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Bishop Todd Townshend and Canon James Ferguson: the first online Synod of the Diocese of Huron

By Rev. Dr. Justin Comber

On Saturday September 26, the first online Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Huron convened.

Rather than the broad displays of interest and action that typically mark our three-day yearly gathering, the list of motions and presentations offered was carefully selected, with most of the reporting of diocesan entities distributed in advance as a part of the convening circular and acknowledged together without individual reading.

The day’s offerings were carefully organized to define where we stand now, and to plot a way forward.

Where do we stand now?

The day itself began by accounting for those members of synod; clergy, lay, and their spouses, who were laid to rest last year. Bishop Todd took the time to address the circumstances we currently face. COVID-19 has kept the people of this diocese apart for over six months, and we are still going through it. Nevertheless, it has liberated us from “habits, patterns and commitments that slowed us down and weighed us down.” Despite our inability to gather around the broken body of Christ, this virus has not stopped God, nor has it halted God’s new creation—making us the body of Christ. We live in Christ. This defines who we are now and how we move forward. It will mean being good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure, and choosing to spend them wisely, not only to satisfy our daily operational needs, but with some concentration on renewal and new creation.

The Bishop’s opening address was followed immediately by the treasurer’s report. Huron was successful in its application for a CRA wage subsidy amounting to $1.1 million in March and April, but did not meet the 30% loss threshold for assistance in the months following. Beginning in September, aid will come with a lower threshold, but also provide lower amounts of assistance on a sliding scale.  Despite a shortfall of $46k in apportionment payments, the 2019 fiscal year ended with a $76k dollar surplus, leaving an accumulated surplus of $291k.This is largely due to the above average performance of investments and the sale of church properties.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly devastating on the people of Brazil, who have suffered 123000 deaths to date, and has left many there feeling abandoned. In response, Bishop Marinez Bassotto of our companion diocese in Amazonia called for a new way of living in faith, and expressed her gratitude to the people of Huron for their prayers, assistance, and constant encouragement.

In his homily the bishop encouraged us to “be of the same mind as Christ” whose humility led him to selfless service for the benefit of others. The bishop’s encouragements were then given a face in the witness of Lividia Musa who learned to embrace her identity as a child of God when scorned for her race in apartheid South Africa, the stigma of childlessness, and the rejection of her gender from Christian ministry by her church.

In answer to the question “where are we now?” in light of the COVID pandemic, synod then addressed issues in the wording of canons 18, 19, 43 concerning those responsible for calling and convening synod and diocesan council, and the ways that synods, diocesan councils, and vestries can meet. These changes defined the roles of “diocesan administrator” in the event of a resignation, death, or other incapacitation of a bishop, and of  “commissary” in a bishop’s temporary absence.

Changes were also made to the constitution and canons allowing for members of synod, diocesan council, or vestry connecting through video, electronic, or similar means to be allowed a vote and be counted for purposes of a quorum.  Future clarification was also promised regarding the calling of electoral synods. An additional change was made to the canon governing chapels of ease, defining their dependance on the wardens of an active parish for support and direction.

The morning session closed after a vote confirming the nominations to diocesan council followed by a tribute to churches closed in the past year.

An entirely new way of doing Synod

The way forward

In his opening address, the bishop hinted at a series of new priorities that would follow. He noted that our Christian identity demanded a shift in the stewardship of resources, away from a focus on operations and towards renewal and new creation. The opening of the second session called members of synod to gather together for the charting of this way forward beginning with a renewal of baptismal vows and acknowledgement of a new creation already begun.

Before turning to the bishop’s charge, synod heard the witness of Patricia Mason, who faced doubt on the eve of her confirmation much as this church faces uncertainty in moving forward. Ms. Mason was comforted with the knowledge that faith does not demand complete understanding, but is like boarding a train. We know where it will end, but not how it will get there. A commitment to faith is as simple as being on board.

Rooted “in Christ” and sensitive to God’s ongoing mission of new creation, the bishop outlined four goals that would drive strategic planning into 2025. Over the next five years we will steward our resources in order to be a learning church, a just church, a diverse church, and a new church. This will mean letting go of some things that we currently do. It will mean adjusting budgets and church activity, and carefully choosing where we invest our time, talent and treasure. To that end, the bishop has established a vision advisory group who will listen, collect what they have heard, and deliver a more detailed plan when synod reconvenes in the Spring, or at a special session in the fall, if necessary.

After highlighting the example of Luke’s place, a reimagination of Christian community among the students at UWO, the Bishop unveiled his vision for Huron as a learning church and a just church. Borrowing the prophet Jeremiah’s imagery of a potter, Bishop Todd described the Christian life as a process of continual learning and being shaped by Jesus. Christian lifelong learning involves being formed by Jesus, being introduced to him again and again, and learning to embrace our role as pupils of Jesus.

As a just church, we will be called to use our judgement to discern and interpret God’s presence, and to follow. We are called to pronounce judgement and bring grace to injustices of all kinds, paying particularly attention to racial, economic, and climate injustices. We have the foundations of a plan in our fourth and fifth marks of mission; “to respond to human need by loving service, seek to transform unjust structures of society, and challenge violence of every kind, and pursue peace and reconciliation, and strive to safeguard the integrity of creation.” This will mean setting goals for carbon-neutrality. It will also mean carrying the work of healing and reconciliation with the indigenous people of this land to the next level, and integrating Indigenous voices into every key decision. To this end, Bishop Todd has appointed the Ven. Rosalyn Elm as Bishop’s Archdeacon for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ministry.

As an example of the workings of a just church, synod was offered the example of the justice league and their worldwide efforts to address the global climate crisis and the social and economic crises that follow.

Bishop Todd called then called for Huron to become a diverse church. Our world, he quoted, is “a world at war with its own innate diversity.” In response, we are called to acknowledge that we are only united insofar as we embrace our diversity in worship tradition, culture, language, and race. Because the whole of creation is endlessly diverse, and because God loves it.  We are called to embrace the diversity of the whole Anglican communion, and work to ensure that we reflect the innate diversity of our neighbourhoods.

Finally, synod was charged with the task of becoming a “new” church. Not a “new and improved” church, or a “value added” church. Not the same, but more, but a new creation, spoken into being by a creative God, called to new life in resurrection, having died and now risen from the dead. This is our opportunity to invite and respond to the faithfulness of the creative God, who rose Jesus from the dead. So that “in every decision, every grief, every opportunity,  we will ask, ‘could this newness be the work of God?’”

In support of this final charge, synod heard from Proud Anglicans of Huron, who work with LGBTQ Anglican and active allies to affirm, love, celebrate one another as loved creations of God.

Synod will reconvene 16—18 May, 2021, with an additional meeting in the fall, if necessary.