NEWS

Candidates’ answers to Electoral Procedures Committee questions: The Venerable Dr. Tim Dobbin

1) What is your vision for Huron?

I have heard it said that the first responsibility of any leader is to name our current reality. We find ourselves in a time of significant transition. Twenty years ago, I recall Archbishop Percy O’Driscoll telling us that within fifteen years vast tracts of the Diocese would disappear. We knew the demographic cliff was coming – we are now over it. Over the past 15 years, average Sunday attendance has dropped by over 40% and the number of baptisms by nearly 70%. In 2000, there were 230 congregations; last year there were 175. What we are living is now our new ‘normal.’ It is an in-between time, when casting a clear vision may not be advisable, let alone possible when so much remains up in the air as we look ahead.

I expressed my heartfelt gratitude at the ‘Meet the Candidates’ event in London for the ways in which the Diocese of Huron has been the family of God to me since arriving here in 2000. You have blessed me beyond measure in providing me with a spiritual home, some extraordinary friendships and unparalleled opportunities for ministry. What we live and share together by God’s grace has transformed my life. It is one of the reasons I am deeply and personally committed to our being the family of God to one another – praying for each other, listening to each other, supporting each other as we face tough choices. My prayer in this time of transition is that the Spirit would call forth from us three gifts to inspire and guide our life together as God’s family in Huron.

The first gift is adaptability – being agile, flexible, nimble. We are both institution and movement. As institution we need our structures and processes for stability and for continuity. We are also a movement – the Jesus movement as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls us. As the Jesus movement we flex, we improvise, we adapt, we experiment and we learn, and where necessary we fail and forgive. We keep experimenting until it works as one colleague remarked. As a movement, if our structure and processes are hindering rather than helping our ministry and mission, then we may need to adapt them – with care, with gentleness and with patience. This includes our processes of forming candidates for ministry. Our processes need to serve our mission not our mission serve our processes.

The second gift is accompaniment – being there for each other. Our of the greatest gifts of my 20 years as a parish priest is the willingness of people to come alongside, to listen, to guide, to challenge… Our parishes need sound and mature accompaniment – whether parishes are creatively reaching out in new ways, rediscovering tradition, or making difficult and sacrificial decisions. Parishes need support which meets us where we are at and helps us to take the next step towards the future God is inviting us into. Clergy also need sound and mature accompaniment – the support and the resources to explore all options, especially for those of feeling called to remain in parish ministry for the long haul.

The third gift is authenticity – being the best version of the Anglican family of God in Huron calls us to be. Our international family has proposed the Five Marks of Mission as a lens through which to view our life – a lens to help us celebrate our strengths and to give attention to our growth areas. Our goal as the Anglican family of God in Huron is simply to live and share Jesus-shaped lives. As a priest, nothing has brought me greater joy over the years than watching people grow in their love for each other and their love for God. I delight in seeing folk learn to bring Jesus wherever we go in ways that are true to who we are: whether it’s through finding joy in praying for others, or in taking a chalice at communion, or in hearing Bible stories as if for the first time, or in asking important questions about God at Messy Church, or in participating in climate justice initiatives, or in helping settle a refugee family, or in building friendships with folk in Amazonia. There are so many ways in which God calls us and empowers us to grow in Jesus’ likeness.

Adaptability, accompaniment, authenticity are charisms I believe the Holy Spirit is calling forth from us as by God’s grace we build a church for our children and our grandchildren. We build a church for our children and our grandchildren by equipping and empowering a movement of people who love Jesus and who are all about growing God’s Reign wherever God plants us.

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

Leadership style needs to fit the context in which leadership is being exercised. To that end, I pray for the grace to exercise a style that is a good fit for where the Diocese is at and what it needs at this particular time. Any Christian leadership is derivative. It is sourced in and issues from the person and work of Jesus Christ. As such, Christian leadership is necessarily servant leadership – a willingness to say to others ‘after you.’ We serve others by enjoying them, listening to them, praying with and for them, guiding them, challenging them – by sharing their journey in the booms and the busts as best we can. One of the insights that emerged during several years with L’Arche (a Christian residential community for people with intellectual disabilities) was the impact on our faith communities of moving those who are most vulnerable from the periphery of our life to the centre. Those with intellectual disabilities are often called the ‘core members’ in a L’Arche home. Genuine renewal can and does occur as we understand and organize ourselves as places where the first become last, and the last become first, where those whom others may tend to overlook turn out to be those deserving of special attention with a vital role to play in our life (1 Cor. 12.22-26). We serve in leadership by looking out for the needs of the vulnerable.

Second, I ask for the grace to lead collaboratively. I believe we are better together and that developing partnerships in our ministry can take us places we might never get to on our own. It can be a lot more fun too! Collaborating with lay people in parishes; collaborating with other clergy, including those from other denominations and even other faith traditions; collaborating with agencies in our communities has been a gift I have found both enriching and life-giving. For example, our Messy Church in Simcoe was a partnership with St. Paul’s Presbyterian and the Ontario Early Years Centre – we could not have hosted it month by month without each other.

Third, I pray for the grace to lead by empowering others. Jean Vanier has written that when we love others, we call forth gifts from them (as they call forth gifts from us). With both the challenges and opportunities before us, God through us needs all the charisms, skills and experience we each bring to the table. I am deeply committed to our understanding of the priesthood of all believers by reason of our baptism. I rejoice in seeing folk lay claim of whatever gifts God has entrusted to them and sharing them in the ministry and mission of the church with courage, generosity and faithfulness.

As Anglicans, we are episcopally-led and synodically-governed. Synods are part of our DNA, like it or not! My hope and prayer is that Synod would exhibit the same leadership characteristics I have named above. As a body, Synod would seek to serve the Diocese, would collaborate with laity, clergy and the Bishop and would empower all of us to exercise the particular ministry and mission we believe God is calling us to. At the same time, how we do Synod is not cast in stone. In this time of transition, it may be necessary to simplify some of our structures and processes, particularly if how we organise our common life is no longer serving the ministry and mission of the Diocese as it once did. Too, I would strongly encourage conversations with other Dioceses across the ecclesiastical province to explore efficiencies of scale and the feasibility of amalgamating some of our synod office functions and portfolios.

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?

One of the many aspects of being Anglican I value is our desire to make room for everyone at the table. We may not agree about everything all of the time – in fact some of our contested issues may be substantive. At the same time, we take time to listen to each other, to pray together and move (hopefully) towards a deeper understanding of others’ points of view. How to disagree respectfully and remain at table together is a significant gift we have to offer an increasingly polarized culture.

We pray then that the Holy Spirit calls forth from our life as the family of God in Huron the gifts of adaptability, accompaniment and authenticity. We seek the grace to serve, to collaborate with and to empower members of our Diocesan family irrespective of our particular views so that we can learn to live together well with difference. Too, we are intentional about recommitting ourselves to what is core in our life. Davor and I had the privilege of interviewing one of the Anglican Communion’s leading theologians earlier this year, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. In response to a question about divisive issues in the life of the Church, he reminded us of the church’s identity:

“It’s why in the book Being Christian, I said that it’s the acknowledgement of the sacramental structure, the reference of everything to the Bible, the reality of shared prayer and shared silence. These are the things we can go on affirming. I’ve never seen why we should break sacramental communion over some of these issues. The gift of that sacramental communion and all that it means is so much greater than any one issue.”

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?

We are in significant transition as the family of God in Huron. Some of what we hold dear in our tradition is disappearing before our eyes. At this critical juncture in our life, the question I want to ask is, What is wrong with simply being the church, the Gospel-centred community of faith where God meets us in word and sacrament and in those most vulnerable? There are core aspects of our life which do not change and will always endure: Jesus and the resurrection; the grace of forgiveness and reconciliation; the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church for the healing and restoration of the world; the forming of disciples to live and proclaim God’s reconciling love.

More specifically, we give our best attention to Jesus’ call to discipleship, to growing in faith, to learning to lead Jesus-shaped lives in our local parishes. Mike Breen has written that mission without discipleship is like a car without a motor. Meeting in small groups around Scripture, asking simple questions of the text and of each other, praying for one another can be a very effective means of growing in our love for God and for one another. Again in the words of Dr. Williams in that same interview, “I do see this as way forward for the Church; in fact, I don’t see much happening without it. The Church did not begin in the New Testament as a mass movement. It begins as a very tangible, local community of transformation.”

God through our life in Huron as a Diocesan family is continuing to transform the world one heart at a time.