ABC storefront will close

Published November 16, 2006

Mississauga, Ont.
The fate of the 106-year-old Anglican Book Centre (ABC), the oldest bookstore in Toronto, was sealed by the Council of General Synod (CoGS), which approved a recommendation during its fall meeting to shut down the storefront operation at Toronto’s 80 Hayden St. and move to an Internet- and telephone-based operation.

But while it pulled the plug on the retail component of ABC, CoGS voted to extend the life of Letting Down the Nets, a two-year-old stewardship initiative approved by General Synod in 2004 as part of the church’s new Framework, or strategic plan. CoGS infused the initiative with $200,000 to come from “anticipated revenue from undesignated legacies,” or monies willed to General Synod. The money will fund Letting Down the Nets until June 2007. If no additional funds are raised by then, it would be up to the meeting of General Synod next June to rule on the future of the initiative, said Peter Blachford, treasurer of General Synod, the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada.

He also said that he hopes that funding Letting Down the Nets from undesignated bequests will not put General Synod in a deficit for 2007. But such a deficit may arise if the bequests are low, he said. On average, General Synod receives about $200,000 annually in bequests and legacies. If the program manages to raise $400,000 on its own, funding from undesignated bequests would not be used.

Canon Marilyn Dean, of the diocese of Saskatchewan, who moved the motion of support for Letting Down the Nets called the initiative “too important a piece of work to disappear.” Sue Moxley, suffragan bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, seconded the motion, stating that expertise from the program “was essential to get us going on stewardship.” Hers was among six dioceses where pilot projects for Letting Down the Nets were set up. Bishop Moxley also said that it was “unreasonable” to expect the program to produce financial results in two years.

(When it was approved at General Synod in 2004 and as recently as its Autumn 2006 newsletter, Letting Down the Nets was described as self-funding, supported by funding from dioceses and other organizations. “When Letting Down the Nets was approved at General Synod in 2004,” said an item in the recent newsletter, “it was on the understanding that funding would have to flow from sources outside the General Synod annual budget.”)

The financial management and development committee had alerted CoGS to the “potential suspension” of the Letting Down the Nets work due to lack of funds. It noted that while sufficient funds were donated to the initiative in 2005 (mostly by the diocese of New Westminster), “the volume of new funding received was less than expected.” The program was granted a $100,000 loan from General Synod in June, to be paid back over a three-year-period. Funds from the loan, extended with the approval of the officers of General Synod, “have now been expended and new sources of (Letting Down the Nets) revenue have not yet materialized as expected,” said the finance committee in its report.

Some CoGS members opposed the decision to infuse Letting Down the Nets with funds from undesignated bequests.

“I’m voting against this not because I’m against (Letting Down the Nets) but because we’re going against the advice of the treasurer against using undesignated bequests,” said Archdeacon Dennis Drainville of the diocese of Quebec. Canon Robert Falby of the diocese of Toronto called the motion “imprudent.”

(A day prior to the vote, Monica Patten, chair of the financial management and development committee, explained to CoGS her committee’s recommendation to remove the practice of including undesignated bequests from the budget saying that it wanted to establish “truth in numbers.”)

Archdeacon Peter Zimmer of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior said he would vote for the motion as long as CoGS acknowledges that it would only be “a critical bridge funding” and “not an ongoing” item.

His counsel was heard; while CoGS approved to give Letting Down the Nets a new lease on life and infuse it with funds from General Synod, it deferred action on a second motion moved by Judy Darling, of the diocese of Ottawa, to assure its funding for the next triennium and to identify it as “an emerging and essential priority role of General Synod.”

(CoGS had earlier approved a recommendation from the Prioritized Operational Plan working group to reformat Letting Down the Nets. General Secretary Michael Pollesel said POP agreed that Letting Down the Nets needs to focus on “how to attract donors” and how to tell its story better.)

On the closure of ABC’s retail store, Sue Winn of the diocese of Montreal, who is also a member of the POP group, acknowledged that it was “the most controversial and most difficult decision we’ve had to make.” However, she said, “there’s no question that sales have been declining and huge sums of money are needed to keep it afloat.”

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada commented, “The bookstore has been a treasure for the church and for the country, but it comes at a price.” Until 2003, ABC had been a net contributor to General Synod revenues. Then-ABC manager Dan Benson noted that the bookstore returned $1.38 million to General Synod from 1998 to 2002. But in 2003, ABC lost $370,252; in 2004, it lost $306,892.

The motion to approve ABC’s closure passed without debate or questions. Dean Peter Elliot, who voted in favour of the motion, expressed “a word of lament and sadness for the end of a particular era of selling books,” but said that the recommendation “allows for the continuation (of ABC) in a more appropriate way for those who don’t live in Toronto.”

CoGS also approved a motion from the Communications and Information Resources Committee that it establish a joint working group with the Financial Management and Development Committee to develop a business plan” for ABC’s future.

Meanwhile, the issue of the Anglican Journal’s funding arose during the focus group discussions about the POP and priorities of General Synod.

In her report, Ms. Winn said that POP retained the Journal’s grant at the same level because the Anglican Journal Appeal “is doing well; Anglicans don’t want to lose this publication and are prepared to support it.” There were mixed reactions about the decision to maintain the newspaper’s grant, however, with some suggesting it prints “only bad news.”

There were calls to re-examine the Journal’s policy of editorial independence, to change it “into a resource that reflects positive stuff, that does not continually drain huge resources.”


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