Earlier this fall, the Anglican Church Women of Canada (ACW) held their annual conference bringing together presidents and coordinators of ACW diocesan groups from across the country. Meeting from Sept. 25-28 at the Our Lady of Hope Retreat Centre in Stanley Bridge, P.E.I., 32 leaders exchanged ideas and discussed the current priorities and challenges facing the ACW.
The role of the ACW in the Anglican Church of Canada today was a major focus of the conference. Faced with declining membership, due in part to the advancing age of those most actively involved, the ACW is preparing to review its constitution while looking into how it can encourage the participation of younger women.
“I think that one of the difficulties that we’ve been experiencing is that a lot of people have looked at the ACW as the fundraiser for the church kind of thing,” ACW national president Margaret Warwick said.
She recalled parish council minutes in the early 20th century that would often refer parishioners to the Woman’s Auxiliary, the predecessor of the ACW, whenever they needed to raise funds.
Though the ACW remains a powerhouse of church fundraising—they consistently donate funds and generate awareness of the ministry of the Council of the North—members are increasingly looking to reinforce other aspects of their identity.
“We’re trying to refocus that a little bit more, and say that yes, that’s certainly part of our role—but that our purpose is also to look at the spiritual and fellowship aspect of a woman’s life in the church as well,” Warwick said.
“That brings a different context to it … We don’t want to get just [focused on] the constantly fundraising—that’s not our role. We want to also be involved in the spiritual growth of the individual as well.”
Examining current structures
As spelled out in the preamble of its constitution:
Anglican Church Women of Canada is a loosely knit fellowship of all women of the Anglican Church of Canada and others who agree with and support the purpose of the Anglican Church Women of Canada. The purpose is to give the women of the Anglican Church the opportunity to unite in a fellowship of worship, study and service which will lead them into Christian service in the parish, community, diocese, nation, and world.
The Woman’s Auxiliary to the Missionary Society of the Church of England in Canada was founded in April 1885 by Roberta Tilton, who served as the head of a seven-woman delegation to the management board of the church’s Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. In 1966, the Woman’s Auxiliary became the Anglican Church Women of Canada. The current structure, constitution, and bylaws of the national ACW were adopted in the early 1990s.
While most dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada have a diocesan ACW board, several do not and are represented mainly at the national level. Some dioceses have regional or area divisions as well as parish-level organizations. Local ACW members help financially support parishes and often participate in activities such as knitting for local needs, holding Bible studies, and supporting local food banks.
Following the September conference, an ACW committee has collected different constitutions and bylaws from across Canada for review, including those for diocesan-level organizations. The national constitution, Warwick noted, “hasn’t been reviewed in its entirety since [the 1990s], so we’re going to have another look at it and see where we’re going … I think that that is going to be a very positive approach.”
Another ongoing effort by the ACW is the streamlining of its organizational structure. The labyrinth of positions at different levels can sometimes dissuade new women from getting involved.
“Sometimes the women decide that the ACW is too structured, and this is one thing we’re trying to get away from,” Warwick said. “We don’t want them to feel that they’re bogged down in a bureaucracy-type thing if they’re involved in the ACW. The whole purpose of the ACW is to ensure that we are a fellowship and that we are involved in worship and service.”
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