Dioceses question cost of Synod meeting

Published May 1, 2006

A number of dioceses are voicing concerns about the increased cost of attending General Synod 2007 in Winnipeg, with some saying they may have to cut the number of delegates they send. This, in turn, others say, raises questions about whether all dioceses will be well represented at the triennial governing convention – especially since contentious issues such as blessing ceremonies for gay couples are expected to be on the agenda.

For the first time in recent years, the convention will be held at a more-expensive hotel space, rather than university accommodations. “The costs have skyrocketed” since General Synod 2004, said Bishop David Ashdown of the diocese of Keewatin, which covers a sparsely-populated area that includes the eastern half of Manitoba and some of northwestern Ontario.

In a letter dated March 7 to Archdeacon Michael Pollesel, general secretary at the church’s national office in Toronto, Bishop Ashdown wrote that, “Quite frankly, we simply do not have that kind of money … If the costs of attending cannot be reduced,

I fear that we will be forced to drastically reduce the number of people we elect.” In an interview, Bishop Ashdown added that his diocese’s finances are so tenuous that “I scramble every month to make payroll.”

Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton also wrote to the national office, saying that the increase would put pressure on her budget, too. “This is a real concern. It is really quite a big jump in costs. We took the last two General Synods, averaged the cost of those two and it (2007) was double the average,” she said in an interview. “If Edmonton in prosperous Alberta is concerned, the Council of the North dioceses might find this prohibitive,” she said.

The eleven Council of the North dioceses, which include Keewatin but not Edmonton, are subsidized by the national church, but in recent years, budget cuts at the national office have meant reduced grants to the Council.

In his letter, Bishop Ashdown noted “since 1993, our support grant from the General Synod has been reduced by 33 per cent. During the same period, the basic stipend (clergy salary) has increased by 35 per cent. Most of this increase has been simply to keep up with the increase in the cost of living.”

Bishop Matthews said she was very concerned about the possibility that all dioceses would not be fully represented. “We are going to a General Synod where a very sensitive item (same-sex blessings) is being put back in the agenda. What if some of the smaller dioceses that are conservative are not represented?” she asked.

In an interview, Mr. Pollesel said the diocese of Quebec also raised concerns. Addressing the question of less representation, he responded that it would “be unfortunate if that were to happen.”

The General Synod convention is held in a different city every three years, usually at a university. The 2004 synod was held at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., where the daily rate for a single room was about $47 and the daily fee for meals was about $41.

However, the 2007 synod will be spread over two downtown Winnipeg hotels – the Ramada and the Radisson – with meeting space also available at nearby Holy Trinity Anglican church. In a letter to bishops dated Jan. 31, the then-acting general secretary, Ellie Johnson, wrote that the room rate will be $85-$88 per room, with rooms accommodating one to four persons and the meal rate will be about $62 per day, to be confirmed early next year.

Bishop Ashdown took this information to mean that delegates were expected to sleep four to a room. While noting that “Keewatin folk have become accustomed to either sharing a room or paying extra for the privilege of having their privacy,” he added that “the idea that we would be asked to go for quadruple or even triple accommodation seems to be asking a bit much!!!” In a subsequent letter dated March 10, Mr. Pollesel hastened to assure bishops that the information on quad occupancy was for those who might wish to bring family members. “There is no intent on our part to suggest that delegates share beds,” he wrote.

Bishop Ashdown, in his letter, said that even with double occupancy, the accommodation cost for Keewatin’s 10 delegates would be “at least $7,840.” In an interview, he said that he estimated the total cost of sending a full delegation to General Synod 2007 would be about $12,000, up from about $6,000 in 2004.

In 2004, Edmonton planned to send 10 delegates, but Bishop Matthews was on sick leave, so nine attended. The number of delegates a diocese elects is based on the number of licensed clergy in the diocese. In 2004, for instance, heavily-populated Toronto sent 24 delegates.

Mr. Pollesel outlined the situation in a letter: At its 2004 fall meeting, he said, the Council of General Synod (which governs the church between General Synods) directed that the 2007 convention be held in Winnipeg in conjunction with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s National Convention. The two churches have been in a closer relationship, called Full Communion, since 2001.

Under the direction of the General Synod planning committee, national church staff began negotiations with the University of Manitoba, where meal costs were estimated at $40 per day and rooms at $79. However, said Mr. Pollesel, by last September the university said not enough rooms would be available for the 400 to 450 people – delegates, staff, exhibitors and guests – expected to attend. “Further, it could not guarantee that there would not be additional reductions before June 2007, as rooms once available for conference use were being leased out over the summer months in an effort to pay down the mortgage,” he wrote.

Margaret Shawyer, co-ordinator of General Synod planning and consultations, said the synod planners lost confidence in the university’s ability to host the conference and rejected the city’s convention centre as too expensive. It broke off talks with the university, which refunded the church’s deposit. Ms. Shawyer and her assistant, Dianne Izzard, began negotiations with the Ramada Marlborough Hotel and Radisson Hotel, which have adequate meeting and accommodation space.

“Diane has built up a tremendous relationships with them and negotiated very hard,” said Ms. Shawyer in an interview. The Ramada is offering a room rate of $85, compared to its lowest non-discounted rate of $99 for a standard room as of June, 2006. The Radisson rate is $88 per night, compared to its lowest, non-discounted rate of $101. Synod dates are June 19-25, 2007.

The Ramada is also providing its ballroom for plenary sessions at a discounted rate and offering reception space with no rental charge or bartending fee, said Ms. Shawyer.

Although Bishop Ashdown urged synod organizers to find “a more economical alternate,” Ms. Shawyer and Mr. Pollesel said that, with just 14 months to go, the site would not be changed.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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