At the recent General Synod [of the Anglican Church of Canada in July], I had the pleasure of speaking from what we in Judaism call the bimah; literally, the “stage.” I sat next to extremely kind and welcoming incoming and outgoing primates, Archbishop Linda Nicholls and Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and the Rev. Gordon Maitland, national chairman of the Prayer Book Society of Canada. As Bishop Bruce Myers stood at the podium explaining the prayer he was proposing to change, I looked out at the rapt audience at the synod and smiled.
I had spent several weeks working with Bishop Myers to plan our presentation, and I was aware that it was a truly amazing moment. A bishop inviting a rabbi to share his thoughts on a prayer “for the conversion of the Jews” – offensive content for Jews throughout our historical relationship with Christianity – and the proposed replacement: a “prayer for reconciliation with the Jews.” Wow. When I took the podium and shared some words, a few meaningful images and even a laugh or two, I felt truly welcomed by the dedicated Anglicans gathered in Vancouver.
I was there on behalf of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, representing my fellow rabbis from around Canada. The Canadian Rabbinic Caucus (CRC) is the only national organization that unites rabbis from across the spectrum of Jewish practice in Canada. As an affiliate of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the CRC plays a key role on behalf of the organized Jewish community of Canada in fostering interfaith relations – including with our Anglican friends.
During the process of seeking to replace this prayer, the CRC was approached by the national leadership of the Anglican Church of Canada to provide guidance and constructive feedback on the details of the church’s revised prayer, which we were very pleased to offer. We are humbled to have played a role in this historic development, which is a natural and logical culmination of decades of growing Jewish-Anglican ties.
The Anglican church has made a significant effort, particularly since the 1980s, to acknowledge and tackle the issue of Christian antisemitism. Examples include the removal of a supercessionist Good Friday collect from the Book of Common Prayer in 1992 and the powerful document “From Darkness to Dawn” (Christian post-Holocaust reflections on antisemitism), published in 1989 and reprinted and disseminated again in 2015 through the active leadership of Bishop Myers. The decision to transform the prayer for the conversion of Jews into a prayer for reconciliation with the Jews, which repents for historical antisemitism among Christians, is a testament to this wonderful trend.
The church has spoken out strongly about the rise of antisemitism, including the neo-Nazi rally at Charlottesville (when the Anglican church partnered with the Jewish community on an interfaith statement of solidarity against hate), as well as the horrific attack at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, following which the church spoke out and stood with us to mourn the victims. That attack hit home for so many of us in the Jewish community; my synagogue’s senior rabbinic colleague is from Pittsburgh, and I have friends and colleagues who live shockingly close to where the attack took place. Interfaith support was thus all the more significant.
We were very grateful that the church’s leadership brought the upsetting prayer’s removal to a vote at the 2016 General Synod. Unfortunately, while it received majority support, it was one vote short of reaching the critical mass needed to pass that year. However, we understand the complexities involved in that vote and, in a way, it was a blessing in disguise. While the original proposal was simply to remove the older prayer, the new proposal, after a deep and fruitful process, led us to the beautiful and powerful new prayer.
The church leadership’s steadfast work in advancing this issue just goes to show how important it is to them – past and current primates, Bishop Myers, Fr. Maitland – and, for that, we are exceptionally grateful. It is incredibly heartening to see that the 2019 General Synod offered near-unanimous support for the new prayer. While this work will not be complete until the 2022 General Synod votes on a second reading of the proposed change, we are confident the new prayer “for reconciliation with the Jews” will be ratified at that time.
The timing of this decision is poignant. A recent Tel Aviv University study found that last year saw the highest number of Jews murdered in antisemitic attacks in decades. The Jewish community is experiencing a sense of vulnerability that, at least here in North America, is perhaps unprecedented – due in no small part to the two fatal shooting attacks on synagogues in the United States in the past 10 months. By replacing the prayer for conversion with one of reconciliation and acknowledgement of the history of Christian antisemitism, the Anglican church has sent a compelling message to the Jewish community that you stand with us at this worrisome time. As both a rabbi and a Jewish parent who is concerned for the kind of society in which my children will live, this is deeply appreciated.
The Anglican Church of Canada’s decision to revise this prayer in such a significant way is just one piece of evidence among many that this is a warm and growing relationship, one which will only enable our communities to further engage on other issues of common cause in a fruitful manner.
Rabbi Adam Stein is associate rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel. This article was originally published in the Anglican Journal, the national newspaper of the Anglican Church of Canada.