The 138th Diocesan Synod, held at Christ Church Cathedral Nov. 5, saw motions passed, delegates elected, the bishop’s charge delivered and discernment for future ministry begun.
It was a day packed full for the almost 300 people — delegates and observers — who travelled from all corners of the diocese for the first synod gathering in three years.
“I’m very pleased with how synod turned out,” said the Rev. David Peer, secretary of synod and the organizer of the event. “Thanks to all the volunteers and staff, it came off without a hitch.”
He’s particularly pleased with the Cathedral venue.
“It’s important for us to gather in our Cathedral to contemplate where we are and where we need to go — in a Diocesan space worshipping together,” he said.
“It’s so much easier when you work with family. It’s less work. The volunteers are there and there’s lots of support.”
The previous synod was held at Journey Wesleyan Church in Fredericton, an expansive and comfortable, but not Diocesan, venue.
After the preliminaries, the first order of business was the election of delegates to Provincial Synod — two clergy, two lay and one youth aged 16-25.
By acclamation, the Rev. David Peer and the Ven. Cathy Laskey (clergy) and Shara Golden and Robert Taylor (lay) were elected. That left one election for a youth delegate. Two candidates were nominated: Eric Beek and Christopher Pillay, with Christopher winning the vote. Eric will act as an alternate.
Dean Geoffrey Hall led Morning Prayer.
The offering brought in more than $2,000, which has been earmarked for PWRDF, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.
Archbishop David Edwards, just clear of COVID a few days before, delivered a charge that was focused on the need for discernment of future ministry.
He outlined the latest Statistics Canada numbers that have seen Christianity and Anglicanism drop dramatically in the past decade. In 2011, 54,270 New Brunswickers identified as Anglican. That number is now at 35,205.
“We can dwell on these numbers and hope that they turn around, but we, the Church in the West, have been doing that for decades, with little success,” he said.
“As I talk to people who do not worship with us, or have done so and have stopped, the message is relatively simple: They do not find the Church credible because many see it as hypocritical, irrelevant and lacking in compassion and grace.
“I am not solely talking about the Anglican Church; I am speaking of the “One holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
He cautioned that these opinions are not based on local congregations so much as headlines trumpeting the failures of the Church worldwide.
From the 74 responses received from a diocesan survey, the bishop found three themes: How do we get people back into pews; how do we improve our finances; and how do we keep our buildings running?
“From my perspective, I can add to this a shortage of clergy to place in parishes where finances would allow them to be placed,” he said. “I can only see this becoming more pronounced.”
In his eight years as bishop, David said he has found hope by returning again and again to this scripture from Psalm 121:1-4:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
After the charge, delegates formed small groups and met in both the Cathedral and Cathedral Memorial Hall to answer questions posed by facilitators and begin discerning the way forward.
Note takers recorded the findings, all of which will become part of the discernment process.
A lunch of Greek salad, chicken skewers, rice, pita and cookies was catered by Edwina’s/The Happy Baker, and received rave reviews.
The afternoon began with a service of Holy Eucharist, with music by the Cathedral worship team.
Geoffrey explained the Come Worship Eucharist service is a stripped-down model used at the Cathedral every other week.
“The Come Worship Eucharist dispenses with much of the formality,” he said.
In his homily, Geoffrey spoke of the presence of Jesus and its relevance today compared to 2,000 years ago.
“In a world just as troubling as the first, the surprise for us might be it’s Jesus that is the connection,” he said. “From the physical world to the invisible God — theologians call that incarnation — the divine spirit becoming one with humanity and the world.
“God the creator is not so far off. He is among us,” said Geoffrey. “He shows us himself in the breaking of bread.”
Several motions were to update canons to reflect the times or to correct lapses in content, all led by chancellor David Bell. They included an option to increase the timeline for episcopal elections; a change to the synod investment policy; a provision allowing the bishop to call a meeting of a parish corporation; a wording change regarding annual meeting financial statements; and an approval process for the parish purchase of land.
All the above motions were passed unanimously.
CHARTER FOR RACIAL JUSTICE
The Rev. Thomas Nisbett proposed a motion to adopt the Anglican Church of Canada’s Charter for Racial Justice. That prompted comments from several priests.
“I want to commend Thomas and [seconder] David Page for this motion… I feel it’s about time we had a conversation across the diocese about racial injustice,” said the Rev. Terence Chandra.
“That said, I’m not in favour of the Charter for Racial Justice.”
Terence told the crowd the document is flawed and not nearly close enough to the teachings of Jesus.
The Rev. Rob Langmaid moved to table Thomas’s motion, which passed.
Thomas’s second motion was to establish a task force on racial justice to examine, educate and make recommendations.
“This is a subject we need to talk about,” said Thomas. “We need to talk about it now. We need to get on with it.”
Rob Langmaid and the Rev. Gerry Laskey both spoke in favour of the motion. Lionel Hayter proposed a friendly amendment: that the task force report its findings at the next diocesan synod. The amended motion passed.
Geoffrey and the Rev. Canon David Barrett proposed a motion called “provision of information, openness, accountability and transparency” regarding the compilation and printing of year-end reports at each Synod, which would include information on parish/congregation statistics, finances, and investments.
“The health, well-being, condition and very existence of parishes and congregations in this diocesan partnership is the concern of and, of interest to all,” said the motion’s explanation. “The Church, specifically the Anglican Church, is an organization within our society that, in its own best interest, has information that is best not considered hidden or secret.”
The motion passed with two or three nay votes.
Two other motions were approved, one to receive the diocesan officer reports and Diocesan Council report; and one to receive the financial statements for the past three years. Treasurer Heather Harris-Jones gave an explanation for changes to the financial statements.
“Overall I am pleased with how Diocesan Synod has weathered the storm of the last three years, but the future holds challenges,” she told those gathered. “The focus is to continue to work towards a balanced budget.”
Bishop David thanked the finance team for their work, noting that from talking to bishops from other dioceses, he knows “our finances have been extremely well managed during a very difficult period.”
In the past month, Greater Chapter meetings elected their clergy and lay Diocesan Council representatives, which members of Diocesan Synod approved. They are as follows:
CHATHAM: The Rev. Gerald Laskey and Laura McNulty
FREDERICTON: The Rev. Paul Ranson and Nancy Stephens
KINGSTON & THE KENNEBECASIS: The Rev. Rob Montgomery and Robert Taylor
MONCTON: The Rev. Julian Pillay and Mike Briggs
SAINT JOHN: The Rev. Jasmine Chandra and Trevor Fotheringham
ST. ANDREWS: The Rev. Bob Cheatley and Martha Barker
WOODSTOCK: The Rev. Bob LeBlanc and Marilyn Wilson
DIOCESAN AWARDS OF MERIT
Bishop David used the opportunity to highlight two people who recently retired from volunteer posts within the diocese. Nancy Stephens, who chaired the Mission & Outreach committee; and Mike Briggs who served as diocesan stewardship and planned giving officer, were given Diocesan awards of merit.
RESPONSE TO THE CHARGE
Connor deMerchant, Parish of Kingston, delivered the response to the charge.
“Thank you to Bishop David Edwards for his prayer and leadership… Thank you for being honest with us, as difficult as this might have been,” he said.
“Going forward, we are being challenged. Thank you for allowing us to be risk-takers, and for supporting us when we do.”
Connor posed some questions: how can the business of the Church be done with fewer people? How can we commit to supporting each other better? How do we strengthen our personal and corporate discipleship? How do we connect with and reconnect with all generations?
“It will take time and it will be uncomfortable,” he said. “But we not doing this alone. We have each other.”
On behalf of Synod delegates and observers, Mike Briggs thanked the day’s organizers, including Geoffrey Hall, David Peer, Cheryl Jacobs and the synod planning committee.
BISHOP’S CLOSING REMARKS
“I want to echo Mike’s remarks,” he said. “I disappeared for about two weeks beforehand, and I was only back onstream a few days before Synod.”
The bishop caught COVID-19 two weeks before.
He thanked delegates for giving up a beautiful Saturday, “but the 20 degrees outside tells us we have a problem.”
He noted that in working out our issues, we will need time, patience and a great deal of prayer.
Geoffrey led Evening Prayer, and the 138th session of Diocesan Synod was adjourned at 2:55 p.m.
SECRETARY OF SYNOD
David Peer encourages all delegates and observers to fill out the synod survey, saying the feedback will help make future events even better.
“We need to be using our facilities for our events,” he said.
He’s particularly encouraged by comments from the small group work, which will form the building blocks for Diocesan Council — and the ministry of the diocese — over the next two years.
“I’m happy there seems to be common themes coming out,” he said.
“We’re living in a period of great uncertainty,” he said. “Being in that uncertainty is really disconcerting and stressful for some people.”
“This is not something that will be dealt with in six months. Diocesan Synod was the start of the process. When Diocesan Council meets in December, we’ll be tackling this together.”
VIEWS FROM PARTICIPANTS
Chancellor David Bell
The Bishop said, in plainer language than usual, the basic truth that the only change that matters must come at the local level. It involves parish leadership fostering development of personal discipleship (prayer meetings, discussion groups) and congregational discernment. A bishop cannot tell a parish how to show love in its own neighbourhood.
My discussion group understood what the bishop said, but lay and clerical were not optimistic. At best, people are open to being told what to do, while refusing to climb outside the box and think for themselves.
At worst, people would rather see their congregation or parish die than do the hard work of (in the bishop’s words) identifying “what we are holding on to that is holding us back.”
Best thing: The racial justice discussion was unsatisfactory but a step forward.
Disappointment: No cherry-cheese sandwiches
The Rev. Chris Hayes
Many people speak of enjoying the large gathering of Diocesan Synod, where the whole diocesan family was represented.
This time, when the archbishop’s charge began with a picture of Christianity and Anglicanism losing adherents in society, I believe the hope he also referred to was strengthened by the presence of our whole diocese.
I did not sense the reluctant acceptance of the current picture as inevitable, but that there was a desire to do something, and to become something, that is different, and stronger, and greater than we are now. I was thankful to be a part of this Synod on this day!
The Rev. Bob LeBlanc
I thought that Synod was very well organized this year and the spirit there was very positive. The music was good and the group discussions were helpful and insightful.
The Bishop's charge was very good and eye opening to say the least. It was interesting to realize that even though some parishes could afford a priest, that there is a shortage of priests. In days gone by it would be just the opposite, although there are parishes that continue to struggle financially.
I believe that his charge was timely and that now is the time to discern and pray our way forward into a somewhat uncertain future.
The Global Anglicanism numbers were also a reminder of what is happening in the Anglican Communion across the world. I also thought that the guideposts which the Bishop outlined were pertinent, especially the questions: What do we have that sustains us and what impedes us? and Where are we being called to take risks and to experiment?
I also admired the Bishop's honesty and his openness with us.
1. Archbishop David Edwards delivers his Charge. (McKnight photo)
2. The Rev. Mary Anne Langmaid, a facilitator for one of the small group discussions. (McKnight photo)
3. Lunch served by Lois Baker and Debbie Edwards (hidden). (McKnight photo)
4. Diocesan personal and Safe Church officer Ben Bourque, with bells at hand, gave speakers a warning when their time at the microphone was up. (Derwin Gowan photo)