As we enter a new year and approach the season for parish Vestry meetings, questions have arisen regarding how Vestry lists are to be assembled and lay members of Synod elected. Our Canons require members of vestry lists to be “members of the Anglican Church of Canada” and to have attended three “regularly scheduled services of worship” in the preceding year in the relevant parish in order to be members of vestry. To be eligible for election to Synod, lay members are required by our Constitution to have taken communion three times in the year preceding the election.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting church closures and suspension of the Eucharist, many people in our Diocese may be unable to meet these requirements this year. Accordingly, Diocesan Council has addressed these issues so as to make it possible for Anglicans in our Diocese to be considered members of vestry and eligible for election to Synod.
At its December 17, 2020 meeting, Diocesan Council addressed these issues in a series of motions. The first motion declared that for the purposes of Canon 14, “”regularly scheduled services of worship” shall include any service conducted by conference call or virtual meeting platforms whether live-streamed or pre-recorded, for the period since March 13, 2020 and on a continuing basis until Diocesan Council declares otherwise.”
Council further passed a motion declaring that “lay members of the Diocese have not had the opportunity to communicate within the meaning of the Constitution since March 13, 2020 and continue to be without that opportunity by virtue of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” While some Anglicans may have received communion in one kind after churches were re-opened in September, others will have stayed away from in-person services or declined to communicate, due to the ongoing health risk. These Anglicans can thus be certified by their incumbents/chairs of vestry meetings as eligible to serve as lay members of Synod, provided they meet the other requirements for that office. Diocesan Council will reverse this declaration at the point in the future when Council is satisfied that it is safe to return to worship.
Finally, the number of lay representatives each parish or designated ministry is entitled to send to Diocesan Synod is based on the average weekly attendance at that parish or designated ministry. Given the restrictions on in-person worship during the pandemic as well as the difficulty of determining reliable attendance numbers for virtual forms of worship, Diocesan Council passed a motion declaring that, for the purposes of Diocesan Synod in 2021, each parish vestry or designated ministry will be eligible to elect the same number of lay members as that parish or ministry elected for Diocesan Synod in 2019. This declaration follows a similar approach recently taken by Council of General Synod in determining the number of delegates for General Synod 2022.
These motions will ensure that our parish and Diocesan governance bodies can be properly constituted despite the unusual conditions of this pandemic year.