The Council of General Synod (CoGS) on March 16 recommended that the coming General Synod adopt a constitutional amendment that would alter the nature of all but two of its standing committees as part of initial changes to the national church’s structures.
Under the proposed amendment to Section 39 of the General Synod Handbook, the pension committee and financial management committee would remain as standing committees of General Synod, and five would function as co-ordinating committees.
Co-ordinating committees would be limited to five members, a reduction from the current range of between seven to 12 in standing committees. The proposed co-ordinating committees are: faith, worship and ministry; partners in mission and eco-justice; resources for mission; communications and information resources; and Anglican Journal.
After lengthy discussions, workshops and straw polls held over a three-day period, CoGS approved other motions that recommended a number of the restructuring proposals made in January by a national consultation. Forty participants were convened at that meeting by Archbishop Fred Hiltz to review the church’s structures as mandated by Vision 2019, the church’s strategic plan.
CoGS did not, however, recommend the proposal to reduce the frequency of its in-person meetings, from six to four times in the triennium, and to hold more regular and frequent communication using electronic means.
Instead, members left it up to the next CoGS – which will include new members elected at the General Synod meeting this July – to “review the length and number of physically gathered meetings to minimize costs while ensuring it effectively fulfills its governance mandate.”
It also “encouraged” the officers of General Synod and the next CoGS to “consider carefully what business of CoGS, in part or in entirety, might be done at any point in the year using communication information technologies and electronic methods of meeting.”
Prior to the vote, the Rev. Josiah Noel, from the ecclesiastical province of Canada, urged his fellow members not to put off the decision on reducing face-to-face meetings of CoGS. “We need to hold ourselves to task,” he told his fellow members. “I’m not comfortable with leaving it to the next CoGS. We need to make electronic meetings work. Six (in person meetings) is too many.”
Other CoGS members had questions, suggestions and at times, varying expressions of concerns and “anxieties” about decisions made on other proposals.
“We’re not cutting where we need to cut. We need to be more brave about more things,” said the Rev. Lynne McNaughton, from the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon. British Columbia Bishop James Cowan shared the sentiment, saying that some of the changes don’t go far enough.
Lela Zimmer, also from the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, questioned the “arbitrary setting” of committee membership at five. She said the faith, worship and ministry committee, of which she is a member, has been “benefitted by more voices brought to the table” and “cross-fertilization” of ideas.
Janet Marshall, who facilitated the consultation, explained to CoGS that five was deemed a good number for committee membership owing to the church’s geographical spread, the number of its provinces, and for achieving a level of comfort and effectiveness at meetings held electronically.
Canon Gene Packwood, clergy representative of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, asked how much savings would be generated by the proposed changes to the composition of committees and frequency of in-person meetings.
“A lot depends on the decrease in committee size and how much travel” will be reduced, said General Synod treasurer Hanna Goschy. “It could be a couple of hundred thousands.”
Archdeacon Michael Thompson, the church’s general secretary, said that while these changes are “not the panacea that will address all financial challenges before us,” it would help “set us for leaner preparations” down the road.
Meanwhile, CoGS, in another motion, also called on General Synod to flag as “a matter of priority,” the national consultation’s proposal to conduct operational reviews on the effectiveness of the Resources for Mission (RFM), the national church’s communications vehicles, and its informational technology capacity to support electronic meetings of councils and committees. The motion did not go into such specifics as time frame or how the reviews would be conducted.
A review of the RFM will look into the effectiveness of the church’s “investment in fundraising, stewardship and planned giving,” according to documents prepared by members of the structures working group. This group was tasked with taking the recommendations from the consultation and drafting a “strategic framework for implementation.”
In a presentation of the structures proposals, Thompson explained that an external consultant would be asked to look at the effectiveness of the RFM and provide benchmarks such as, “how and what standards we measure its effectiveness, what it is we’re trying to accomplish, when we will know if we’ve accomplished it.”
In the area of communications, the review would look at the role and practices of the Anglican Journal, the General Synod communications website and the Anglican Video and assess their impact on dioceses and other ministries. It will also study new and emerging practices in media, the practices of other churches, and recommend ways of building communication capacities, said the documents.
Thompson explained that the review was in keeping with Vision 2019’s goal of having “a national communication platform, integrated and accessible at the parish, diocesan, and national levels.” He acknowledged that it was “an enormous and daunting goal,” and the church was looking at external resources for the review.
CoGS, by consensus, also affirmed the principle that “more of the work of the national church should be done by task forces, working groups and commissions.”
It also requested the primate and the church’s metropolitans (senior bishops) to initiate” a review of the House of Bishops’ role and the focus and frequency of its meetings,” which were recommended in the consultation report, “Embodying God’s Call.” Among others, the report asked bishops to consider “the number of meetings that can and will be funded by General Synod and alternative time and ways to gather.”
Another motion was passed which urged various General Synod bodies “to seek out new and expanded partnerships with dioceses and other Anglican entities, the ELCIC, and other partners.”
Before CoGS voted on the structures-related motions, Thompson assured them that the changes being proposed are “manageable.” He explained the workflow and timetable that could be followed to get the work done. “It can be done and it will be done. We have the capacity to do it if you choose to go this route,” said Thompson.
Archbishop Hiltz expressed the hope that Thompson’s assurance would help relieve the “anxiety” of some CoGS members who have wondered how the changes can be implemented.
Archbishop Colin Johnson, diocesan bishop of the diocese of Toronto and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, said the work of restructuring was “a lot like trying to lose weight.” Even losing a few pounds by giving up on some sweets, cutting down on meat and potatoes, and exercising more means one “will last longer,” said Johnson, who is also a member of the structures working group.