We’ve understood ourselves as geographic parishes. I think that’s disintegrated during COVID. The harder question is deepening community together.”
On in-person fellowship: “Perhaps we really don’t know each other — how we were formed in the gospel. We need to spend more time in intentional prayer together, intentional listening, intentional listening to God.”
On trends developed during COVID: “When this started we expected some trends to deepen rapidly, and expected finances to quickly worsen. Some dioceses are facing great financial difficulties that are coming quickly.
“When things open up and the Church comes back to more normal patterns, will people come back? If all this online worship is available, what will they choose? And with these variants, will people be too afraid?”
The primate noted that when SARS was an epidemic in Southern Ontario years ago, there were some people who drifted away and others who never came back to the common cup.
“I do think 2021 will be a significant time, certainly to reconnect, especially with people we’ve met online.”
She noted data showing many online worshippers are tuning in to multiple services and are not uniquely attached to any one parish.
Abp. David thanked the primate for her interest and attendance before beginning the business part of the Diocesan Council meeting.
PHOTO CAPTION: Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, joined the Zoom meeting of Diocesan Council on Feb. 20. She is pictured here at the bottom right, one row up.