Primate’s ‘Heartbeat of the Church’ initiative to encourage conversation and reflection

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Shane Parker, dean of the diocese of Ottawa and project co-ordinator, says the focus of "Heartbeat of the Church" is on creating spaces for people to speak honestly about their personal faith and experiences with the church. “I think God speaks to us in our hearts,” he says. Image: General Synod

Anglicans across Canada can now access a web page devoted to the primate’s Heartbeat of the Church initiative, which invites them to talk about their experiences with the church and express their “heartfelt prayers” for it.

The project, which Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, first announced in a June address to Council of General Synod (CoGS), was officially launched on September 18. In a news release, the primate announced the creation of a special section of the Anglican Church of Canada’s website devoted it. The section contains links to a letter from the primate introducing the project and a guide for those wishing to participate. It also features an interactive map where groups can submit their prayers for the church and read the prayers of others.

In his letter, Hiltz notes that September 2018 is the 125th anniversary of the formation of the General Synod. “In marking this milestone in our history, I am inviting our entire Church to listen to its heartbeat through conversation circles in parishes, deaneries and dioceses—in homes, church halls, outdoors, or even online!” he wrote.

Shane Parker, dean of the diocese of Ottawa, served as the project co-ordinator, a role that he says meant helping bring the primate’s vision of it to life: “to call the church to reflect on what it means to be Anglican, what it means to be in mission, what it means to be a people in prayer.” Parker says the focus was always on creating spaces for people to speak “honestly from their hearts” about their personal faith and experiences (both good and bad) with the church. “I think God speaks to us in our hearts,” he says.

The key test for the conversation questions they came up with, he says, was, “Is this going to make people talk from their head or their heart?”

It takes a couple of hours to work through the conversation guide, Parker says, which is why small groups of four or five people are recommended. The language is simple and straightforward, and the questions are meant to prompt deep conversation.

Some questions relate to personal reflections on when and how one prays, and times that one “felt close to Jesus” or “had a sense that God was with you.”

Participants in the circle also read John 15:12–17, a passage suggested by the primate. The reading contains Jesus’ words about love, spoken to his disciples the night before his crucifixion. After reflecting on the reading, participants are asked to answer three questions about the church: “Describe a time when our church made your heart glad,” “Describe a time when our church made your heart ache” and “Describe a time when our church gave you hope.”

In his introductory letter, Hiltz noted the guide is “grounded” in the conversation Jesus had with his disciples that evening.

“I hope our conversations can be focused on the very things of which he spoke—the disciples’ life in him, their work in his name, and their trust in the coming of the Holy Spirit to strengthen, lead and guide them.”

Groups are encouraged to write down and share their prayers for the church by adding them to the interactive map.

Parker pretested the guide with six conversation circles in the diocese of Ottawa. The six groups, for the most part, comprised people that didn’t know one another very well, he says. As they went through the conversation guide, “Really, really deep conversations formed.”

Each of the prayers for the church that emerged from the different circles was quite different, Parker notes. “One comment that sort of described it all—one person said of their group, ‘It really took us to an unexpected place.’ ”

The initiative will run until May 7, 2019.

Hiltz will be stepping down as primate on the final day of General Synod 2019, which will take place in July.

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

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