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Large turnout for town hall in York-Credit Valley

Grace Karram Stephenson of St. Martin in-the-Fields, Toronto, listens during table group discussions. Photos by Michael Hudson

By Stuart Mann

More than 100 people – twice the number hoped – attended Bishop Jenny Andison’s first town hall meeting in York-Credit Valley to hear people’s hopes, concerns and ideas for the future of the episcopal area, located in the southwest corner of the diocese.

Held at St. John the Baptist, Dixie in Mississauga on Sept. 19, the event included passionate discussions, insightful comments, stirring remarks by Bishop Andison, and lots of opportunities for people to get to know each other.

“It’s my first time at something like this and I really enjoyed meeting everyone from the different churches,” said Grace Karram Stephenson, a member of St. Martin in-the-Fields, Toronto. “I’m a young parent trying to figure out how to raise my kids and how to get to church on Sunday, so to meet people with different priorities is really helpful.”

Her comments were echoed by others. “I thought it was a great forum for networking between clergy and laypeople,” said the Rev. Julie Meaken, incumbent of Holy Family, Heart Lake, in Brampton. “It was a really good opportunity to hear other people’s thoughts and ideas about who we are as Church in York-Credit Valley and what we’re being called to in terms of ministry. I felt it was very open and honest, and I really appreciated Bishop Jenny telling us how she would use what was shared to pray for this area and how she was open to listening to our concerns and our hopes.”

A member of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Bramalea, shares ideas with other groups.

Participants were seated at tables with people from other parishes. Over the course of the evening, they were asked to answer four questions: Where do you most clearly see God’s transformative action today in the world and your neighbourhood? What place or situation in our world or neighbourhoods do you think needs to be transformed by God’s love and mercy? What is the most exciting thing about doing ministry in York-Credit Valley? What are the two aspects of ministry in York-Credit Valley that require increased attention and resources?

Participants shared their answers with each other and with other table groups. Some groups were asked to report back to the entire gathering. There was a lot of common ground. Areas of interest included children’s and youth ministry, Christian formation and discipleship, sharing the Gospel in word and action, and providing financial support to churches that have good ideas for ministry.

Bishop Andison said she will read every answer and pray about them. She said she was energized by the responses. “There’s a lot of hope. I didn’t hear resistance to change. I didn’t hear doom and gloom. I heard a clear-eyed realism about where we’re at and some of the changes we need to make.

“People are not apathetic,” she added. “They love their churches, they love God, they love their neighbourhood, and they’re trying to figure out how to connect all those up. They want to see a vision and be involved in it. They want to build a culture of trust and collaboration.”

Bishop Jenny Andison speaks shares her observations about York-Credit Valley.

Halfway through the evening, Bishop Andison shared some of her observations about York-Credit Valley, where she has been the area bishop for the past nine months. Among her observations are that many parishes are well connected to their neighbourhoods and are asking what God is calling them to do. She said many churches are open to thoughtful, discerning change for the sake of the Gospel. She spoke about a generational shift taking place and the need to raise up the next generation of lay leaders. She spoke about her passion for catechesis and “the making of saints.”

In her closing remarks, she provided hope and encouragement for her area. “I believe that God gives us everything we need to do God’s work at this time and in this place. I believe we have everything we need to follow where God is leading in York-Credit Valley. We will need to realign some of our resources, we will need to refocus a number of our priorities, and we will need to let go of some things that are no longer building the kingdom. We may not always like or be able to anticipate where God is leading, but I can promise you that it will be good. It will be good because our gracious God either gives what we ask for in prayer, or our gracious God will give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything that God knows. So it will be good. Our trust and hope for the future is not in ourselves, it’s not in me or area council or Synod – it’s in the character of our God, who is gracious and loving, and will only give us what we would have prayed for if we had the mind of Christ.”

A report on the meeting will be made available to participants from Bishop Andison’s office in the coming weeks. Another town hall is planned for January to discuss next steps.