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Highlights from Day 1 of Synod

Synod begins with Eucharist
The Diocese of Toronto’s 159th Regular Session of Synod began on Nov. 8 at 10:30 a.m. with a Eucharist, which included an acknowledgment that it was being held on traditional First Nations land. Some of the prayers and hymns were in Spanish. The theme of Synod is “Created and Recreated in Christ.” St. Paul tells the Church in Corinth, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation,” reminding us that God’s recreative purpose is ongoing. Synod is being held at the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel & Suites in Richmond Hill.

Bishop Andrew Asbil delivers his Charge to Synod. Photo by Michael Hudson

Bishop gives Charge to Synod
During the Eucharist, Bishop Andrew Asbil gave his Charge to Synod. Watch the video. He spoke about pruning for growth, of letting go of dead wood and trying new things for the sake of the gospel. “It is not a time to be afraid; it is a time to have courage,” he said. His Charge touched on a number of subjects, including discipleship, the proposed changes to the diocese’s governance structure, General Synod’s decision regarding the marriage canon and “A Word to the Church”, caring for Creation, and his first year as a bishop.

Numbers of Synod members announced
On Day 1 of Synod, there were 310 laity and 270 clergy present and eligible to vote at Synod.

Game raises money to send youth to CLAY
The Bishop’s Youth Ministry Committee invited Synod members to take part in a game at Synod to raise money to help youth from the diocese travel to CLAY, the Lutheran and Anglican youth conference that will be held next year in Calgary. The committee hopes the diocese will send at least 20 youth to the conference. The game was available at the Bishop’s Youth Ministry Committee table in the foyer.

Members practice electronic voting
As in previous Synods, members used electronic devices, called response pads, to vote. They were given instructions and asked three mock questions, to practice. In a light-hearted moment, Synod members were asked if they wanted Synod to adjourn. 67.4 voted in favour and 32.6 were opposed.  

Synod members. Photo by Michael Hudson

Synod thanks sponsors
Synod thanked the following sponsors:    

  • Letko, Brosseau and Associates
  • Fiera Capital
  • Canso Investment Counsel Limited
  • Northleaf Capital Partners
  • Ecclesiastical Insurance
  • M&M International
  • Quartet, IT Security and Support Service
  • Burgundy Asset Management Ltd.
  • Trinity College
  • Wycliffe College

Diocesan Council’s Report received
Synod received Diocesan Council’s Report to Synod, which can be found in Section B of the Convening Circular. This report contains a list of Council members, a summary of all policy and major items discussed or approved by Council, and a summary of diocesan grants, loans and other funding. A highlight of the report is a section on Diocesan Grants, Loans and Other Funding. A total of $6.8 million in grants and loans were awarded from 37 different funding and granting streams from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

Missional & Outreach Moment
Throughout Synod, members are hearing about how the diocese is living out its vision in the Missional & Outreach Moments – how communities are moving beyond their walls to find new ways of meeting people who are not being reached by traditional forms of Church, and how our churches are reaching out to the poor, the marginalized and the homeless.

In the first Missional & Outreach Moment, Lee Lynn and Denise Farrugia of St. Martin, Bay Ridges, spoke about the work of the church’s communication and social media team. They said the church’s website and Facebook page are the “front door” for many newcomers, and that its efforts at “digital evangelism” have paid off, reaching individuals and groups in the wider community and forming bonds with the church. The church strives to take part in two global online initiatives each year – Social Media Sunday and AdventWord. They encouraged other churches to use online communication for evangelism and missionary work. To those who are resisting, they asked, “If Jesus were alive today, would he use social media to spread his message of love and hope?”

Synod members provide the music. Photo by the Rev. Tay Moss

Synod votes on proposed changes to governance structure
Mark Hemingway of the diocese’s Governance and Decision-Making Working Group spoke about proposed changes to the diocese’s governance structure, so that it is more effective in helping the diocese accomplish its mission. After extensive consultations with Diocesan Council, the College of Bishops and others, the group made the following recommendations:

  • Diocesan Council and the Executive Board be amalgamated into one body called Synod Council.
  • The size of Synod Council be reduced so that there be a maximum of 25 members.
  • Six committees be established: Audit Committee, Finance Committee, Property Committee, Human Resources Committee, Programs Committee and Risk and Governance Committee.
  • Existing committees be amalgamated.
  • Members of the committees would not necessarily be members of Synod.
  • The committees would have decision-making authority delegated to them with parameters established by Synod and Synod Council.

The Governance and Decision-Making Working Group recommended that the changes be implemented during a two-year pilot project, with a report about the outcome going to the next regular session of Synod. Chancellor Clare Burns explained that some changes would have to be made to the diocese’s Constitution and canons for the recommendations to be implemented on a pilot basis.  

The matter generated much discussion and debate. Several people felt that Synod would not have enough representation on the proposed Synod Council and committees. They also expressed concern about how the progress of the pilot project would be measured. Others said the proposed changes did not come with financial implications. Other Synod members supported the proposals, saying they would help to streamline the decision-making process, which is generally seen as too slow and unwieldy; they said the pilot project would allow the diocese to test and refine the changes during the pilot stage.

After more than an hour of discussion, Synod approved a motion – Motion #7A(ii) – to receive and approve the pilot project in principle; the motion needed a simple majority (50 + 1) to pass. However, the motion to change the parts of the Constitution dealing with the pilot project – Motion #9B – was defeated. The motion required 75% approval in each of the houses of clergy and laity to succeed. It was approved in the house of laity but received 74.3% in the house of clergy. Since the motion failed, the matter will be referred to the next regular session of Synod.  

The motions dealing with the Constitution and canon changes can be found in Section F of the Convening Circular.

Liturgical dancers perform during the opening service. Photo by Michael Hudson                    

Synod hears from guest speaker
Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat, an adjunct professor at Trinity College and Wycliffe College and the Biblical Scholar in Residence at St. James, Fenelon Falls, spoke to Synod about The Biblical Story and human beings’ place in it, as both “earth creatures” and the living spirit of God. She spoke about the key chapters in the story, including Creation, The Fall, The Flood, Abraham, Exodus, Exile, the Promise of Salvation, Jesus the Messiah, Pentecost, the Early Church, and the New Creation. Humans caring for the earth, God’s creation, was a constant theme running through her talk. It is when humans strayed from this core purpose that calamity often happened, she said.  

In the second part of her talk, given after dinner, she spoke about the current environmental crisis and asked, “How did we get here and how do we have hope in the midst of it?” She said we can find answers by going to our founding story, the narrative that runs through the Bible. We are not the first people to deal with such calamity, she said; the Bible tells of others who faced similar threats and survived. She spoke in particular about Noah and the Flood, Jeremiah and the Israelites in Babylon, and the Book of Revelation, written during a time of environmental devastation. She said we can begin to turn the tide of the current environmental and humanitarian disaster, which we helped to create and sustain, by breaking our dependency on the world economy and instead focusing on local initiatives such as buying local products and services and investing in skills and “ark” places that nourish people and sustain the earth. She urged individuals and churches to plant gardens wherever possible, making local produce available to all and modelling new ways of being, seeking God’s kingdom first rather than their own safety and comfort. Like those in the Bible stories, “we should be willing to take risks and embrace this sacrificial way of living,” she said. In closing, she said, “The New Creation is the place where Jesus calls us to live with him, so close your eyes and dream.”  

Synod members attend breakout sessions
Synod members took part in the following workshops:

  • Can you give 1% more? Five simple steps parishes can follow that will lead to positive stewardship outcomes
  • Leveraging the Power of Legacy Gifts in Your Parish
  • Understanding the Diocesan Grants Process
  • Strengthening Relations: Indigenous Ministries and You
  • Consultation Workshop on Discipleship
  • Supporting Vital Ministry and Mission
  • Highlights from the Clergy Remuneration Working Group’s Report to the Bishop
A slide from the presentation on the Neechee Circle. Photo from #synodTO

Missional & Outreach Moment
The Rev. Leigh Kern, the diocese’s Coordinator of Indigenous Ministries and Reconciliation Animator, spoke about the Neechee Circle, held each Thursday at Allen Gardens in downtown Toronto. The Indigenous-led Neechee Circle includes singing prayers, a hot meal and support for participants. She said that treaties stated that Indigenous peoples could freely move, tent, camp, hunt, fish and live on the land here, and yet they are routinely harassed by the police and others. She spoke about the people involved in the Neechee Circle, including Laverne Malcolm, who is the leader. The circle is fully accessible and barrier-free, she said. She spoke about friends who have died from the opioid crisis or have been murdered or incarcerated. “The transformative and radical hospitality of Christ is enfleshed at the circle,” she said. Her presentation ended with a video of drumming at the circle.

New canons named
The following have been made honorary canons of St. James Cathedral:

  • The Rev. Canon Judy Allen, Holy Family, Heart Lake, Brampton
  • Canon Brian Armstrong, ODT, Vice Chancellor of the diocese
  • The Rev. Canon Hernan Astudillo, San Lorenzo, Dufferin Street
  • The Rev. Canon Joyce Barnett, St. Matthias, Bellwoods
  • The Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, St. Timothy, North Toronto
  • The Rev. Canon Richard Dentinger, former director of Human Resources
  • The Rev. Canon Gloria Master, Parish of Lakefield
  • The Rev. Canon Lucy Reid, St. Aidan, Toronto
  • The Rev. Canon Geoffrey Sangwine, St. Peter and St. Simon, Bloor Street
  • The Rev. Canon Ruthanne Ward, Church of the Ascension, Port Perry
  • The Rev. Canon Darrell Wright, Parish of Mulmur
  • The Rev. Canon Paul G. Walker, retired

Synod adjourned with Evening Prayer.