Proposed restructuring in the diocese of British Columbia, including a recommendation to close 13 churches, has received a lot of “feedback” from individuals and parishes.
So much feedback, in fact, that the team’s co-chair, Canon Dr. Martin Hendy, said it won’t be possible to respond to everyone before the diocesan synod meets Mar. 5-7.
Those who disagree with the restructuring plan will be able to make their case at the synod, he said in an interview. “We know there is opposition [from individual parishes]. We know that some parishes are getting together with others and suggesting an alternate proposal…and we know some parishes are keeping their powder dry and not disclosing what they intend to say at synod.” He added, however, that, “Mere opposition is not enough. If they are going to oppose, they must surely propose as well.”
One of the parishes making a case is St. Andrew’s, Cowichan Station. Rev. Dawn Braithwaite and parishioners were upset to learn that their parish was to be dis-established, and its property sold or leased. The restructuring plan recommends that parishioners join a new hub church but Braithwaite said the rural parishioners are unlikely to drive to the next church, which is about 15 minutes away.
“We’re still hopeful the spirit will speak at synod, but all we can do is pray,” she said. “We’re devastated because we believed that we had a five-year commitment to turn our parish around, and we’ve been doing everything we can. We’ve had phenomenal growth…we’ve got the local community here in partnership with us in various projects, our numbers are growing….We’ve got every age group here.”
Indeed, under other circumstances, Cowichan Station Church might serve as an example of how to “do church” in a way to reverse declining numbers and grow. There’s no denying the parish has gone through some tough times in recent years. Rev. Braithwaite came to the church several years ago with new ideas and new styles of worship, and the changes she introduced weren’t popular with everyone. The congregation’s numbers dropped from about 75 to 33. It was in financial trouble. But working with diocesan leaders– Archdeacon Bruce Bryant-Scott and Dr. Gary Nicolosi and Canon John Moran, the financial advisor at the time–they drew up a new five-year plan. Rev. Braithwaite says two years into the plan, the parish is meeting its financial goals, catching up on apportionment payments and has grown from 33 to 88 people on its parish roll.
The church has built a strong connection with the surrounding community through outreach as well, says Braithwaite. The community didn’t have a gathering place, so the church opened a coffee shop that is open weekday mornings and occasionally for lunch. “We have the whole community popping in for coffee, having meetings here during that time, integrating with us. And if you asked them…they’d say they are members of St. Andrew’s,” Braithwaite told the Anglican Journal. Although this group of about 200 people are not on the parish roll, they are a part of the church too, she said. “They are talking about spiritual issues, they are using our resources, they meet with me, they’re just not the traditional Sunday worshipper.” The church has also been running a fair trade gift store for almost 10 years that Braithwaite said sends more than $25,000 of outreach money to about 35 co-operatives around the world.
The church is also planning a Woodstock-inspired “happening” this summer, which will be a two-week open-forum style camp where attendees will eat and worship together. “Our three guiding principles are to accept that God is present in other faiths, to make the world a better place and to end war. … We feel that we have a unique message. Anglicanism is so broad. You can be liberal or conservative, and we’re probably more liberal than some parishes are, but we felt that we still stood firmly within the tradition of Anglicanism,” said Braithwaite. She added that combining some of the churches that are all in close proximity to each other in Victoria makes common sense but closing the one in Cowichan Station doesn’t.
Canon Hendy offered reassurance that “there is no hidden agenda,” and that the synod would be a place where different ideas will be heard. “We always try to recognize that within the church there has to be some flexibility,” he said. Groups proposing alternative ideas will need to demonstrate that their plans are viable, however, he added.