Highlights from the 147th Synod of the Diocese of Niagara

Synod faces forward - called to life and compelled to love

Posted November 1, 2021

Bishop Susan Bell invited members of the 147th Synod of the Diocese of Niagara to “lean into God’s provision and protection with joy," in response to the Apostle Paul’s call in Philippians 4:4-9.

This passage inspired the theme of synod, Facing Forward: Called to Life, Compelled to Love. Convened on Saturday, October 30, this was the second diocesan synod to held via videoconference. 

After being called to order by the Bishop, Canon Susan Wilson offered a territorial acknowledgment from the garden at St. Matthew on-the-Plains in Burlington, on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe. Janice Whiteley hearkened synod back to Archdeacon Val Kerr’s words from last year concerning reconciliation. She reminded synod that “What would Jesus do” as a refrain for life can take many forms, but it especially means examining our own hearts with honesty as we move forward with matters of truth and reconciliation.

The Bishop’s Charge

Bishop's ChargeBIshop Susan Bell’s charge to synod was organized by guiding members through the theme passage of Philippians 4:4-9, considering the moments and ministries for which there can be great rejoicing, despite the pandemic.

The move from hope last year to rejoicing this year is partly due to all that has been accomplished as the fourth wave of the pandemic ebbs. The vaccine has proven effective as all Niagara clergy and a great number of parishioners have been vaccinated, and COVID-19 protocols are now able to be loosened. The patience and caution embodied throughout the pandemic, the Bishop observed, reflects our love for our neighbours, and we must continue facing forward with God’s help.

The diocese has been blessed by a number of recent ordinations and appointments, the Bishop noted. Most recently, Susie Kim and Rob Miller have been appointed to serve as missioners to help the diocese continue reimagining missional ministry. The launch of the Niagara School for Missional Leadership  also signals a new way forward in supporting lay and ordained leaders in learning new skills for ministry.

Bishop Bell also spoke to levels of support the diocese is focused on providing to our parishes and people in the coming year. Funds for clergy wellness and differentiated curacies are an investing in the development of skills and gifts of leaders to be more faithful to God’s calling on our lives. Additionally, coming out of the previous year’s work with the Mission Action Plan (MAP), Canon Christyn Perkons has shepherded an initiative to develop a Parish MAP Process to guide individual parishes in support, vision, and mission.

The Bishop concluded her remarks by expressing thanks to the many people who guide, support, and enable the ministry of the diocese, including retiring treasurer and director fo finance, Canon Jody Beck.  To the members of synod she offered this affirmation: “the Church is you all…despite the tragedy and difficulty of the pandemic; despite the fear that has characterized this time, we have done our best to rest in the provision and protection of the Holy One who gives us joy in the midst of adversity and strength in a time of weakness. And you know, that’s been enough. It’s been enough for us to carry on being the Church; to carry on being the face and hands of Christ as we face forward in faith and hope and love.”

Diocesan Safe Church Policy Presentation

Archdeacon Bill Mous and Chancellor Greg Tweney presented the diocese’s new Safe Church Policy to synod for endorsement. One of the key developments was the implementation of the Anglican Communion Charter for the Safety of People, with five core commitments. The policy was reviewed and approved by Synod Council in May and June 2021, and took effect on October 1. The new policy enhances the safeguards in place for ministries. This updated policy is “intended to support safe spaces for all members of our diocese. It allows us to respond to a wider spectrum of situations that might leave someone feeling unsafe,” Archdeacon Mous explained, including conflict, harassment, discrimination, violence, and abuse. Chancellor Tweney reflected that this direction forward “speaks about our commitment to God, to one another, and ourselves,” and Archdeacon Mous agreed that it helps us “live even more deeply” into our mission in the diocese.

New CanonsAppointment of Canons

The Bishop, in concert with Dean Tim Dobbin, announced the appointment of three people as honourary canons of Christ's Church Cathedral: Bahman Kalantari, rector of Church of Our Saviour The Redeemer, Stoney Creek; Sue-Ann Ward, regional dean for Trafalgar, rector of Grace Church, Waterdown; and Greg Tweney, diocesan chancellor.

Missional Moments

Two missional moments were shared with the participants of synod to highlight ministries emerging from the implementation of the diocesan Missional Action Plan. This year, the Niagara School for Missional Leadership was launched with six courses, and a promotional video was shared highlighting reflections from Bishop Susan Bell and several teacher-practitioners and student-practitioners on the significance and timeliness of such a ministry to engage lay and ordained leaders in theological and pastoral training. Second, a video presented by Archdeacon Jeff Ward reflected on the Mission in Acts ministry, focused on Chinese mission and ministry in Oakville. Through the pandemic, this ministry continues to serve seniors, children, and youth especially, beginning with newcomers to Canada and to the faith, guided by the leadership of Chinese Anglican Missioner Garfield Wu.

Canon Changes

Members of synod considered and approved three amendments to the diocesan canons. The first amendment, to Canon 1.4, adds flexibility with regard to receiving nominations from the floor for the election of delegate to provincial or general synods. By removing this clause, all regulations related to such elections are left in the care of synod council. The second amendment clarifies the text of Canon 2.1 which describes who is entitled to vote at an episcopal election and aligns eligibility with the membership of synod described in Canon 1.1. The third revision was made to bring a canon more in line with current practice with regards to providing insurance coverage for parish ministries and the buildings and property entrusted to their care, and to add some flexibility for synod council to approve functional replacement or demolition-only coverage in specific situations.

Anti-Racism Working Group

Chair Naomi Kabugi shared about the journey of learning about racism and listening to the movement of the Spirit. “Racism work takes different expressions—but as the working group of the Diocese of Niagara has been listening and wrestling, we ask: what is the difference we are trying to bring here? How does anti-racism based on a Christian perspective work?” She highlighted how reflecting on the promises made in baptism can be a lens through which Anglicans can address the racism deeply embedded in Christian culture, calling out the evils of this world and mandating the Church to break down barriers and eradicate systemic and structural racism.

A video presentation included reflections by several members of the Anti-Racism Working Group.

Naomi Kabugi followed this up by drawing synod’s attention to the ongoing column in the Niagara Anglican featuring participants in the Anti-Racism Working Group. She also outlined a “Made in Niagara” anti-racism framework that encourages vulnerability and the development of contextual educational programs for individuals and parishes, updates human resource policies, and ensures the establishment of a “Train the Facilitators” program for leadership development in anti-racist work. The Bishop passionately affirmed these calls, and noted that we must not wound our brethren further.

Canon Christyn Perkons then invited members of synod to reflect on their engagement in anti-racism work through their own baptismal vows and share these thoughts in the Zoom chat, which quickly was over-flowing with comments. Delegates reflected on the need to listen and learn, as well as to recognize and acknowledge the racism in their midst in order to confront and respond to it.  As Canon Penny Anderson, rector of St. Christopher’s in Burlington stated, “My baptism includes a call to engage in decolonizing the Church.”

Climate Justice Niagara

Sue Carson, chair of the Climate Justice Niagara Committee, shared plans for reducing the amount of greenhouse emissions parishes contribute to the environment. “Climate change is the most important issue facing us; we must challenge unjust social and environmental concerns!” She reflected that the pandemic has increased the number of challenges we face in our parishes, but that contributing to the reversal of climate change is something we can all participate in. Prayer, education, action, and advocacy are key components of the committee’s mandate and will help reduce carbon emissions. Future goals include green auditing and participating in global events to secure the future generations of the world. “We will be showing communities that we care and that we love our planet and stand with those who are already suffering from the effects of climate change.” A motion was passed which mandates Climate Justice Niagara to assist and resource parishes to complete a walk-through energy audit of their church buildings by the end of 2022 as a guide to create a parish plan to reach a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of at least ten percent by 2024.

Diocesan Budget

Archdeacon Peter Scott, chair the Missional Budget Planning Committee, presented the 2022 diocesan budget. Guiding principles for the committee included the continued support for parishes, and moving ahead with the diocesan Mission Action Plan. “There has been a lot to rejoice about this year,” shared, Archdeacon Scott, citing the generosity of parishioners, parish technology grant for parishes enabled online worship across the diocese, and having received stabilizing funds from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). Still, he noted that “these are tough times, and this is a budget for these times.”

New initiatives include enhancing our ability to “pastor the pastors,” including the Niagara School for Missional Leadership in the budget and adding funding for differentiated curacies and supporting the work of the Anti-Racism Working Group. “The work of God’s mission continues to be lived out through this budget,” Archdeacon Scott declared.

Projected expenses for the year have been kept modest as possible, with a $3.9 million investment in ministry. Revenue has been held to approximately the same as 2020. The sale of property will assist the diocese in reducing the deficit next year and help fund diocesan missional priorities, with a focus on leadership initiatives. The projected operating deficit is $91,700, with a cash shortfall of $169,930 after capital expenses for technology and draws from investments.

Members of synod roundly approved the 2022 diocesan budget.

Tenth Sacred Circle

Archdeacon Valerie Kerr reflected on the Tenth Sacred Circle, the national decision-making body for Indigenous Anglicans in Canada. It was the first Sacred Circle held virtually, commencing with the lighting of the Sacred Fire on July 14. First Nations people, Inuit, and Métis gathered online with Archbishop Mark MacDonald to talk about their experiences, hopes for the future, and relationships with the wider Anglican Church of Canada.  The theme was “Returning Home: Remembering the Lost.” Participants met in breakout groups to continue drafting a document entitled Our Way of Life that will serve as a constitution and by-laws for the emerging, self-governing Indigenous Church.

Election Results

Members of synod voted electronically for delegates for 2022 General Synod, to be held in Calgary in July. Delegates in the order of clergy include Tim Dobbin, Katherine Morgan, and David Anderson. Delegates in the order of laity include Andrew Clinkard, Jodey Porter, and Susan Little.

Synod also elected the following members to the roles of regional representatives to synod council: Rod McDowell (Brock), Thomas LIttlewood (Greater Wellington), Cheryl Barker (Hamilton-Haldimand), and Rob Towler (Lincoln) and Janice Whiteley and Winston Tinglin (Trafalgar).

Additionally, synod elected Garfield Wu (clergy), Mary Churchill (lay), and Mary Donkin (lay) as representatives from the Diocese of Niagara to the Corporation of Trinity College, for a two-year term.