Where do you see signs of hope in the church?

Published November 1, 2006

All that remains now to seal the future of the Anglican Book Centre, the Toronto-based bookstore of the Anglican Church of Canada, is just one vote by the decision makers that comprise the Council of General Synod (CoGS).

By the time this newspaper reaches most Anglican Journal readers, CoGS will almost certainly have voted in favour of wrapping up the storefront operation of the bookstore, commonly known to Anglicans as ABC. The plan, as drafted by a group tasked with examining the church’s funding and what work priorities it can afford in the long term, is to continue ABC strictly as a telephone-based and Internet operation (please see news story).

Most observers met the announcement of the plan with resignation; some were surprised, but the writing had been on the wall for some time for the bookstore. Once a cash cow for General Synod (in better years, it returned significant revenues to the church’s national office), it had in recent years dissolved into a sinkhole, recording losses. Last year, it recorded sales of $2.89 million and a loss of about $222,000. Examined alongside the national office’s $1.1 million deficit, it was already in peril; the decision last year to lay off six staff and cut back on the bookstore’s hours, combined with the decision not to replace two managers who resigned, almost certainly sealed its fate.

Although a report – commissioned by the national office’s directors – recommended the creation of a director of ABC who could be involved in the store’s day-to-day operations and was at the same level as the directors, management not only ignored that advice, but it decided not replace the store’s two middle-management staffers. Instead, a large team of bookstore staffers and the directors of the departments of financial management and development and communications and information resources shared oversight of the business.

So, once CoGS approves the plan (and, as the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, noted in his announcement of the plan to staff, “it is very unlikely that they are going to turn back these proposals. There is no plan B;”), what next?

In the last decade-and-a-half, the national church’s bureaucracy, which ticks away in the same building as ABC in downtown Toronto, has cut and cut and cut. The last attempt at strategic planning has so far failed both the national office and the church at large.

(In 2004, General Synod, the church’s triennial decision-making national meeting, approved an overly ambitious six-year plan that was a bit of fantasy; it recommended that the church continue the work it was doing and that, when finances allowed, new pieces of work, many of them jettisoned in an earlier strategic plan, be added. An accompanying funding proposal has not yet realized returns, though it is meant to be a long-term initiative. The notion that a body that has been paring down for so long might one day add new work seems, well, unattainable.)

But since the Journal is based at the church’s national office, our focus can, all too often, rely too heavily on the workings of the bureaucracy around it. So, we need to be reminded (and, occasionally, we need to remind) that the Journal is not the newspaper of the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada; it is the newspaper of the whole Canadian church. We often hear that the media (the Journal included) focuses on bad news and ignores good news in the church.

There are signs, though, of good news across the country. A diocesan summer camp is saved from closure by an ambitious and visionary group; a youth delegate is elected prolocutor of a provincial synod; a diocese raises twice as much as its fundraising goal for HIV/AIDS projects.

So, for many in the church, the vision, the expression of hope is there, but the sense of the future is hazy.

It seems that after all of the budget and staff cuts at the national office since the early 1990s, and in the midst of declining attendance in some urban churches and the depopulation of the rural churches, the outlook of the church has become increasingly harder to discern. The danger of that is the less visible the church, the less leadership it demonstrates, the less likely it will be that it can attract those who need it most and those whom it needs most.

One person involved in the planning of General Synod 2007 complained recently that the week-long meeting’ agenda – a plan that is in flux until the meeting begins – focused heavily on issues like church governance, same-sex blessings and the Windsor Report, but where, the planner asked, was the matter of declining church membership?

So, we turn the question over to you: What do you see as the future of the church? Where do you see signs of hope, of resurrection, in the church? How can the church paint a compelling vision for the future? Send your ideas, your vignettes, your stories to the Anglican Journal: 80 Hayden St., Toronto ON, M4Y 3G2 or [email protected]. Please limit responses to less than 200 words so that we may include as many as possible.


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