Participants at the National Consultation on Congregational Vitality ended their meeting May 14-16 with a call to continue sharing resources and conversations around creating healthy and vital parishes across Canada.
These could take various forms: from face-to-face meetings to attendance at one another’s clergy conferences and synods, to an electronic forum using such tools as Facebook or Adobe Connect (a web conferencing tool), said participants.
The bottom line, they said, is simply this: the work needs to be carried forward.
Participants interviewed by the Anglican Journal said the consultation has been helpful to them in various ways.
Bishop Barbara Andrews of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) said the consultation came at an opportune time, since APCI is reviewing new ways of building up congregations and providing resources to communities.
“I feel like I’m going home with a whole toolbox full of new tools to begin to wonder with other people how we may use some of them at home and build on the wisdom of experience of other people across the country,” she said.
Andrews said the biggest takeaway for her was learning about the indicators that can be used to determine the health and vitality of parishes. “Some of it is new knowledge, some of it built on what I already knew,” she said.
Andrews said she also realized that APCI has an advantage in that “we already faced the worst and we have lived beyond that…When I use the term ‘resurrected people,’ I feel that we have faced the horrors of the past and we’ve lived beyond them and we’re strong.” (APCI emerged after the diocese of Cariboo was dissolved in 2001, following bankruptcy due to legal costs associated with lawsuits brought by former students of the Anglican-run St. George’s Indian Residential School in Lytton, B.C.)
Archdeacon Godfrey Mawejje, diocese of Rupert’s Land, said the conversations have been “good, deep, from the heart,” and have shown “a lot of passion for the church and the mission of God.” What the consultation has done is bring together Anglicans from dioceses across the country and enabled them to encourage and advise one another, he said. For Mawejje, what stood out was the idea of not only raising local leadership but also “a leadership of all believers.”
Mawejje, who moved to Winnipeg from Uganda in 1992, said he stressed in his conversations that in some cases, the church’s leadership does not reflect the faces of the communities they serve. “We need to work on that. We also need to encourage people in our communities to assume leadership roles.”
The Rev. Marie Loewen, archdeacon of Temiskaming, diocese of Algoma, said she found the consultation helpful “more in terms of formation rather than information or programmatic things.” What was valuable, she said, “was having my thoughts formed by other people’s experiences and stories and finding parallels in those, where we are now.”
Loewen, who is also the incumbent of Christ Church, North Bay, Ont., said some common themes emerged as participants were divided into “circles” to share their knowledge and experience of what makes churches grow: “Change is really organic. We form people into the kind of people who can follow the spirit rather than impose from external programs. The most successful things, while organized, grow from the heart of people who want to follow Jesus.”
During the consultation, participants offered workshops that included such topics as “From Amalgamation to Mission,” “Money and Imagination, and “Using the healthy congregation handbook.”
Meanwhile, in his closing remarks, Archdeacon Dr. Michael Thompson invited participants to “celebrate the things that have become clear” from the consultation and to remember that they are part of what makes up the national church of the Anglican Church of Canada.
The national church isn’t the staff and volunteers or those elected at General Synod, but rather it is “the collection of ministries from coast to coast to coast,” said Thompson, the general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada. The national church has at times been “coherent and one thing [and at other] times like a heart with arrhythmia, but it’s working again towards wholeness and a shared purpose, and you’re a part of that,” he said.
Over 70 Anglican and Lutheran bishops, clergy and laity attended the consultation, which aimed to facilitate the building of networks and friendships among those who are passionate about building healthy and vital parishes. It also aimed to tap leadership for a virtual school with a web presence, which is being planned by General Synod, said the Rev. Dr. Eileen Scully, director of General Synod’s faith, worship and ministry department. The new school would serve as a “hub for the sharing of resources” on congregational development, said Scully in an interview with the Anglican Journal.