NEWS

Candidates’ answers to Electoral Procedures Committee questions: The Reverend Canon Dr. Todd Townshend

 1)  What is your vision for Huron?

 New wine, new wineskins…
(Luke 5:36-38)

 “…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
(2 Cor. 5:17-19)

My vision for Huron is rooted in our summons by God into something new—knowing that new wine requires new wineskins. So for me, some ongoing vision-questions are: What does a new creation look like in our midst? Where is the life? What can we keep? What must become new? What kind of change is God’s gift to us?

A more detailed vision for our diocese revolves around two recognitions.

1. To recognize that the Church is currently doing something in society that no one else is doing. We have the opportunity to align all of our energy and resources into making sure that we are offering this:

  • an opportunity for people to learn what the mystery of God is really like;
  • a place for people to embrace who they are and why they’re here;
  • a community where confession of sin/wrongdoing/harm is met with unconditional love, God’s forgiveness, and restoration/healing and unity in the Spirit;
  • a body of people who become-Christian through prayer and worship and accept a task or mission in life that is worth doing because it participates in the ongoing activity of God—a God who is alive and well, who is bigger than any trouble before us, who moves us from death to life, and who transcends the created universe yet also is engaged in the tiniest units of created matter.

I would steer us towards seeing what the church uniquely is and towards doing only what the church uniquely does. As Anglicans, we can do this work in a very appealing way. We can let go of many of the exhausting things we currently do and allow the present circumstances to help us become much more cooperative and collaborative in our work. I believe that we need a conversion of imagination when it comes to our ecclesiology—our understanding of the nature and structure of the church. I embrace the view that the baptized ones (you and me) only become “church” when the Risen One, Jesus, seeks to raise up a body for himself in the world. So, our vision begins with the question, “what is the triune God doing and how does God want us to participate?”

2. Another central matter is to be looking for ways to always make a material difference in our surrounding communities. The scriptures reveal that God has a preferential option for the poor, the marginalized, and those without hope. We have made, and can continue to make, it our central mission to be in solidarity with the poor and doing the work that changes unjust structures and patterns. Asking questions like, why is our church crucial to the health of our wider community? What do we add? Who is served? What leaven are we? What impact do we make that causes the angels of heaven to rejoice? How does this reveal the reconciling work and purposes of God? It will help everyone if we think ecumenically and join with people of other religions to do this work. Imagining ourselves doing this work in new ways and measuring “success” according to these two priorities is part of my vision for “new wine, new wineskins”. More detail is found under question #4.

2) How would you describe your leadership style? What role do you foresee Synod playing in the administration of the Diocese?

First, about Synod. A diocese is governed by a diocesan synod composed of the bishop(s) and elected members of the clergy and laity chosen by the parishes. Bishops are elected by diocesan synods and, as chief pastors, preside over the work of that diocese. A quick summary is often used: we are “synodically governed and episcopally led.” Therefore, a question about the relationship of leadership and synod is a good one. The two need to be “a good fit”.

A good Christian leader is, first, a follower of Jesus. That’s my prayer when tasked with leadership; may I first be a follower of Jesus. Leadership is also, of course, more about substance than style—but one’s approach to leadership does develop some visible patterns. We want to trust someone who is given leadership and oversight and we tend to rely on two main categories to make this determination: character and competency. These traits are proven over time. The humble leader wants to defer to what others have said about him/her (!) but I will try to speak about my leadership gifts directly.

Since I was young, I have found that in most situations I end up with some kind of leadership role—in neighbourhood play, on sports teams, in student organizations, among my friends—people suggest that I take some kind of lead. I think that some of my personal traits contribute to this: I am drawn to leadership—I like leading, I like group activities, I like them to be done well, I can see how parts relate to the whole, I enjoy a good challenge, I am easy to work with, people enjoy and appreciate what I offer. As I get older, I realize that as a leader: I don’t feel threatened by difference, uncomfortable situations, strong personalities, or ambiguous (paradoxical) readings life and truth. I tend to seek “the whole story” not just the part of it that I like. I like to create order when it’s helpful and good organization when it’s possible. I prefer to gather different voices and perspective before making decisions. I am willing to learn and to change my mind. I believe that good stewardship includes “staying firmly in the black”, financially and spiritually. That vibrancy-of-life is the key measurement. That trust is the basis for everything. That you have to get these three things right: partnerships, people, pathways. I do not believe that consensus is always necessary or wise. I trust in encouragement, kindness, and grace as powerful ways to shape the spirit of leadership. I trust the wisdom of the group, as long as the group has not silenced or excluded important voices. I am willing to speak my mind/conscience and I love to proclaim the gospel.

Good leadership finds the right vision for the right time, holds it up for others to see, invites participation, finds processes or ways-of-being that can accomplish the objectives and direct the “organization” in a way that makes it more coherent and cohesive—more faithful to its mission.

3) Given the wide range of positions in the church locally, nationally, and internationally on difficult issues, how will you shepherd the diverse flock that is Huron?

My simple response is that (a) Jesus is the good shepherd and bishops can only hope to align their work to his work and to the work of the Spirit, and (b) I embrace diversity in the church—I am compelled to do so by the gospel but I have also experienced the benefits of diversity in the church.

I would go so far as to say that the “flock that is Huron” suffers from a painful lack of diversity when compared to the Anglican Communion world-wide. In terms of language and ethnicity, most churches in our diocese are more “white” and “english” than the Church of England! We can cherish parts of that heritage but we’ll be much better off if we can insist on transforming our communities, wherever possible, so that the proportion of “white” and “english” is better balanced by a more prominent place for the presence of our indigenous sisters and brothers and, generally, if we make a strong move towards a rainbow of colours and the sound of many languages (and music!) in our churches. This would better reflect the genius of God’s human population and the creative potential of “difference” in the Christian body.

In terms of a “wide range of positions”, I embrace differences of view and learn from them. But I “filter”, too. It is one of the values and skills I have learned in both the church and the university. We need to develop discernment in our listening. There are limits to what is acceptable in a Christian community and we have all experienced some unhealthy dynamics arising from time to time. Generally speaking, our society teaches us how to “engage difference” in a polar and hostile manner. This is totally unnecessary in the church. The key skills here are open-listening and faithful-interpretation. If someone is promoting something contrary to the gospel, it needs to be reshaped according to the rule of love. If someone is speaking an uncomfortable word that can be heard as prophetic for the church, it must be accepted and engaged with in good faith. Anglicanism values a wide spectrum and a deep diversity. It is challenging, but I value it too.

4) Do you have a plan in mind to address the related issues of decline, sustainability, and mission? If so, can you speak to that plan? How would you root it in your own theology and spirituality?

One so-called realist said to me recently that the #1 job of a bishop is to “manage the decline”. Certainly, the Christian churches in North American and Europe have shrunk considerably over the last 60 years and it will get worse before it gets better. This complex change started long before I was born and has little to do with what any of us have done or left undone. Yet it is also true that many of us can witness to the fact that, over that same period of time, our lives moved towards Christ and the church, not away. So, decline may come but so will new life. Perhaps in parallel streams.

One problem, simply put, is that the model of church we inherited is broken. It worked so well for so long but now it doesn’t. One example of this model, or mindset, is “the parish system”—lines on a map distinguishing between geographical jurisdictions for ministry. The whole thing is so much more fluid than that now. Further, the model idealizes the “one parish, one priest” idea and this is just about killing the clergy and key lay leaders. We are spread too thin, we each carry too much, we are overburdened with buildings and short of people. In this, the Holy Spirit is providing us with an opportunity.

There is an urgent need for our next Bishop to get out in front of this opportunity. It is, perhaps, a better opportunity than any bishop has had since the earliest ones. To “get out in front of it” means that the bishop, synod leaders, and others will have to help the bishop to steal as much time away from “operations” (making sure it’s covered) as possible—to be a ministry developer and catalyst for the new creations of God—preaching, learning, teaching, guiding, planting, cultivating and recruiting new leadership and supporting the growth of all, in Christ. The goal would be to liberate, resource, focus, and reshape ministry where there is a desire to do so.

We can start by seeing the Diocese as a “new and innovative” muti-site church with over 150 sites, over 100 pastors, over 40,000 participants, over 30,000 square kms! From one point of view, that’s who we are now. We can get out ahead of it by stopping the chase for money, numbers, and trends. We can get out ahead of it with a deep and pragmatic understanding of Christian Stewardship, with courage to invest, with some personal sacrifice intended to create genuine cooperation and collaboration, to let go of competition, to work with those who have hope.

My plan would also be to help create a learning church, focused on disciple-making, for a mission of reconciliation in Christ.

  1. A Learning Church: our size, resources, numbers will shrink for a while so the task is to make sure our faith does not. This “required” learning has the goal of shaping Christ-like character and to actually experience the benefits of the gospel (not just to talk about them). Leadership formation and development of Christian character, continual conversion to the fullness of the gospel, self-confidence building, all based on the good news of what God has done, is doing, and will do. The goal is spiritual growth. We will get better at telling the Jesus story.
  2. A Disciple-Making Church involves a decade of intentional “traditioning” –passing on the tradition (content and practices) of Christian faith, knowledge, and wisdom especially for the sake of those who are under 30 and yet to be born. This is a proposal for a new catechumenate and the recovery of mystagogy.
  3. A Reconciling Church: focuses on God’s primary mission of reconciliation. This is urgent for relationships with the Indigenous people within our diocese, in particular. There is also a constant, ongoing need for healing and reconciliation in every relationship, family, and church community. We will seek to be trustworthy partners and to learn what languages will be helpful. We will commit to staging of goals, learning what is possible, what is ambitious, and how to communicate the wins, how to enjoy the low bearing fruit, and how to look for things that will make a material difference in communities. Reconciliation will draw us into engagement with Christ and, in if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.

END NOTE: The gift and call of two contemporary documents, along with ancient and historic agreements (like the Creeds!) provide a common touchstone for most of what I have written. I encourage you to do a quick search and read them, if you are unfamiliar with: “The Five Marks of Mission” (Anglican Communion) and “The Arusha Call to Discipleship” (World Council of Churches).