Updated: CoGS ponders cuts, future shape of church amid ‘bleak’ financial outlook

CoGS listens to a May 31 presentation by Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs, deputy prolocutor of General Synod. Photo: Matthew Puddister
Published June 1, 2024


The Council of General Synod (CoGS), meeting May 31 to June 2 in Mississauga, Ont., voted June 2 to create a working group tasked with creating a multi-year financial plan for the cash-strapped national church. The new group will be responsible for considering what options the church will have in the event that it is able to find ways to improve revenue or cut expenses sufficiently to stabilize its current finances—and what to do in the event that it is not. In the latter scenario, members are expected to consider potentially “radical” restructuring of General Synod’s operations and decisions about which national programming to prioritize in the event cuts need to be made. The new group is also expected to ponder whether and how to redistribute some functions currently served by General Synod among the church’s provinces and dioceses.

For the time being, the resolution CoGS approved would have the office of General Synod use its financial reserves to balance its 2025 budget, buying time for operations to continue as normal while the working group prepares long-term scenarios, Canon (lay) Ian Alexander, prolocutor of General Synod said. Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada said executive decisions such as shifting the responsibilities of the national church administration require a vote by assembled church representatives at General Synod. As a result, some changes might have to wait until the next General Synod in June 2025.

The Rev. Eileen Scully, the national church’s director of Faith, Worship and Ministry (FWM), rose to ask whether any plan that required cuts to church programming would provide guidance on which aspects of each department’s work would be prioritized. It was not possible, she said, for her to make decisions as a manager about whether and which sections of her department’s work to abandon, which would become necessary if FWM’s budget shrank any further. Nicholls answered that CoGS and General Synod would be responsible for making any such decisions.

“That is precisely the help I’ve been looking for,” replied Scully.

Alexander added that the plan to keep the church funded using financial reserves through 2025 would buy time to find out how successful efforts to increase revenue were and plan for what to do if they went well, or if they did not. That would allow the church to have scenarios in place and take the time to decide which options to implement and how.

The terms of reference for the working group specify that any and all decisions it makes should use the church’s five transformational commitments as guiding principles.

To ensure the working group has its initial ideas ready for November’s CoGS meeting and its full results ready for 2025’s General Synod, the terms of reference call for the work to begin immediately.

“The intention is to move, like, tomorrow on starting this,” said Nicholls.

Two days earlier, in a presentation on the national office’s 2023 financial statements, General Synod’s financial officer, Amal Attia, had told CoGS that dioceses continued to have increasing trouble making their annual contributions to the national office as donations at the parish level continued to fall. General Synod, she said, ended 2023 with revenue of $9.4 million and expenses at $10.6 million, before transfers. It had a surplus for the year of $391,000, she said—but only thanks to an injection of $1.617 million from reserves, investment and depreciation.

Diocesan contributions are by far General Synod’s largest source of revenue, but Attia said these have been trending downward for more than two decades, and she expected them to shrink by about $200,000 a year across the whole country in the next couple of years.

As a result, Nicholls asked CoGS to consider over the weekend how it would organize its involvement in the process of drawing up a budget to be presented at its next meeting, in November. She said General Synod could not continue to operate in the way it had over the past few decades if revenues continued to fall, and would need to find ways to either increase revenue or decrease expenses in order to balance its budget.

“The challenge with that is that we want CoGS to make strategic decisions that are good for the life of the church as a whole,” she said, not just to find incremental cuts to shave what it can off the budget.

“We’ve been doing that for a long time. We’ve been asking our managers and staff to take 10 per cent here, 10 per cent here, 10 per cent here. At some point … you can’t do that any longer and continue to do the work.” The directors of Church House’s departments shouldn’t decide what programs and initiatives stay or go if the church can’t raise sufficient funds, she added; that responsibility belongs to CoGS as the church’s executive committee. In a subsequent session on Sunday June 2, she said, CoGS members would reconvene to discuss the ideas they had come up with for how to structure their part of that decision-making process.

Earlier May 31, CoGS met in camera to discuss the work of a primate’s commission, Reimagining the Church: Proclaiming the Gospel in the 21st Century, Structures & Resources, as well as a 32-page report, “The Evolution of General Synod,” written for CoGS by Dean Peter Elliott, retired dean of New Westminster who has been involved in the crafting of several of General Synod’s strategic plans. The document considers the history, form and future of the church’s national governing body, which is supported by financial gifts from dioceses, derived in turn largely from donations at the parish level.

“With declining numbers of active parishioners, parish, and diocesan income and hence General Synod income is annually decreasing. Some of the shortfall can be recouped through investment and endowment income, but even with parish resilience in other forms of worship, the long-term financial outlook for General Synod is bleak,” writes Elliott.

In that context, he invites readers to consider how the church can best work toward inviting and deepening life in Christ, asking, “Is there a role for General Synod in this?”

He recommends that conversations about the future of the church be convened around the theming of the five “transformational commitments” in the church’s latest strategic plan. Doing so, he says, “could be an instrument to aid in the renewal and rejuvenation of the General Synod and perhaps begin a process of devolving some powers and responsibilities to provinces and dioceses.”

The document ends with five “intentionally provocative statements,” which assert that “generally, General Synod’s adherence to strategic planning must be deemed a failure” and that this planning has not always recognized General Synod’s role as the “weaker partner in a strong alliance of dioceses,” which exercise more power in funding and implementing goals. It notes the church’s “precipitous” decline in attendance and General Synod’s history of strategic plans that have attempted to reverse this without demonstrable results. The last of these statements concludes by asking “Is it time to de-acquisition and downsize some structures to enable new possibilities to emerge? Is this the framing that should guide current planning?”

Archdeacon Tanya Phibbs, deputy prolocutor of General Synod, brought a motion that only council members and Archbishop Anne Germond, soon to be acting Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, remain for the session. It was necessary for CoGS to meet behind closed doors, she said, to ensure its members were able to freely share ideas, hopes, fears and dreams for the church’s future which may be provocative. Phibbs also said some of the content of the discussion might be unsettling to the staff as it directly affected them. It might be difficult for members of CoGS to discuss some of the options before them knowing staff were in the room, she said.

“It is vitally important that we hear those things. And as well we will be seeking ways to address the concerns and needs of [General Synod] management so that as the primate’s commission’s work continues, there can be opportunities for open and transparent discussion in this council and across the wider church.”

The results of any votes or motions during the closed session, she said, would be shared afterward in aggregate without the naming of members of CoGS who made or voted on motions, she said.

“Our activities every day are reported on openly, but in a very few conversations, that very transparency can limit the risks people are willing to take in sharing,” she said.

The vote passed with no discussion and no votes against. Nicholls then asked General Synod employees, including the staff of the Anglican Journal, to leave the room.

Nicholls first announced the creation of the primate’s commission in her address to CoGS in March 2023. She said the commission would be tasked with finding potentially “radical solutions” to the demographic and financial challenges that face the church, which she said needed a new strategy to approach its mission as parishes struggle to meet the expenses of maintaining full- and part-time clergy, dioceses struggle to meet their responsibilities at the local, regional and national levels and the national church works to support ministry in regions where donations do not cover expenses.

“Every organization needs to ask itself periodically whether the framework for the life of the institution is helping or possibly hindering its professed mission,” she said.

The primate’s commission  began its work in fall 2023. Its members are:

• The Rev. Monique Stone, diocese of Ottawa
• The Rev. Kyle Wagner, diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island
• Archdeacon Rhonda Waters, diocese of Ottawa
• Dion Lewis, diocese of Montreal
• Dean Peter Elliott, diocese of New Westminster
• The Rev. Nick Pang, diocese of Kootenay
• The Rev. Cole Hartin, diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island
• The Rev. Jasmine Chandra, diocese of Fredericton
• Sarah Johnson, dean of Anglican studies at St. Paul’s University

Correction: The primate’s commission, Reimagining the Church: Proclaiming the Gospel in the 21st Century, Structures & Resources, was formed in 2023 and began its work that fall. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.

Updated with new information June 2, 2024 and June 3, 2024.


  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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