New ways of structuring General Synod?

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, at the fall meeting of the Council of General Synod. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, at the fall meeting of the Council of General Synod. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published January 14, 2013

Less reliance on standing committees and more on task forces, a review of the size and function of General Synod, increased partnership with dioceses and other churches, an “overhaul” of the national church’s communications strategy and a review of the national stewardship initiative.

These are but a few of the wide-ranging, as well as immediate and long-term, changes that were identified in the national consultation convened by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, last January 8 to 10 in Mississauga, Ont.

Forty participants gathered “to identify desirable changes in the structures and roles by which the Anglican Church of Canada carries out its ministry in the service to God’s mission,” as mandated by the General Synod strategic plan, Vision 2019. Participants included lay, clergy and bishops from all regions of Canada, various generations, as well as representatives from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Participants were not vested with the authority to make binding decisions, but asked to “think creatively and imagine new ways of structuring General Synod, and to simply name [them],” Hiltz clarified in an interview with the Anglican Journal.

A working group – drawn from the participants – has been appointed and it will submit “a more substantial report with specific recommendations to CoGS [Council of General Synod, the church’s governing body in between General Synods],” said Hiltz. It will be up to CoGS to act on the recommendations.

Proposed changes will have “no immediate implications” for General Synod staff, but Hiltz said adjustments are to be anticipated over time because of General Synod’s “financial realities” and the commitment made by CoGS to a balanced budget for 2014. This could mean “some adjustments to program or ministries and consequently, staff implications,” said Hiltz.

He noted that the consultation was made more urgent by the church’s precarious finances. It was set “in the context of a longer journey to structural renewal and budget equilibrium for the church,” he said. Last fall, CoGS a passed a “transitional budget” for 2013 that forecasts revenues of $11.59 million and expenditures of $12.82 million. It returned to deficit budgeting because its revenues did not reach projected levels.

There were questions at the consultation about whether there might be a smaller national office and small satellite offices with “distributed leadership of various ministries” across the country that would bring the national church closer to the grassroots, said Hiltz. There were conversations around reducing the size and membership of General Synod, and the frequency of its meetings and choice of venue. “We’ve had a history of meeting in different parts of the country. It’s been wonderful, but it’s not affordable anymore,” Hiltz said. Toronto is considered to be the cheapest place to hold such a gathering, he added, owing to its central location.

The consultation also called for a major review and overhaul of the church’s communications strategy, as well as its national fundraising project, Together in Mission (TIM). “It’s not to say that the way we’ve bee doing [them] is wrong or inadequate. But are there ways in which we can enhance that?” said Hiltz. “How do we tell our story? How do we generate revenue streams for the ministries of General Synod? How do we tell our story and inspire generous giving? They go together.”

Participants asked if there are ways to “re-imagine” TIM because “it has simply not rolled out the way many people thought it would,” said Hiltz. “The reality is that even in dioceses where it has rolled out, General Synod is seeing very little revenue. We’re not going to see any substantial revenue for the next years to come. Do you just sit down and say, ‘That’s the way it is, folks.’ Or, ‘We really need to rethink it?’ ”

Among the immediate changes proposed by the consultation are:

· Having less focus on standing committees and more reliance on task forces with clearly defined time frames;

· An overhaul of the information technology infrastructure to increase the church’s capacity to meet across the country “in new and different ways;

· Looking at possibilities of entering into “covenants” with dioceses around various areas of ministries (i.e., international internship program for international students).

Changes that could evolve over time include:

· Increased partnership with dioceses and other entities;

· Increased partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), which is in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada. “Young people [in the consultation] really want us to take the relationship to the next level,” said Hiltz. Areas of enhanced co-operation could include worship, theological education and stewardship.

· Partnership with other churches around social justice issues. “There’s a real yearning for churches to be attentive to social justices,” and to speak together “with a stronger voice,” said Hiltz.

· The setting up of trusts for special priorities of the church, such as its partnership with the Episcopal Church in Cuba and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and indigenous ministries.

Hiltz said he and the participants emerged from the meeting “hopeful” about the church’s future. “It was a spirit-led process…There’s a real resolve within our church to say, ‘We’re being called to do things differently and we’re deeply committed to it.’ ”

Appointed as members of the working group are: Monica Patten (diocese of Ottawa); Melissa Green (Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior); Archbishop Colin Johnson (diocese of Toronto); Jane Osler (diocese of New Westminster); Cynthia Haines-Turner (diocese of Western Newfoundland); and David Giffen (diocese of Toronto).

Hiltz said the group is a mix of strategic thinkers, members with strong connections to dioceses that have learned “to be church in different ways,” and younger Anglicans with strong leadership skills.

General Synod Prolocutor Bob Falby, and General Synod Chancellor and Governance Working Group chair, David Jones, will also be part of the group. Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary, will be the key support staff.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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