Canada: Fresh ideas for church structure, finances elude church council

By Marites N. Sison
Posted May 29, 2012

[Anglican Journal] Emerging from daylong discussions on May 25 about the future of the Anglican Church of Canada, members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) appeared to lack ideas about what the next steps should be.

In fact, members expressed feeling “overwhelmed” by the question of how to renew church structures.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that instead of hearing new ideas, he heard a lot of familiar ones following reports coming out of small group discussion. Further, he said he wasn’t convinced that members were grasping the urgency of our situation.

“We need to address [the issue] of finances and structure…I felt at times we were going up to it and then we stepped back,” said Hiltz. “Things must change if we’re going to go ahead in the spirit of the Marks of Mission.”

Members had been divided into small, more intimate type of dialogue known as “World Café” as part of the Council’s goal to “consider clear directions and a plan for the efficient utilization of financial, staff and structural resources in the achievement of the priorities and practices set aside in Vision 2019.”

Hiltz acknowledged that the intent was merely “to open the conversation and identify the challenges we face.” More focused conversations and courses of action are expected in meetings leading up to the 2013 Joint Lutheran-Anglican National Assembly.

Members were asked to consider the following questions:

  • How might God be using the current financial situation of General Synod to tell us about our future in carrying out Vision 2019?
  • What might the Holy Spirit be telling us about ourselves as we grapple with the complexities of our current governance and structural challenges?
  • How might Jesus be leading us on a journey of spiritual renewal through the presence of indigenous peoples among us, and their witness in the Mississauga Declaration.

Some themes emerged. In conversations about finance, members prescribed that General Synod, the church’s governing body, “clearly and proactively articulate its unique mission and ministry” to Anglicans across Canada. Stewardship education is “essential” in helping improve the church’s financial stability, they said. Some members expressed a desire to “reframe current discussions” around finances, emphasizing that Anglicans must move from “a taxpayer to citizen mentality.” The church is not the national office in Toronto but “all local ministry in Canada,” and it is “a community not a bureaucracy,” they said.

On the issue of governance, members said they “felt overwhelmed” because of the “complexity” of the structures.  Some said there is no mechanism to evaluate what’s in place, while others said future structures need to be “nimble and flexible.” There are structures that are “working well,” but members also recognize that in some places, they need to be overhauled due to financial constraints. Significant changes that are taking place in some parts of the church have been largely inspired and ushered in by indigenous ministries, others noted.

Members said they have learned a lot about spirituality and renewal through General Synod’s partnership with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP).  Others said that lack of knowledge about the partnership has impeded growth in the relationship. Some “resisted grouping all non-indigenous people together,” the report added.

Council members had an opportunity to speak further when they formed a sacred circle after the reports were heard. A number noted that there was more “openness” in the life of the church.

Archbishop Colin Johnson observed that Council wrestled with issues “in a way that moved from blame and despair into much more engaged, if not hopeful and forward-looking” mode. Johnson, who is diocesan bishop of Toronto and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, said he came away from the discussions “far less dispirited and much more energized about the opportunities God has given us.” The church “is not any more broken than it ever was,” he added.

Ron Chaplin (Diocese of Ottawa) said it was “more than fortuitous” that CoGS was discussing the church’s future on the eve of Pentecost. “We are approaching the cusp of profound change. What that looks like is not clear,” said Chaplin. But he reminded CoGS to be hopeful, citing that Jesus himself had said, “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).”

Martha Gardner, Episcopal Church partner to CoGs, challenged Council members to think in terms of “God’s mission and God’s church” and not “our church.” She said the question is, “How can we get out of ourselves and get a sense of where we need to go, where God is leading us?”

— Marites N. Sison is staff writer for the Anglican Journal.