Synod is in the air! Pre-Synod takes place tomorrow morning online, and our Synod gathering is just four short weeks from today. It will be such a joy to be together again in person. See you in the ‘crush court’!
What makes Synod especially exciting this year is that the winds of change are blowing through the life of this Diocese. The team working on our visioning process called Cast the Net are convinced of it after their extensive consultations with clergy and laity. Now they can’t wait to share their recommendations to Pre-Synod tomorrow and Synod next month. I am excited about their work and believe it is time for us to bring a new focus to how we work and witness, live and minister together in our Diocese.
First, a reminder of where this is all coming from. In the spring of last year, we were becoming conscious of the huge, permanent changes to our Church and our world caused by the pandemic. We were also aware that the previous diocesan strategic plan was coming to the end of its life cycle. Synod Council and the College of Bishops initiated a process through which we could listen to the Gospel call, and to the many diverse voices of our Diocese, to discern a way forward. We chose the scriptural text of John 21 to guide our way. The story of how the Risen Christ invited his disciples to cast their net on the other side of their boat served as a powerful metaphor for doing things differently.
Thanks to the energy and skills of the steering committee, plus advice from a small consulting team, a listening process was initiated. In addition to online surveys, there were in-person sessions with about 80% of diocesan clergy, facilitated Zoom conversations with some 500 lay leaders from congregations and parishes, and multiple meetings with Synod Council, bishops, archdeacons, regional deans, and Synod Office staff. Focus groups were also held with various groups representing particular perspectives, such as clergy coaches, hospital and school chaplains, youth and young adult ministries, multi-cultural and multi-lingual congregations, the Anglican Church Women, FaithWorks ministries, and the Diocesan Volunteer Corps. Extensive verbatim notes were taken and later analyzed to identify both common themes and the range of views on key issues.
We’ve been pleased to hear how much all these folk appreciated the opportunity to be heard as they shared their joys and sorrows, anxieties and hopes about how to live the Gospel in these challenging times. The experience of this listening process confirms that these kinds of conversations need to continue as a way for us to work more effectively together.
Just over a month ago, I was part of a two-day working retreat at St. John’s Convent in Willowdale. Members of the Cast the Net steering committee, led by co-chairs the Rev. Dr Alison Falby and Dave Toycen, ODT, as well as our consultants, met with the bishops, archdeacons, and diocesan staff leadership team to review the draft vision statement and calls to the Diocese that have emerged in response to the listening process. The vision has many components; at its heart is the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the centre of all we do.
The revised documents, along with a powerful graphic representation of the concepts and commitments behind them, are now posted in the Synod docket and on the Cast the Net page of our diocesan website, along with a wealth of background information. Please have a look! If the proposals are endorsed in principle by Synod in November, more work will be done over the following months, under the direction of Synod Council, to flesh them out in more detail.
Already, Synod Council has embraced and funded a “Season of Spiritual Renewal” for the Diocese of Toronto in 2024 and 2025. More information will be available in the coming months about how each parish and congregation can make this season integral to their life and ministry over the next two years. Many other proposals will be brought forward to strengthen our work of witness and action in the world, to reimagine our ordained and lay ministries, and to transform our diocesan culture.
My hope is that this work will help the Diocese of Toronto move away from the hierarchical structures that can sometimes inhibit the ministry of Christ, and instead become a network of communities, where each and every part expresses the hope to which we are called. I also pray that we can spend less time and energy worrying about institutional sustainability, and instead focus on discerning what God is calling us to be and do, in this time and place – and acting in response to that call.
Please take the time to become better informed about Cast the Net. Please speak to those who will be members of Synod, so they can come with your comments and questions, as well as their own. And please pray for this process, as together as Anglicans in this Diocese we take another step forward to being God’s people, doing God’s work, in God’s world.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto
P.S. Thank you for your prayers for the Rev. Canon Philip Hobson, the Rev. Jeanette Lewis and the Rev. Shelley McVea, who I am relieved to report are all now home from Israel. We thank God for their safe return, and continue to pray for an end to the shocking violence in the Land of the Holy One.