Where should the Anglican Church of Canada be going? That is the question facing the 400-odd delegates of General Synod – and the rest of the church – next year in the form of a six-year plan called Strengthening the Church, Serving God’s World.
Currently in the development stage, the plan was presented to the house of bishops and Council of General Synod at their fall meetings. The national church’s planning and agenda team authorized focus groups around the country to provide feedback on a draft version of the plan, which is a successor to Preparing the Way, a nine-year strategic plan approved by General Synod in 1995 that ends in 2004.
Retired bishop Joachim Fricker and volunteer Marion Jenkins presented the results of the focus groups and they had a sobering message. Bishop Fricker reported that discussion groups being held across the country seem to say – “Ya ain’t doin’ it right!” In an echo of an Environics survey of Anglicans released in 2002, Ms. Jenkins noted that “there is a major disconnect between the goals of the national church and the concerns of the grass roots. The national church is not perceived as a resource for dioceses and parishes.” The most important task for the national church, people say, is “clarifying Anglican identity and strengthening services to parishes,” said Bishop Fricker.
“There is a loud cry for resources to meet the challenges that parishes and dioceses are facing – from education to stewardship, to theological training, to resources for youth,” Bishop Fricker said. (Preparing the Way saw the national church end its work in stewardship education, youth ministry and congregational development, leaving those functions to the dioceses.)
There was also widespread cynicism “that the national church wouldn’t pay any attention to the survey results and will continue to do what it wants,” Bishop Fricker noted. Participants also urged that the language of faith and a prophetic vision be part of a new strategic plan. CoGS members agreed, saying the document needs more “gospel” language than organizational language. It needs to place General Synod as a “unifying factor,” said Cynthia Haines-Turner of the diocese of Western Newfoundland.
The priorities listed in the plan, which will go back to the planning and agenda team for a second draft, will be presented to the spring meetings of CoGS and house of bishops and will go to General Synod in late May, are:
- Deepening Anglican identity for mission and servanthood;
- Nurturing and strengthening Christian communities for local witness;
- Improving communications and story-telling;
- Implementing The New Agape;
- Building stewardship and financial capacity;
- Strengthening partnerships in Canada ;
- Sustaining international partnerships.
Proposed courses of action include a series of national or regional leadership development conferences in the areas of youth, stewardship, international partnerships, evangelism and congregational development. Members of CoGS and house of bishops said that continuing to strengthen relations with aboriginal Anglicans and their communities, a process called A New Agape, is important.
“A New Agape is totally unknown in my diocese,” said David Watts of Fredericton. “It is not equally important in all parts of the church.”
Bishop Fred Hiltz of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, agreed that not all dioceses understand it and suggested that the New Agape binder (a book with practical ideas on connecting with native people) be updated continuously.
Archdeacon Helena Rose Houldcroft of Qu’Appelle questioned whether the plan was about money and warned, “We might be hitting a financial wall.”
Archdeacon Jim Boyles, the general secretary of General Synod, noted that the plan or framework, as it is called, “is ambitious and resources are not yet in place” for some aspects. However, part of Strengthening the Church, Serving God’s World involves a financial development plan called Let Down the Nets , a reference to the Bible story of the fishermen who catch nothing until they listen to Christ.
Nationally, said treasurer Jim Cullen and financial management and development chair Rob Dickson, the church has the potential to increase annual giving by at least 10 to 15 per cent a year for several years, although contributing to the $25-million native residential schools settlement fund is putting pressure on a number of dioceses. General Synod saw its investments eroded by legal costs connected with residential school lawsuits, but an increase in planned giving and cultivation of major individual donors would result in substantial endowments, under the proposed plan.
The national church’s involvement in planned giving has been successful and could be more so, said Mr. Dickson. The framework may be viewed and downloaded from the General Synod Web site: www.anglican.ca/framework