There is a television commercial for a wireless phone company that opens with a man walking down a sidewalk testing his telephone. He is saying, “Can you hear me now?” Then he takes a few steps and repeats into the phone, “Can you hear me now?”
It is now less than a year since a consulting firm, contracted by the church’s national office to poll Anglicans, reported that General Synod – the very body wondering about its profile – was all but invisible to ordinary Anglicans. In other words, it would not make much of a difference if the national office disappeared (a strong possibility at the time of the study, due to litigation over the church’s role in residential schools).
The polling results were a wake up call to the church – particularly to those who had thought they were doing a decent job of telling the church’s story, including the Anglican Journal.
This month’s General Synod supplement is just one of the many ways of filling that void. General Synod, which apparently suffers from a serious image problem, is more than likely to be present in some form in the average parish. The problem is few people in the pew realize it. Somehow, they miss the connection.
The newspaper you hold in your hands receives some funding from General Synod (though it has long maintained an independent editorial policy). The diocesan newspaper that was tucked inside and mailed with the national newspaper would most probably disappear without the postal subsidies afforded the Anglican Journal by the federal government’s Canada Heritage program.
The hymn book you pick up for the processional hymn and the French-language liturgy for your child’s baptism were the result of years of work by General Synod’s faith, worship and ministry department. Stewardship information, like pamphlets on how to make a bequest to the church, comes from General Synod’s financial management and development office.
If your diocese (even your parish) is involved in a diocesan companionship program, it is because of the work of General Synod’s partnerships department.
Likewise, the documentaries on indigenous people in the church (videos that sit on the shelves in many church basements) were produced by Anglican Video, another General Synod ministry. The Canadian Church Calendar, sold in the narthex and appearing in Christmas stockings across the country for years, is also a General Synod venture.
The danger of General Synod going into bankruptcy protection is no longer acute. The General Secretary’s office (yes, also part of General Synod) worked hard for the last few years to reach an agreement with the federal government to cap the church’s liability for litigation.
Now, perhaps, General Synod has the time and energy to focus on its apparently problematic image. Certainly it did not help that for a year and half the national office had no director at the helm of the department of information resources, its largest department (it has had an acting director in place since December, 2002). But the problem is bigger than that.
The church is now playing catch-up, trying to increase its visibility and taking a page from the business world – in a word, branding. From henceforth, every piece of communication disseminated from the national office will be identifiable with General Synod, often simply through the addition of a logo.
It’s about time.
A parish priest in southern Ontario told me recently his parish had little interest in national church affairs until after a visit from the primate. Until they could put a face to the national church, until they could make the link between their congregation and the church beyond their door, the rest was not real to them.
In the months and years to come, perhaps the church will be bold enough to ask, “Can you hear me now?”