This full article, by Archdeacon Terry Caines, with photographs by Hannah Dicks, will appear in the November print issue of Anglican Life.
On September 24th-25th, the 28 Parishes of The Anglican Diocese of Central Newfoundland gathered at the Parish of Gander for the 47th session of the diocesan synod. In Friday afternoon’s opening service at St. Martin’s Cathedral in Gander, Bishop Watton started his Charge to Synod with these words: “My COVID weary brothers and sisters, my relatives in Christ, welcome to the 320th year of the Anglican Church in Newfoundland, our 47th Diocesan Synod, and to the 45th year that we have been our own diocese.
The theme for Synod 47 was “Welcome to the Future.” Bishop Watton stated that over the past few years, we have certainly been talking about change and what we thought the future would look like. We have been talking about buildings, money, aging congregations, young people who don’t care, and what’s wrong with the world.
It’s time to get focused as one diocesan family, and he can quickly outlined three types of responses that are unfolding in the diocese:
1. We have had to respond in relation to buildings and ministry, because some congregations just can’t carry on.
2. Leaders in our synod office, and throughout the diocese through our committees, have been faithfully looking at diocesan life through practical eyes. We have moved mountains to give our parishes time to keep moving forward and talk about the future.
3. We have responded out of an honest desire to be faithful to the call and mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bishop Watton offered thanksgiving to the diocese for all that they have done, in heart, body, and soul. Also, for the grace in following our protocols within the church, and out in the public. But above all, for not giving up.
At the heart of the Bishop’s Charge was his statement that it’s time to listen to the Holy Spirit calling us back into right relationship with Jesus, so that we can, as the Church, be part of “a Jesus shaped response” to what is happening around us. Wherever Jesus went, his purpose was not to form institutions or to put up buildings, but to meet people right where they were, and draw people together in community. Wherever Jesus went, he brought people together.
As we move forward, there are going to be all sorts of new and unique questions, and we are going to have some difficult discussions. To those of you who have made some heartbreaking choices, the bishop said that it was, and is, an honour to stand with you and weep with you through them.
Bishop Watton shared that, as diocesan bishop, he must remind the synod that in their parish and diocesan discussions, some of people tend to be protective about their buildings and boundaries. That is understandable. It comes from the years of devotion, proven by what people have given to support the Church and community over the years.
It is also as response, against what communities have lost as our federal and provincial governments have had to adjust finances, health care, administration, and community services. Bishop Watton said that he understands people wanting to preserve their identity and heritage. He was very clear in stating, “We must never place our parish boundaries and buildings, as important as they are, above the needs of proclaiming the Gospel and doing active pastoral ministry.”
“I know that in the midst of change, people who ‘fight for their communities’ seem almost heroic. But they also seem stubborn, unyielding, and narrow in relation to a bigger picture. That is not the witness we need anywhere in the Diocese. We need to be building a Christ shaped Church.”
The Bishop’s Charge was a preamble into a workshop on Saturday which was based around the concept and reality of a “Lean Canvas.”
The idea of the Lean Canvas workshop was to focus on Mission, Resources and Process. The workshop discussion topics related to who is your target group; what are your current problems; who are our people; do we offer a healthy environment; what measurements do we use to gauge success; just to mention a few. Synod concluded with a final question to the parishes: “What are your next steps going to be? The Diocese of Central Newfoundland eager to work with you!