Highlights from the 149th Synod of the Diocese of Niagara

Posted November 6, 2023

Over 200 people gathered together for the 149th Synod of the Diocese of Niagara with the theme “Stewarding God’s Gifts for Mission.”  

The Synod of the Diocese of Niagara is an annual meeting in which elected parish representatives, along with licensed clergy and other delegates and appointees, discern the Spirit's leading for the mission of the diocese, which normally includes financial updates, changes to canons and policies, and a number of governance matters. This year, Synod was convened online via Zoom on Saturday, November 4. 

At the outset of Synod, Bishop Susan Bell delivered her charge to Synod, which centered on the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14–30 and highlighted the many ways the diocese and its parishes are stewarding God's gifts for mission. Bishop Bell encouraged members of synod to remember that God has trusted those in the Diocese of Niagara with much, and that “God calls us to engage in the risk of faith; to become more and more like Christ and to live into the health and diversity of the mixed ecology – mission and tradition – the new and ancient Church.” 

The bishop announced that the diocesan Mission Action Plan would be renewed in the coming year. Members of synod had an opportunity to engage with the current plan and explore what was on their hearts for the mission of the diocese in the coming years. Bishop Bell also highlighted the relief efforts underway in Ukraine and the Holy Land through The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and the almost 500 people resettled in communities throughout the diocese in the past decade through refugee sponsorship. Galvanized by the increasing climate breakdown, Bishop Bell noted that Climate Justice Niagara is engaging with one of the Lambeth Calls to join the Communion Forest movement, tangibly living out the baptismal covenant.  

The bishop drew her charge to a conclusion with words of encouragement to continue to dream big and live into the Mission Action Plan process. "God is calling us to a bigger vision than we could ever imagine on our own.  Remember that without risk there is no growth.  With a vision, the people flourish"

Bishop Bell, in concert with Dean Tim Dobbin, announced the appointment of Pam Guyatt and Nirmal Mendis as honourary canons of Christ’s Church Cathedral. The bishop also recognized the recipients of several prestigious awards: Canon Donna Bomberry, who received the Anglican Award of Merit; Archbishop Colin Johnson, who received the Cross of St. Augustine for Services to the Anglican Communion; and Dr. John Bowen, who received the Alphege Award for Evangelism and Witness from the Archbishop of Canterbury.  

Synod members heard from Canon Terry Charters, who shared stories about the missional focus of the Bishop’s Advisory Committee for Property Renewal, which seeks to help the diocese steward its many and varied properties for the next season of the Church’s ministry. Canon Charters highlighted the recently completed condo development which supports All Saints Mission, the development plans for the former Grace Church, St. Catharines property, as well as the use of the former St. Peter's church by St. Matthew’s House in Hamilton.  

Canon Drew MacDonald spoke about the feasibility study that is underway regarding a potential parish-focused campaign, highlighting the desire of diocesan leaders to hear from as many people as possible about where they see the Holy Spirit leading the diocese.  

The 2024 diocesan budget was presented by Archdeacon Peter Scott, Dean Tim Dobbin, and Treasurer Kemi Okwelum. They highlighted how through the budget and Diocesan Mission & Ministry contributions, we can do more together and that each parish of our diocese is participating in missional work, locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. The treasurer noted that while revenues will decline in 2024, expenditures are more or less flat. Due to draws on the gains on investments as well as a repayment of a mortgage, the diocese is projected to have an overall operating surplus. 

"This budget represents the Diocese of Niagara’s compelling witness of love and demonstrates there is a growing energy and enthusiasm within parishes for leaning more deeply into Jesus-shaped living and discipleship that moves us all closer to inhabiting God’s reign," said Archdeacon Peter Scott, chair of the budget committee. Members overwhelmingly passed the 2024 diocesan budget, representing an investment of 3.7 million dollars in ministry. 

Synod members also heard presentations about God’s flourishing mission in a variety of contexts. Synod delegates heard from Canon Ian Mobsby, community missioner, and Emily Hill, parish development missioner, about their missional work across the diocese, both with parishes as well as with the de- and un-churched.  

Irene Pang and Dierdre Pike spoke about The Communion Forest initiative, which was described by Archbishop Justin Welby as "a symbol and an act of hope." They recognized that many parishes are already engaged in actions to steward and safeguard God's creation and encouraged parishes to get involved in the Communion Forest, with support from Climate Justice Niagara.

Toward the end of Synod, Chancellor Greg Tweney spoke about a proposed canon change which regularizes the process for Synod membership for clergy and lay representatives of joint Anglican-Lutheran congregations. The change was approved, a significant step in the diocese's living out of this full communion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Synod elected the following people as regional representatives to Synod Council, for a two-year term: Jody Szoke (Brock), Thomas Littlewood (Greater-Wellington), Susan Little (Hamilton-Haldimand), Rob Towler (Lincoln), and Amy Collard (Trafalgar). Winston Tinglin was also elected to serve Trafalgar for a one-year term, returning the region to its normal election pattern.

Delegates were also elected for Provincial Synod, which will be hosted by the Diocese of Algoma in the fall of 2024. In the Order of Clergy, Terry Holub, Bill Mous, Sheila Plant, and Rob Towler were elected. In the Order of Laity, Janice Whiteley, Amy Collard, Jodey Porter, and Susan Little were elected. A youth member will be appointed by the bishop at a later date. 

After giving her assent to the actions of the Synod, Bishop Bell gave thanks to all who contributed to making it a Spirit-filled gathering, especially members of synod, before concluding the Synod with worship and a blessing.