Richmond Hill, Ont.
Tucked away on the lower level of the Sheraton Parkway North Toronto Hotel & Suites, the Newmarket Room has been transformed into a place of quiet, prayerful respite amidst the bustle and noise of the 41st General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.
The newly minted chapel serves as the base of operations for the synod’s first dedicated volunteer pastoral care team, led by the Rev. Greg Carpenter of St. Jude (Wexford) Anglican Church in the diocese of Toronto.
Although this is the first time a pastoral care team has been present at General Synod, the idea has been in gestation for some time now. “I think that it was an evolution, [growing] out of a cumulative experience,” says Carpenter. “It’s about being able to more fully recognize and address the needs of delegates as they’re going through the business of synod.”
For Carpenter, addressing those needs in the context of pastoral care at General Synod revolves around the creation of a ministry of presence. “I think it’s about being able to sit and listen to a person’s cares and concerns,” he says, regardless of whether or not these are specific to items of discussion at synod or more personal issues.
Archdeacon Charlene Taylor, a pastoral care team volunteer from the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, shares Carpenter’s sentiment. “Pastoral care is truly about being present for people, whether it’s a personal concern or a concern about the church—there’s someone who will listen, someone that they can go to.”
In addition, Taylor points out that pastoral care doesn’t necessitate a formal request or environment. “Just by being in a dinner line, or on a break, people come and chat with you, and share their concerns with you. That is being pastoral and present with people, without having to be formally asked, and people just have the opportunity to chat.”
For his part, Carpenter also believes that the pastoral care team can play an important role in bringing together delegates who are coming from a variety of backgrounds and sometimes dissenting beliefs. One of the most exciting aspects of the initiative, he says, is the fact that delegates are caring for other delegates. “I think the primate said it well when he said that we are all children of God…being able to encourage and live within that unity, regardless of where we may sit on any given topic, knowing that we have our stuff at home, our stuff in the parish, our stuff at work, and we might need some time to be able to sort that out—that’s where the pastoral care team comes into play.”
Taylor concurs, and attributes the team’s potential to foster unity among the synod delegates in part to its great diversity. Team volunteers were consciously selected from across the breadth of the Anglican Church of Canada.
“There are bishops, there’s clergy and there are lay people from right across the whole country,” she says. “From St. John’s, Nfld., to Victoria, B.C., to the Arctic, we’re completely covered.”