Church’s problem solver set to retire

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Retirement will give Archdeacon Jim Boyles more time to spend with grandchildren Isaac (left) and Xander. A practiced administrator and negotiator, one colleague describes Mr. Boyles as a "filing cabinet."

As negotiations with the federal government over the residential schools hit one brick wall after another in the late 1990s, Archdeacon Jim Boyles’ colleagues at Church House (the church’s national office) worried about his personal health.

The task was enormous and stress arising from the job of chief negotiator was a given. Mr. Boyles and other members of the church panel were under considerable pressure: hanging in the balance was the future of the church. It was nearing bankruptcy because of mounting litigation costs from lawsuits filed in the 1990s by former students of native residential schools, which the Anglican church (and three other churches) had operated jointly with the government from the mid-19th century to 1969.

Yet colleagues marveled at how Mr. Boyles, who became general secretary – or chief operations officer of Church House – in 1993, was not only calm under pressure, he appeared to relish the challenges.

“He seemed to have more energy,” recalls Margaret Shawyer, General Synod co-ordinator, who has worked closely with Mr. Boyles for many years.

“He was absolutely unflappable. He was a rock,” says Doug Tindal, the church’s former director of information resources (communications). “There were so many times during that period where it was tempting for people to say, ‘It’s not gonna work; the government is not responding, the media don’t understand the story. How are we going to get through this?'”

But throughout each bleak scenario, there was Mr. Boyles, saying in his characteristically self-effacing tone, “Okay. Right here is where we are, and this is where we want to go. Why don’t we try this?” recalls Mr. Tindal.

(The church signed a settlement agreement with the government in 2003 that capped church liability for the lawsuits at $25 million, to be split by the dioceses and General Synod, the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada.)

“He has that unique ability to look at various angles and explain various options,” says Ms. Shawyer.

Mr. Boyles’ knack for finding solutions to the most complicated of problems has been put to good use during his 12-year tenure as general secretary, which has weathered severe budget cuts, traumatic staff layoffs, a problematic move to a new office and rupture over the issue of same-sex blessings.

On July 31, Mr. Boyles retires after serving the church in various capacities for 37 years.

(Council of General Synod, at its next meeting May 6-8, is expected to form a search committee that will consider candidates for the position. After consultations with the primate, the council will elect the new general secretary.)

General Synod chancellor, or legal advisor, Ronald Stevenson says that while most managers have the distinction of putting out brushfires, Mr. Boyles has “prevented a lot of fires from starting.” Mr. Stevenson is amazed at “how many things he can keep in his mind” and his “instant and accurate recall; he’s like a filing cabinet.”

Archbishop Michael Peers, who was primate during the residential schools crisis, agrees with Mr. Stevenson’s characterization: “He has a very ordered mind. He thinks issues through all their possible implications so that people can have as much material as they need for decision-making,” says the former primate. “He was invaluable during the complicated and difficult years in the life of the church.”

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, the new primate, adds that committees of General Synod “owe a deep debt of gratitude to his remarkable knowledge, his close attention to detail and his respect for process.”

For his part, Mr. Boyles says he is “looking forward to the change.” He intends to devote the first few weeks to himself (cycling is on the list) and for visiting his two daughters, Sue and Ginger, and two grandchildren in Vancouver.

Mr. Boyles was 25 when priesthood beckoned. He had been working in Ottawa (as an economist for the Board of Transport Commissioners) but was unhappy.

He received encouragement to study theology from a local church where he was active. “I had a sense of my calling to be both a mix of pastoral and administrative work,” he says. Mr. Boyles, who received a degree in political science and economics from the University of Toronto in 1962, began studying theology at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn. He graduated in 1968.

A professor-mentor urged him to fulfill his calling by being “grounded in parish life … to live with people through baptisms, marriages and funerals” because “it’s only out of that experience that a person can come to a sense of the administration of the church.”

Mr. Boyles began his ministry in Maberly Lanark, a rural five-point parish in the Ottawa Valley.

From 1972 to 1981 he worked at Church House as the assistant to the general secretary and later, as ecumenical officer, becoming involved in the planned union between the Anglican and United Churches. The planned union, shelved in 1975, was “a disappointment,” he says. The job of ecumenical officer introduced Mr. Boyles to international church work – he attended World Council of Churches meetings and was a member of the governing board of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) for nearly three decades. His international work has gained him respect – most recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed him as a member of the International Response Team for the Windsor Report on communion.

Mr. Boyles became rector of St. George’s parish, Georgetown, Ont., from 1981 to 1987 and archdeacon and executive officer of the diocese of Calgary from 1987 to 1993. He became active in the life of the national church, becoming a member of General Synod and later, chairing its organization committee – which familiarized him with the job of general secretary.

“I look back and feel that I’ve just been so fortunate and lucky in a career that unfolded seemingly in the right direction of no crisis and no moments of high anxiety unlike so many other people who struggle with unemployment or crisis of one kind or another in their employment history,” he says.

While initially he had shared his father’s “skeptical view” of the church “with all its human characteristics and failures,” Mr. Boyles says he came to realize that it is one place that’s “never perfect, (but) where people strive to do their best in living out their faith.”

The Anglican church and other ecumenical bodies have, in turn, benefited from Mr. Boyles’ experience, says Dorothy Davies-Flindall, former general synod prolocutor (the most senior officer of General Synod after the primate). “He has a capacity for seeing the work of (the CCC) and our own Anglican place in it,” she says.

Having worked closely with Mr. Boyles for years, Ms. Davies-Flindall has told him on many occasions to take a break. “He really has given to us beyond 100 per cent all the time,” she says. (Staff at Church House note how he has been “acting director” of many departments – a task which Mr. Tindal says Mr. Boyles always approaches “with a twinkle in his eyes that says ‘This is gonna be interesting.'”)

There is also a lighter side to Mr. Boyles whom many see as a reserved, dependable manager. Archbishop Peers recalls that he and other staff have been beneficiaries of his “cookies for all occasions.” The former primate also recalled a Prayer over Coffee that Mr. Boyles composed in 1998 when a new coffeepot and new coffee beans were introduced to replace the “terrible” one that staff endured. The prayer read in part, “Almighty and loving God, you have created all things and are no doubt a coffee addict. We gather as the community of Church House in eager anticipation of new revelation and new sustenance from our coffee…” When staff threw him a 60th birthday party in 2000, he sent out an e-mail of thanks with a special request that “Now that I’m old and venerable, I no longer need the ancient title to establish my credentials, so please don’t use the title ‘Venerable’ (the honourific for archdeacon) in front of my name anymore. Just write, ‘Jim Boyles,’ or if you insist on being more formal, write ‘Archdeacon Jim Boyles.'”

Ms. Shawyer says that while she’s been in Church House “long enough to know that change happens,” she and other staff “can’t imagine life around here without Jim Boyles.”

Mr. Boyles will not disappear from the church radar – he has offered to help administer the residential schools settlement fund on a contract basis. He will take additional training in mediation and says, “I’ll look for pieces of work where I think I can make a contribution to the life of the community and the church.”

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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