Council of General Synod took some time Nov. 15 to consider what council members have learned so far from the new ways of working, which were brought in as part of Vision 2019 to deal with some of the financial and administrative pressures the national church has been facing in recent years.
The session began with a brief presentation by Archdeacon Michael Thompson, the church’s general secretary, who noted that these changes were part of a larger shift happening within the Anglican Church of Canada in which General Synod’s function would become “less a matter of being the national church and more a matter of identifying the national church, inviting the national church, calling people together in the life of the national church.”
Thompson stressed that the purpose of the session and the discussion that would be part of it were not to make concrete decisions, but to talk about what has been learned during the “experimental time” of the 2013 to 2016 triennium.
He also said that the discussion was meant to generate useful feedback. “This isn’t just an opportunity to write some things down, stack them in a corner, forget about them, and keep on doing things in the same old way; this is an opportunity for us to reflect seriously on our experience so far.”
At this point the various co-ordinating committees broke off to reflect on what they had learned, what was working, and what was not working for them about the new structures so far, reconvening later in the afternoon to share what they had discussed.
Some general patterns emerged from the responses. One of the most common problems that came up across the board was related to communications. Many people described having difficulties finding the right balance between communications via technology and communicating in face-to-face meetings. The communications and information resources co-ordinating committee noted that they have not actually had a meeting yet that did not involve video technology, while the faith, worship and ministry co-ordinating committee reported that many associates have had trouble with the communications technology being used and expressed a need for more training around how to use it properly. They also asked that General Synod provide clearer principles behind when meetings can happen in person and when they should happen remotely.
There were other questions that came up as well. The bishop of the diocese of Edmonton, Jane Alexander, reporting for resources for mission, expressed a concern over whether or not people clearly understood their roles within the new structure and also raised the issue of flexibility, lest the new structures prove to be just as rigid as the old ones.
But positive points were also identified. The Rev. Eileen Scully, director of General Synod’s faith, worship and ministry department, said that where they had given task forces very clear mandates, they had been quite successful in doing their work. Andrea Mann, director for global relations, noted that where there was a relationship with a diocese and they were working to implement a plan, things were going well.
Archbisho Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, closed the session on a note of encouragement. “The right and basic questions have been asked,” he said, acknowledging how difficult structural change can be for staff. “We had a particular way of working for a long, long time. They have embraced it well.”