1) What is your vision for Huron?
My vision for our diocese is the diocese as a family of vibrant and sustainable worshiping communities that in loving one another, reaching out in tangible ways to the hurting world around us and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others, make a difference in the villages, towns and cities we serve. A diocese where each of us—lay and ordained—are able to use the gifts that God has given us. A diocese where we work together in teams of priests, deacons, lay readers and lay leaders in our parishes, deaneries and diocese in order to be stronger together not only for our sake but for the sake of the world. A diocese where responding with justice to the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and rebuilding relationships with Indigenous peoples (Anglicans and others) is one of our core values.
This vision is also one where all the people of the diocese are people of prayer and of learning. It is impossible to begin to discern God’s particular call to each congregation and to the diocese without grounding it deeply in prayer that includes intentional time to listen to God. As the church and society change, we need to be learning new ways to carry out the age old mission of sharing the good news and caring for others. And we are! Deaneries have held workshops on stewardship and evangelism. Parishes are using the Christian Foundations: A Grounding for a Life of Faith to assist in discipleship. There are many resources available to help us become the people that God is calling us to be. And within our own diocese there are leaders from whom we can learn—parishes and clergy using new models for reaching out including social media, podcasts and pizza lunches for high school students. As we pray for ourselves and for each other, as we learn with and from one another, there emerges both a stronger diocese now and a continuing vision to guide us.
An important aspect of this vision will be the work of the Diocesan Animator for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ministry who will help guide us in our work of justice and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The Animator will also lead in the development of anti-racism training for our diocese and engage us in its implementation. It is also my hope that funds used previously for the role of Stewardship Officer for the diocese could be used in the future for a part-time Discipleship Animator who would assist parishes, deaneries and the diocese to grow in all aspects of our discipleship. As we learn, teach and grow, we will live into being a healthy and vibrant diocese.
2) How would you describe your leadership style? What role do you foresee Synod playing in the administration of the Diocese?
I am a collaborative leader who prefers to work collegially with clergy, lay leaders and staff whenever possible. The best ideas and the most energy come from times when we can discuss situations, together reaching an answer or determining the next best step. In our diocese, there are various leadership teams that the bishop is called to work with regularly including the Executive Staff of the diocese (the Executive Archdeacon, the Secretary-Treasurer and the Dean working with the Bishop) and the Archdeacons. Each of these senior people with whom the bishop shares leadership in the diocese bring knowledge, discernment and creativity to bear on issues under discussion without which poorer decisions would be made.
There are also decisions that the bishop must ultimately make. While I would gather information and input from trusted advisors (who may vary depending on the situation), I am willing to make those decisions. It is not unusual for the reasons for difficult decisions to require careful confidentiality making it difficult for those outside the decision to understand why it was made often leading to frustration and anger directed at the one making the decision. The leader’s role becomes to provide a non-anxious presence while holding all affected by the decision in prayer. Leaders can also, at times, make mistakes. I am willing to revisit decisions if new information or a new perspective is brought to light that calls into question the initial decision.
As a leader I am adaptable, flexible, collaborative, creative and relational. I understand my role as helping those I lead develop their individual gifts and skills. Doing so is not only good for the church, but I find much joy in watching others discover and use their abilities to the fullest.
Anglicans are episcopally led and synodically governed. It is in synod, where the bishop, the clergy and the lay people gather together, that we make decisions for the good of the diocese. Any member of synod may bring motions to Synod for consideration and there have been many creative motions over the years that have shaped the life of our diocese. It is at Synod that the Canons are passed that govern our parishes and our diocese. Due to the timing and size of our synod (over 400 members), it is difficult for it to be deeply involved in some of the important administrative tasks of the diocese such as passing the annual budget. For this reason, Diocesan Council acts as ‘the synod between synods’ to carry out these functions during the year and then to report back to synod as needed. Our synod also offers opportunities for committees, ministries, the bishop and others to communicate priorities, hopes and challenges for the upcoming year and to receive feedback from the members of synod so that the priority of the diocese and its committees are indeed the priorities of the people of the diocese of Huron.
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?
The diversity of the Anglican church has always been one of its great strengths. It can also be a source of deep tension. One of the responsibilities of the bishop is to guard the unity of the church. Unity is togetherness, oneness, and can exist despite a variety of views. This begins with a willingness to listen to one another — to ask about differences in a spirit of curiosity. To share where we stand on issues, and why, without trying to win the other person over to our side. As a bishop, it means honouring the culture and beliefs of a congregation when matching them with a new rector or honouring a variety of worship styles within the boundaries of Anglican liturgies. It means encouraging healthy conversations among parishes in a deanery and at clergy meetings, always seeking to know and understand the other. It also means ensuring that persons chosen for leadership positions in the diocese are as diverse as the diocese itself.
When a difficult issue does come into prominence, it is important that the Diocese provide resources and materials that will assist in conversations at the parish and deanery levels. Where appropriate, some of these discussions may also be held at Synod meetings as we encourage open and respectful conversation among people throughout the diocese. In the end, we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us. A bishop must live that call to love all people and constantly encourage God’s people to do the same.
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?
Over the past two years, each parish has been asked to complete a Mission and Ministry plan taking a careful look at where they are and discerning what God is calling them to over the next five years. It is now time for the Diocese itself to develop a Mission and Ministry plan; time to discern who God is calling us to be, what God is calling us to do and how to best prioritize in order that our resources are utilized in the most effective manner. Having read the M&M plans for each church in our diocese, I believe that the issue of decline versus sustainability is directly linked to mission. Parishes are most likely to quickly decline when they cannot articulate a clear understanding of their mission and ministry.
A diocesan M&M will include changes we can make to encourage stability and vitality diocesan wide. The Reverend Grayhame Bowcott is currently completing a Doctor of Ministry degree with research focused on looking for the marks of growing (and sustaining) churches several of which are within the Diocese of Huron. This research may help identify ‘best practices’ that churches could be encouraged to adopt and adapt to their own context. The Bishop’s Commission on Ministry (BCOM) has done an informal study of clerics in healthy congregations to discern if there are ‘best practices’ that other clergy could be encouraged to adopt and that could be included in the training and formation of clergy. Recently, I had the privilege of chairing a Bishop’s Commission to look at the sustainability and mission of the churches in the Archdeaconry of Lambton/Kent. The Commission returned a number of recommendations including the formation of three cluster ministries. Cluster ministries not only bring parishes together into a shared configuration but also bring together a team of stipendiary priests to serve the cluster. To this team would also be added, depending on the local context, non-stipendiary priests, deacons, licenced lay readers and other lay leaders. This model has been successfully used in other dioceses to better stabilize churches while the synergy created between the churches and among the leadership team leads to more mission focused ministry. Over the next two to three years, this model will be considered in other areas of the diocese. Where churches have closed, we need to explore if there is a way to maintain a toe-hold of Anglican presence in those areas. The purpose of this would be two-fold: to provide some ministry to those Anglicans still living in the area and to have a beginning point if considering a church plant in those areas where the demographics are shifting and people are now moving back into the area.
These are a few examples of the things that I would seek to include in a Diocesan M&M plan but the most important thing we must do if we are to change the direction of the decline is to become more comfortable in proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. We need to share our faith with others, to invite them to join us for worship, for bible study or even for a simple social gathering. If you are reading this, your church—your faith—is important to you yet we are often reticent to share our faith with others. But it is good news and good news is meant to be shared. Any plan for increasing the sustainability and vitality of our parishes and diocese must include ways to help each of us become better at sharing our faith.
I believe that God calls us to abundant life and to be a people of the resurrection. Frederick Buechner wrote that “vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” This is as true for a diocese as it is for an individual. Plans for the future of the diocese must be rooted in offering a way for ourselves and others to experience this abundant life—this deep gladness in the midst of our work and worship. Even then, not all ministries will last. Our plans will need revising over and over. We will try new ways that will fail. But we are people of the resurrection and in failures, in endings, we know we will also plant the seeds of new life. We vision, we plan, we hope and then, we trust because we believe that God will be with us in our discerning, in our planning, in our endings and in our beginnings.