The Gym

The gym is quite large and very full of people most cheerful and friendly, many mildly overweight. Most of us are middle-aged, although there's a goodly contingent of the lively young, who are bright and remarkably self-assured. Perhaps one face in four belongs to an Aboriginal person: Cree from Quebec and the West, Inuit, Blackfoot, Gw'ichin, Mohawk. We do our business in proper, orderly form: resolutions moved, seconded, sometimes amended, passed or defeated. It isn't exactly a standard business meeting, though: I cannot imagine (say) the Chartered Accountants of Canada national meeting breaking into very loud song at specified intervals. Also, I do not imagine that most business meeting representatives quickly close their laptops for a call to prayer.

Our meeting has had, thus far, one moment of real joy: when the Anglican Church of Canada voted to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in full community. We'll keep our own identities; they will continue to be Lutherans and we will continue to be Anglican, but we'll take communion from each other's hands and we'll be able to swap clergy. It is a model of what church union ought to be: one that respects and rejoices in our soul-differences instead of insisting that one side has a stranglehold on the truth and the other has to change.

But the single biggest question floating around the room is whether this will be, in fact, the last General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, as presently constituted. While nobody will quite come out and say it--of course they can't!--it's clear from the spaces around the words that the federal government is not negotiating in good faith and will probably end up driving the national church into bankruptcy. The government is being sued by Native people who were abused and ill-treated in residential schools, run for the government by the churches. In some cases, the victims are suing both church and government, and in others, the government is dragging the church in as a third party. Trying to protect ourselves from the government--not the Native claimants! --is killing us financially. We're open to the claims, but the litigation is bleeding us dry. So we're trying to figure it out: if we're pushed into bankruptcy, just how do you shut down a national church? What do you do with the rule books? Who gets the Primate? Some of the dioceses are going under too; most will survive. But all, directly or indirectly, will be harmed--although none of us will be so horribly harmed as the children were. Some of the stories I've heard from my Aboriginal sisters in the ladies' loo would curl your front teeth. That bad.

There is no doubt that we, the church, are now acting in sincerity and good faith. We want to make amends as best we can for our past misdeeds and errors. We want reconciliation and healing and restoration. We do not, as some seem to think, have hidden assets, nor do we have an underground pipeline into the Vatican. We're not hiding our Rembrandts and gold plate; we don't have any. We have apologized, and it's clear from our Aboriginal table-mates that they, at least, accept our apology.

But I used to do a lot of work for the government; and I was working with reasonably high-level bureaucrats. They didn't bother to clean up their act for a mere consultant. I've listened in on the machinations and the politicking. I know their cynicism. I know their ability to hang tight and wait until their opponent is exhausted and gives up. I know their deep-rooted need for oneupmanship, and their imperative desire to keep their tushies covered and their image all glossy and intact. But this isn't how we operate --it is, in fact, the opposite of how we should operate, we who follow the Way of the Christ. This means that on a practical immediate level, we aren't even at the same ballpark, much less on a level playing field. It really is David and Goliath, and Goliath plays dirty and this David doesn't throw rocks, on principle.

I, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to grab the biggest boulder I could manage and pitch it at my enemy. Since that isn't a possibility--this is Canada!--I thought for a while about God's justice. I've always seen God's judgment as being a loving and merciful thing, but I let myself play for a while with the notion of God's justice as being a long, slow, unfriendly silence. I thought about putting a few high-level policy types and deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers at one of those long fake-wood-topped conference tables, in deep swivel chairs, each with a memo pad and a glass of ice water in front of him or her. Then, when they were all settled, I imagined God taking his place in the head chair; and I felt great stony silence fill the board room, stretching on and on. And in this great silence, all the politicians' and bureaucrats' self-justifications and pretenses and malice and politicking drained out of them dripwise, until they were left empty and shivering, facing reality for the first time, in real knowledge, appalled. I do this sort of scenario-imaging whenever I feel full of anger and helplessness: okay, God, over to you. I may be helpless, but you are powerful.

The funny thing, though, is that in conversation, a startling number of Anglicans here think that maybe going broke may not be such a lousy idea. It may be that we, as a church, need to go through our Lazarus time, our own death and resurrection. Maybe we'd be better off without the real estate (and that would stick the feds with looking after how many parish cemeteries? They can field all the complaints!) Maybe this is the Spirit calling us out into the wilderness, where our Aboriginal spirit-sibs can teach us a few things, not just about surviving, but about finding fruit in the desert. And maybe it could be not a death, but a great adventure.

We know a few things that they haven't figured out, I suspect. We know that there is no Easter without Good Friday, and we know that Easter does follow Good Friday in God's good time. We are quite sure whose victory it's going to be, if not next year, then in the long run. We can therefore step out in trust, knowing that either we will be caught and held, or we will be taught to fly.

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 07 Jul 2001
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