Intentional Listening Final Report to Council of General Synod, November 2003

At the meeting of the Council of General Synod in November 2002, members were asked to take the results of two Environics surveys home with them and gather reactions from people and officials in their dioceses.

Twenty-one dioceses and the Military Ordinariate have held Intentional Listening events or have found other ways to collect the data. One diocese held three regional events. Some of the more remote areas completed the task through email or regular post.

The issues and concerns that were expressed were consistent across the country. Dioceses in all of the Ecclesiastical Provinces participated. There were no identifiable regional differences and little difference between urban and rural dioceses or between large and small dioceses, although rural issues were reported more often in rural dioceses and social justice issues were more prevalent in dioceses with a large urban population. There were concerns expressed about the methodology of the Environics focus groups and the survey. Some questioned why a secular organization did the work and the validity of the demographics surveyed. Others questioned the lack of youth voices in the survey, although there was a youth focus group. Some also questioned why their particular region did not have a focus group.

Things that caught peoples’ attention

In one form or another, people noticed that there was little talk of spirituality in the focus groups and survey. They wondered where God was in all of this. In some of the reports there was a tone of criticism that the survey had not asked the right questions about faith, spirituality and commitment to Jesus. Respondents did not seem to understand that material emerged from the grassroots and what the focus group participants felt was important rather than from questions formulated by some external group (the elusive national church).

Noted especially in the consultations that were later in the year was how out of date the focus group and survey information was with respect to both the Residential School Settlement Agreement and the development of the sexuality debate both at home and in other parts of the Communion. The focus groups were held in Spring 2002 and the telephone survey in the Fall of 2002

There is a major disconnect between the strategic goals of the national church and the goals of the grass roots. Some version of this statement was reported in almost every consultation. Accompanying the concern was widespread cynicism that the national church wouldn’t pay any attention to the survey results and will just do what it wants. Understanding of the term “national church” ranged from the staff at 600 Jarvis Street to CoGS and General Synod. It wasn’t always easy to know just who was meant.

Almost every consultation noted the concern for youth and the need to increase their involvement in the life of the church. “Youth” was never defined with regard to age group. Declining attendance and aging of members were also noticed. At the same time several commented that there is a gap between the desire for new people and the willingness to embrace the change necessary to attract them.

There was some surprise that the Residential School issue was still perceived as a national issue and had not filtered into parochial life. There were also positive comments and some surprise about the lack of polarization regarding the residential schools.

Things that were missing

The consultations consistently named two things that were missing. The language of faith ?God, salvation, Jesus Christ, disciple-making was noticeable by its absence. Broadly put, there was nothing to indicate that General Synod was in any real way perceived as a resource to dioceses and parishes. Although not a widespread item, some reports noted a lack of vision or hope.

Signs of hope and vision

The most important thing that the church at the national level could do would be to play the key role in nurturing Anglican identity and vision. Clarifying mission and providing spiritual vision were also important. The national church can help us see ourselves as part of a larger body. Although the specifics varied from consultation to consultation, there was generally a positive expression that the church at the national level does have a role to play in providing hope and vision. There was also some question about the role the national church should or could play in providing leadership. There were a number of comments from various parts of the country expressing appreciation for the work of the Primate and hope that the next Primate will be able to provide direction and leadership.

The Strategic Plan

Whether it was the way the question was worded, the place in the consultation process, the lack of familiarity with the Plan by the participants, or something else, this section generated the least useful and helpful comments overall.

It was quite clear that clarifying Anglican identity and strengthening services to parishes dominated the reports. For the priorities that garnered little or no support, there was no suggestion that these should be eliminated or re-thought.

  1. Strengthen our mission and development partnerships outside Canada. There was one comment in favour of maintaining this priority.
  2. Clarify Anglican identity, doctrine, liturgy and worship. More than half of the consultations indicated that this is a priority for General Synod.
  3. Nurture ecumenical relationships. Although there were some comments elsewhere in the reports concerning strengthening the relationship with Lutherans, there were only a few comments vis à vis the Strategic Plan.
  4. Advocate social justice and prophetic mission within Canada, especially in indigenous peoples’ concerns and social economic and environmental justice issues. There was some support for this priority.
  5. Affirm healing and reconciliation with in indigenous peoples. This priority received a little support.
  6. Strengthen commitment of the whole Church to domestic mission in partnership with the Council of the North, and work with the Council of the North to move toward self-sufficiency. There was some support for this priority.
  7. Provide services to dioceses – information, financial, administration. There was an acknowledgement that the national church had a role to play in these areas. However there was widespread desire to see this area increased in programmatic services and in particular stewardship education.

There were three additional and fairly negative comments. 1) We should look at the organization and re-organize with the question being asked “Is a national church necessary?” 2) The Strategic Plan is in a rut. There is nothing prophetic in it. The Church no longer listens to the Holy Spirit. 3) There should be section H to the Strategic Plan – Develop partnerships inside Canada.

Additional Messages to the Council

The results of this work (focus groups, survey, diocesan consultations) must drive General Synod 2004. This is an opportunity to reinvent and reaffirm the national church. The church at the national level is irrelevant to dioceses and parishes.

The National Church is there to support the parishes not the other way around.

There was concern expressed that the decisions in New Westminster will split the church.

There were a number of comments encouraging increased communications and better vehicles for communicating with the dioceses and parishes. One suggestion was to increase the scope and circulation of MinistryMatters.

Some wondered where Jesus is in all of this.

The church must think of itself as WE not “us and them”.

There was hope expressed that the debate on the Primacy Canon amendments would be an open one.

Comment

The overriding sense I had as I read through the reports is a high level of dissatisfaction with performance of the national level of the church in providing services to the dioceses and parishes. There is discontent with the decision made in Preparing the Way to cut domestic work.

There is a concern and a worry about a church in decline and a cry for resources to meet the challenges that parishes and dioceses are facing. These range from education to stewardship to theological training to resources for youth.

There was general skepticism expressed that the Council would listen and respond. There was a plea that the Council would.

Some anonymous quotes from the consultations

The ‘problems’ that the Anglican Church of Canada has are the same ‘problems’ that the country of Canada has: regionalization, geography, diversity. If it can be said that Canada is impossible, the same can be said for the ACC.

CoGS and General Synod have placed themselves in a very precarious position by embarking on this process, and now they must act upon the results or else accept the fact that many people will be even more alienated.

The results of this survey prove decisively that the issues that hold sway for the majority of Anglicans are not reflected presently in the work and activities of General Synod, and the issues which are important for General Synod appear to be of low interest to the survey respondents.

“CRY OUT FOR CHANGE”

When planning a park, don’t lay the sidewalks till you see where people walk.

Because we have come so close to losing our National Church, everything we do now is an opportunity to reinvent and reaffirm the life of the National Church.

What we do is for US for WE are the National Church.

The role of the Office of the Primate gives voice and identity to our National Church. How can we celebrate the role of Jim Boyles and Michael Peers?

Prepared by Marion Jenkins

for the Planning and Agenda Team