“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4,5.
Over the past twelve years a group of Anglican dioceses across Canada and the United States have gathered annually to explore our calling to be ‘living stones’. This year the Living Stones annual conference was held for the first time in Canada, in Winnipeg, February 18-21st. Living Stones is committed to the ministry of all the baptized through mutual ministry teams. With the support of the diocesan bishop, parishes explore how best to meet their ministry needs through the discernment of gifts and creation of ministry teams of laity and clergy. At the conference, teams of bishop, clergy and laity engaged in peer consultations for support, advice and collaborative sharing. Keynote addresses were offered by Dr. Michael Skelley of DePaul University, Chicago on the nature of helping relationships using process consultation.
The conference was characterized by mutual ministry modelled in the equal participation of laity, clergy and bishops in all aspects of the work, and affirmation of the unique circumstances of each diocese with a celebration of shared ideas and processes. Susan Wiffin, Scottish Episcopal Church, offered observations as an evaluator of the process of the conference.
Bishop Don Phillips, Dr. Iain Luke and the Rev. C.J. Adams, our enthusiastic hosts in Rupert’s Land, invited Canadian Anglicans and Lutheran representatives to gather for a consultation on congregational development in the Canadian context following the Living Stones conference. Eleven dioceses or ministry areas were present, covering the country from Nova Scotia to Kootenay and Yukon to Toronto in addition to two members of the ELCIC. Participants shared with one another the joys and challenges of ministry in each diocese or ministry area. Although financial needs were a shared theme there was vitality and creativity in the ministry ideas shared. Each diocese faces particular, often unique challenges, yet we discerned common themes and a need for communication and networking to share resources and offer encouragement.
Susan Wiffin listened and offered her reflections on the power of the stories of ministry shared and the need to tell those stories in our dioceses and nationally. We need to focus on the resources we do have and not focus on the ones we are missing; to work ecumenically and to allow for the presence of the Holy Spirit blowing through our plans and bringing in something new. In the afternoon we identified actions each diocese can take to support baptismal ministry and strengthen our congregations. Canon Linda Nicholls, national staff for congregational development, shared plans for a national Symposium on healthy parishes in March 2007 to strengthen networks; share resources and reflect on healthy parish ministry for the unique needs of our dioceses.
In a time of declining attendance, financial challenges and institutional anxiety for the future this gathering was a rejuvenating affirmation of the energy and commitment that is bubbling through our Church. We heard stories of encouragement of ministry at all levels of the church through the baptismal covenant; training for ministry in urban, rural and remote areas; videtaping for local television; revisioning ministry; joint diocesan sharing of resources for education & training; encouraging theological reflection.and using the language of abundance rather than scarcity;
Participants noted the interest in congregational development at the House of Bishops last meeting and committed to urge the Council of General Synod to find time for discussion at General Synod in 2007.
The people in the photograph are part of the ‘living stones’ of the Anglican Church of Canada and as living stones are building God’s house in all parts of our country. Thanks be to God.