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Archbishop to Synod: ‘You have permission to try out new things’

Archbishop Colin Johnson delivers his charge to Synod. Photo by Michael Hudson

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Highlights from the first day of Synod

Highlights from the second day of Synod

Watch the video of Bishop Jane Alexander’s address to Synod

Archbishop Colin Johnson delivered his charge to the Diocese of Toronto’s 155th Regular Session of Synod today.

By Archbishop Colin Johnson

The opening prayer for the feast of St. Andrew:  “Almighty God, you gave your apostle Andrew grace to believe in his heart and to confess with his lips that Jesus is Lord. Touch our lips and hearts, so that faith may burn within us and that we may share in the witness of your church to the whole human family, in Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Are you saved? When were you saved? Is Jesus Christ your personal saviour? I find those questions somewhat off-putting. They put me on my guard. Not because I don’t believe the questions themselves. Not because I don’t believe that they are true or that the questions are wrong. It’s often the tone and the assumptions behind the questions—the emotional and spiritual baggage, the degree of aggression, a certainty, an un-nuanced correct response that is required to these loaded words.

Is Jesus Christ your personal saviour? I rather like an old monk’s response to that: No, I prefer to share him with others.

There was a brilliant artist, now dead, who in a series of drawings illustrated Jesus’ life in the book, He Was One of Us. (A drawing from the book was shown on the screen at Synod.) Look at the drawing of Jesus’ disciples. Notice how each approached Jesus in a different way. There is the direct, inquisitive, perhaps even skeptical look. There is a glance away, perhaps distracted or not particularly paying attention to things. There’s a warm, genuine, open, friendly, ready-to-engage look. There’s one with eyes cast down, perhaps shy or humbled or a bit embarrassed or with devout piety. You see, there’s no one way to respond to Jesus. But the important thing is that there is a connection. All of these people have deliberately followed Jesus. They’re present and they’re trying to figure out this person—who he is and their part in his mission.

Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” He has already asked the question, “What do other people think?” But the real question is, “Who do you say that I am?” It’s important to remember that when Jesus asks this question, they have been together quite a while. The direction of the mission is beginning to becoming clearer, at least in one sense—they’re now heading towards Jerusalem. The specter of the cross is looming. Death is on the horizon. And yet they have no conception of resurrection. They’re frightened and even aghast. They haven’t signed up for this. This is not what they expected. This is not what they were prepared for. And they respond typically: they deny it. It can’t be. It can’t happen. But it’s in the very midst of their anxiety, as they look to this uncertain and seemingly dreadful mission where all seems to be lost, that Jesus asks this key question, “Who do you say that I am?” And the response is proffered–whether tentatively or boldly, whether it’s a leap of faith or a sudden insight or a growing articulation of a gradual understanding, who knows—but a statement nonetheless is uttered by Peter: “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.”

But the question is asked not just of Peter but of all of them—“Who do you say that I am?”—and the collect for today is the feast of St. Andrew, that God gave him grace to believe in his heart and to profess with his lips that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord. Not Caesar. Not the principalities and powers of this world. Not family, not money, not status, not the church, not self—but Jesus. In the midst of their confusion about what the mission is, there is a point of clarity. Having made that point of clarity, they can continue on because it was and is God’s mission—God’s eternal mission—and they’ve joined it.

As we set out in Synod today, we continue to develop a theme that we have been developing for the past decade—building communities of hope and compassion through investment in healthy parishes, strong leadership, appropriate infrastructure and responsive engagement with our neighbours. Why is this particular question from Jesus important? Well, you can’t be shaped for mission without knowing whose mission you’re on. The Diocese’s mission statement—now over 20 years old in its current form—is still valid: worship, proclaim, embody. Those are the key words. Or to flesh it out with a few more adjectives: godly worship, intelligent faith, compassionate service. I long for every parish in this Diocese to be missionally shaped. Every part of this Diocese shaped for mission. But you can’t be shaped for mission without knowing whose mission you’re working for.

Every parish missional—turned inside out because you’re sent out, moving from lectern and altar and kneeling desk, out into everyday life, into the world, for the sake of the world, for the sake of Christ.

You’ve heard before “every parish missional” and you’ll hear it a lot more over the next couple of days—in the keynote address by Bishop Jane Alexander, the bishop of Edmonton, in the address of Bishop Michael Hawkins in his report of the Council of the North, in the Missional Moments that will highlight particular pieces of work across our Diocese, and yes, even in the budget itself, which is organized to undergird our investment in healthy, missional communities across this Diocese, in rural, suburban and urban areas, rich and poor neighbourhoods, in traditional places and fresh expression places. But you can’t be shaped for mission without knowing whose mission you’re working for.

Being missional is not the flavour of the day, it’s not a program, it’s not a quick fix, it’s not about getting more people into our pews. It’s an attitude. It’s a way of being. It’s a response in faith to the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ, who is alive and present with us today through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Mission is rooted in the very nature of God—the God who reaches out and creates; the God who enters into relationships of love with God’s creatures; in the God who reveals the divine life and purposes to us in Jesus’ birth, way of life, his friendships and actions and teaching, his sacrificial death and resurrection, his ascension and the sending of the Spirit. God in Christ draws us as church and the whole creation to Himself in compassion, reconciliation and redemption. Mission is an orientation of our lives, to turn and face outward into the world, to find where God is already active and to join in.

For each of us, our mission as a church is to embrace and participate in God’s mission for the sake of the world. Each of us, as baptized members of Christ, shares in that mission, and it is a multi-faceted mission. Look at the Marks of Mission and you will see how multi-faceted mission is. But the key to all Christian mission is to know who Jesus is and to be able to make your faith explicit to others as well as to yourself, because we have not just a personal saviour but we need to be open to share.

The Natural Church Development process reveals that almost every parish surveyed—almost two-thirds of the Diocese—has a deficit not in money, not in people, not in programs, but in passionate spirituality, specifically Christology—how we understand who Jesus Christ is. We have difficulty answering the question, “Who do you say that I am?” and even more difficulty telling other people how we answer that. We’re reluctant to speak about our faith and hesitant to mention Jesus. Why? Because we don’t know Jesus? No, I don’t believe that for a moment. We—all of us here—are here because we’ve had a faith experience. We know something of the risen and glorified Jesus. We know something of the suffering Christ and the compassionate Christ—not just as old stories but as personal stories about Jesus and the Spirit in our lives, about the experience of God’s faithfulness in difficult times, of unexpected joys, of transformation and growth, of healing and reconciliation, of hope even in the presence of suffering, of willing self sacrifice and of the gracious receiving of love and compassion.

But if you and I are not speaking about the Jesus that you know, where will people hear about him, and from whom? And is that the message that you want them to hear about Jesus? Is that the message that’s true to the Jesus that you know as a faithful Anglican, an Anglican who has been formed by an encounter with Christ speaking through the scriptures as we wrestle with them and try to intelligently understand them, as we are shaped by the encounter with the life-giving Christ in the sacraments and in our worship, as we engage in loving service where Christ is encountered in the face of the neighbour? So we need to learn how to talk about our faith, to articulate the hope that lies within us. That’s the starting point of all missional activity.

Don’t be afraid. God has given us all the gifts we need. We have extraordinarily gifted clergy. We have extraordinarily gifted lay people. We have extraordinary resources. We have well trained teachers of the faith, both clergy and lay. We can engage in re-framing and re-imaging our church, both in what we’ve traditionally been very good at and also in trying out some new things. You have permission to try out new things. Drive the car. For God’s sake, drive the car for God’s sake.

We are not alone in this. You are not alone in this. Your parish likely has resources within it that are as yet untapped. You’re partners with neighbouring parishes and can offer opportunities to each other to enrich one another. The deanery of Victoria-Haliburton has a jointly sponsored resident Biblical scholar in its midst. Several Oshawa parishes are working towards a coordinated youth ministry that will reach out in new ways to youth. Some parishes are partnering with para-church organizations like Sanctuary that bring that organization’s expertise to bear on special ministries and provide the spiritual care and nurture that those people need. You can tell the stories of faith to each other and the world.

The outreach conferences that we’ve sponsored help people articulate their faith so that they can advocate with our members of provincial and federal parliament on behalf of the poor and the needy and the environment, and to speak as Anglican Christians. Do not let what you cannot do limit what you can do. In this Diocese, we have been consistently and consciously investing with a missional framework for over a decade. We have supported the infrastructure, the education and the experimental moments that have supported that. The Ministry Allocation Fund has provided over $20 million in the past decade to do this. We’ve had a bench-marking process that identifies best practices that work in our context. We’ve developed Canon 29 and other revisions of canons that allow what the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams calls the principled loosening of structures. We have a Diocesan Missioner who has brought continuity and advocacy and focus to the missional process. We’ve invested in missional education. The Vital Church Planting Conference has introduced missional vision and support. Our Synods, our outreach conferences, our social justice and advocacy and environmental activity, the Re-imagining Church programs and courses have engaged clergy and laity and have been led by the bishops, to say how important this is. The more intense Missional Transformational Process has engaged key clergy and laity to go deeper. We’ve had ongoing support for leaders and we’re recruiting new clergy and new lay leaders with a missional understanding. We’ve invested in missional experiments as well as invested in the tried and true ministries that are also missional. One of the keys things has been Reach Grants– small grants of money that have allowed people to use their imagination to reach out into their communities in new ways. That has happened all over the Diocese—in small rural parishes as well as large urban ones. We’ve invested in major projects like St. George the Martyr in Parkdale and Redeem the Commute in Ajax and Grace Church in Scarborough. We’re building greater capacities and strong parishes throughout the Diocese, from Port Hope to Cookstown to Parkdale. We’ve looked at cluster ministries, such as what is happening in Peterborough.

The Our Faith-Our Hope: Re-Imagine Church campaign has given us extraordinary financial resources to do this. I’m so grateful for your commitment to allow that program to happen. Let me give you an example. The area of Trent-Durham and the Diocese’s Communications department made an application to Our Faith-Our Hope for a communication project. One of the things they’re doing is using modern technology for Christian education, allowing small parishes to participate in quality Christian education through videos posted on the website. Trent-Durham is experimenting with Skype meetings by the regional deans. It’s providing a training day for parish teams in the use of social media to spread the Gospel. If the experiments work in Trent-Durham, they will be replicated in other parts of the Diocese. How much did that cost? The grant was $3,500. And we have $40 million available.

We have more to do. I’m about to appoint a small implementation group to put into effect immediately some of the recommendations of the Multicultural and Intercultural Task Force report, and to also recommend the priorities for the next steps. Within the next week, I’ll be appointing a Missional Strategy Group to identify “what’s next” for the missional priorities of the Diocese. We will continue to meet the basic needs of people living in desperate circumstances across our Diocese, to engage in advocacy on behalf of the poor, including the working poor and those on disability, the homeless and environmental issues. We’re doing that because we’re called as part of our baptismal covenant, as part of the Marks of Mission, to be stewards of God’s creation and to be faithful to our incarnational theology.

Mission is about transformation. We are called, in imitation of Jesus and in obedience to Christ, to be agents of hope and reconciliation—hope, not optimism. Hope not that people will avoid change. Hope not that we will avoid pain and loss or death. But enduring hope, courageous hope, imaginative hope, hope borne out of the lived experience of faithful Christians over millennia: that pain, loss or death are not the last words in God’s reign. Hope that is rooted in deep trust in God whose mission we join, God who is revealed in the person of Jesus, and that’s why it’s important to name our faith. Our mission is grounded in hope that Jesus’ birth and time, his life and witness and friendship, his witness to God’s mission, his death and resurrection, make a decisive difference in the world, that God’s mission in Christ transforms individual lives, communities and the world, and we bear witness to that in word and deed by what we do in his name as individuals, as a church, as this Synod today and every day.

Let’s hear again the prayer for St. Andrew’s Day: “Almighty God, you gave your apostle Andrew grace to believe in his heart and to confess with his lips that Jesus is Lord. Touch our lips and hearts, that faith may burn within us and that we may share in the witness of your church to the whole human family, in Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”