Eight months after Primate Fred Hiltz invited the Anglican Church of Canada to come together in conversation circles for prayer and reflection, the Heartbeat of the Church exercise drew to a close in May.
The primate’s invitation in September 2018 coincided with the 125th anniversary of the General Synod and sought to help Anglicans reflect on their personal faith journeys and their church, and to renew calls to ministry. Conversation circles asked participants to consider their habits of prayer and to point to times when the church made their hearts glad, when it made their hearts ache and when it gave them hope.
Prayers submitted to the Anglican Church of Canada website reveal how each conversation circle responded to the Heartbeat exercise. Common themes include hopes for reconciliation, peace, justice and Indigenous self-determination; calls to live out the gospel; and a focus on inclusion and the need to listen to one another.
For Anglicans who participated in Heartbeat, one of the biggest takeaways was how the conversation circles brought together people with very different views.
“What was beautiful about the exercise was that we began by talking about prayer, and where we pray and how we pray and where we feel close to God,” Archbishop Anne Germond says.
“When people had finished sharing that part of the exercise, a great level of trust had built within the group itself. And so then they could speak freely and openly about how their hearts rejoice and are glad, and how their hearts are aching, and what gives them hope, because that trust had been built up in the earlier exercise.”
As metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, Germond participated in Heartbeat at a gathering in Val–d’Or, Que., with the primate in attendance. She also took part in the exercise at the provincial House of Bishops meeting in April.
Germond heard that participants’ hearts ache when “the church is distracted by the politics and the divisions that keep us apart” rather than focusing on God’s mission. In the diocese of Moosonee, for example, many small communities, particularly Indigenous communities, struggle with issues like youth suicide, poverty, drug use and a lack of young people attending church.
“They said when the church, for example, spends a lot of time focused on the marriage canon only, we aren’t addressing the other really important things that are facing all of us in our churches and in our communities,” Germond says.
By comparison, “The biggest things that make our hearts rejoice are when the church comes together as the body of Christ, with all our difference…when people have really worked together for the greater good of God’s church.”
Archbishop Ron Cutler participated in Heartbeat with a group of rectors and again with a group of associate parish priests and non-stipendiary priests in the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
For the metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada, what stood out was the vulnerability and openness with which clergy shared their responses. Cutler compared Heartbeat to his experience of attending the 2008 Lambeth conference, during which conversation at daily Bible studies “allowed us to validate the faith of one another without characterizing people’s faith based on their point of view on any particular issue.”
Many participants highlighted their varied forms of prayer. Informal prayer outside the church, such as while walking or hiking, often brought people closer to God and led to great transformation in their lives as disciples.
At a local level, Heartbeat of the Church allowed people to reflect on the church’s role in their own communities. The Rev. Kyle Wagner, rector and pastor at Christ Church in Dartmouth, N.S., says the hearts of his congregation were made glad by those it had uplifted —including Hiltz, who cites Christ Church as formative in his faith—and through its ministry at the local food and clothing bank.
For many at Christ Church, an affirming parish with many members who identify with the LGBTQ2S community, debate and discussion around same-sex marriage had made their hearts ache. But the church’s deepening conversations with Indigenous peoples, and its challenge to government to establish safe and equitable housing, clean drinking water and the right to self-determination, gave them hope.
Wagner expressed appreciation for Heartbeat in helping Anglicans enter deep conversations about what it means to be church.
“The members of our group could not think of a time when such a widespread exercise was supported by the whole church,” he says. “We felt that it was affirming that the national church asked people from all different backgrounds and dioceses to offer their thoughts and prayers.”
Feedback and prayers from the Heartbeat of the Church will be presented at the upcoming General Synod in Vancouver.