Where there is no vision, the people perish.
I love a parade as much as the next person. If nothing else, it serves as a distraction from the cares and worries of everyday life. But what if the parade were marching down the centre aisle of your beloved church, and when you looked more closely, all you saw was…well…the same old parade? Same as last year, and the year before that and the decade before that. Would you really care to watch anymore?
The Anglican Church of Canada appears to have high hopes for Vision 2019. At least we are referencing it a lot as a document that will guide us into the future. And certainly much care has been taken to craft it.
Two years ago, the work of setting out a strategic plan for the church’s work from 2010 to 2019 was mandated by a resolution at the November 2007 meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS). Subsequently, the Vision 2019 committee, a group of volunteers who bravely took on the task, began by asking everyday Anglicans across the country about their hopes and dreams for the church.
From February to October 2009, Canadian Anglicans sent in emails, voice messages, letters and videos answering the question, “Where is your church now, and where do you want the Anglican Church of Canada to be by 2019?” In all, 1,009 people responded, a tiny sample given the total number of people in the church. However, the responses were passionate, articulate and engaged, and they came from all quarters: conservatives, liberals, young and old alike.
With the help of a consultant, the responses were analyzed, synthesized and then carefully assembled into a document that was presented to CoGS last November. Thud.
It’s too vague, cried delegates to CoGS as one member after another stood to express his or her dismay at the report’s lack of substance. Vision 2019 doesn’t go far enough, they said. It doesn’t have anything new to say.
The Vision 2019 committee went back to work. This time, they surveyed stakeholders-clergy, lay leaders, committee members, governance groups and many many others. Vision 2019 was once again painstakingly written, theologically referenced and set before CoGS. After its presentation, the Vision 2019 committee received a standing ovation.
Certainly, the Vision 2019 committee is to be applauded for the tremendous job it did sorting through all the input and information and presenting the research in a thoughtful and highly polished way. But even with the best of intentions, Vision 2019 falls short of providing a prophetic vision for the church.
In spite of all the rhetoric, all the time and energy invested, we have failed to dream outside the box. Where are the new ways of doing church? What are they and how will we embrace them? We have given lip service to notions of becoming missional with no clear direction for how to do so.
What we need to see in Vision 2019 is the kind of fire-in-the-belly passion that will inspire the average person to be part of our church and to support our mission. Where is our strategy for reaching the secular world, the unchurched, the spiritually hungry? How will Vision 2019 bring us closer to finding Jesus in ordinary Canadians and walking with them?
Nowhere in this document is there any indication that we have taken into consideration the very Canadian society that we hope to evangelize. Instead of taking the pulse of popular culture, we have taken our own pulse. And in so doing, we have created a vision that can’t possibly be relevant to the world around us. Tragically, any innovation that might have emerged from the grassroots has been lost, crushed under the weight of our own bureaucracy.
Once again, we have invested heavily in maintaining the status quo, placing the Marks of Mission around the neck of Vision 2019 like a string of pearls. But let’s not fool ourselves. She’s still mutton dressed as lamb.
The good news in all this is that there are pockets of innovation where we can find committed Anglicans living out their faith in new ways. We need to connect with them and learn from them. Organizations such as Fresh Expressions Canada are already working on the frontlines of the evolving church in Canada. Why are we not looking more closely at adopting and adapting the concept of Fresh Expressions for broader application? If it’s good enough for Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it must have something going for it.
We need to be more ambitious about our timelines. Ten years is eight years too long. With church attendance in steep decline and finances plummeting, we need to get serious about implementing new ways of being church. To move with greater alacrity, we need to look for models of transformation that are already proving themselves. Fortunately, we don’t have to look very far.
The diocese of Toronto is open to innovation and quick to adopt and adapt. In February, it co-sponsored the Vital Church Planting conference with Fresh Expressions Canada, welcoming an ecumenical group to talk about new ways of being church. The diocese was a frontrunner in adopting Back to Church Sunday, sending its bishops in full regalia to Toronto’s busy train station during rush hour. Now, that takes guts.
Across the diocese, the focus is on a missional expression of church. The rallying cry? “Every parish mission shaped.” It’s not just empty rhetoric: all parish leaders, lay and clergy, have been equipped with a unique, adaptable program that allows them to take the gospel into local neighbourhoods. It was hoped that a handful of parishes would be interested in “Mission Possible.” At last count there were 60 involved, including U.S. churches.
Now, the diocese has ramped up communications to actively engage the culture. Last fall, they launched an advertising campaign in the Toronto Star that set out their mission to help the homeless, end hunger and combat poverty. In April, they invited 600,000 Torontonians reading two other local newspapers to get in on the conversation about Earth Day. Their message: “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth. Now it’s our job to look after them.”
People who may never have set foot inside a church are learning about Anglican commitment to environmental stewardship over morning coffee. Wow!
The ideas are out there, in our own church. But they need to be brought into a holistic vision for the church and implemented. Do we have the courage to make Vision 2019 relevant? Ω