Provincial synod prunes for mission

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True to its theme of “tending the vine,” the synod of the ecclesiastical province of Canada is cutting back some of its structures and committing to explore other possible areas for future pruning, all with intent of making the province more nimble and focussed on mission.

More than 70 delegates from Canada’s seven easternmost dioceses gathered in Montreal Sept. 20-23 and voted to reduce the size of future provincial synods by nearly half. They also decided to shrink the size of the Provincial Council-the ecclesiastical province’s decision-making body between triennial synods-from 31 to 23 members.

In his presidential address to synod, Archbishop Claude Miller, the province of Canada’s metropolitan, alluded to the proposed reductions by invoking the biblical image of God as a vine grower.

“The work of our synod is always to be conscious that we are called first to abide in Christ,” Archbishop Miller told synod members, “recognizing that tending the vine requires the removal of branches that bear no fruit, and branches that bear fruit too are to be pruned. Not one branch is left untouched.”

Indeed, few areas of the ecclesiastical province’s governance structures were left untouched by synod members. In addition to reducing the size of its governing bodies, the next three years will be spent studying the “possible realignment of dioceses within the province of Canada, with a view to reducing the number of dioceses to no fewer than three.”

There are currently seven dioceses in the ecclesiastical province, each with its own diocesan bishop and administrative staff and structure: Montreal, Quebec, Fredericton, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Western Newfoundland, Central Newfoundland, and Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.

Even if there is no reduction in the number of dioceses, synod members passed another motion committing the existing dioceses to consider sharing some administrative functions, “including human resources, performance review, information technology, payroll and benefits.”

A background note to the motions says the discussion about reducing the number of dioceses and consolidating administration is a reflection of “the changing demographic of the Anglican church within the ecclesiastical province of Canada in terms of both decreasing numbers and the increased cost of providing ecclesiastical services.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, attended part of the provincial synod and told delegates that similar conversations about restructuring are taking place across the country and at every level of the church, also motivated by demographic realities and a desire to become more effective in mission. Diminishing revenues mean the Anglican Church of Canada must determine which ministries and services are most effectively offered at the national level and what others can be carried out at the provincial, diocesan, and parish level.

Archbishop Miller admitted that some critics compare the church’s discussions about change to “just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” However, in his presidential address to synod members, the metropolitan noted that the doomed ship’s story isn’t entirely about unredeemed loss.

The Titanic‘s maiden voyage was “a journey with a promise and opportunity for a new life for most of the passengers on board,” the archbishop said. “Not all died in that tragedy. Sometimes we forget that a remnant was saved and realized that hope. Amid the tragedies and tests of this life there is much hope and reason to give thanks.”

Bruce Myers is editor of the Quebec Diocesan Gazette and communications officer for the ecclesiastical province of Canada.

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