Long-time church employee to head up diocesan consultations, General Synod preparations

When General Synod decided in 1995 that the national church should only continue with the work it does best, it might have left dioceses feeling a little bereft.

In order to maintain contact with dioceses, and to put dioceses in touch with each other, a series of diocesan consultations began following General Synod 95. When those consultations wrapped up shortly before General Synod 98, there was a consensus among the dioceses that they should continue.

To that end, the national church has hired Margaret Shawyer, a long-time Church House employee, as co-ordinator of General Synod and diocesan consultations. Ms. Shawyer has been doing the job part-time since last August, while continuing as assistant to the director of Information Resources. She has now left her position in communications.

The focus of the current round of consultations, said Ms. Shawyer, is on partnership.

“We want the dioceses to tell us what they’re doing,” she said. “We want to tell them what we’re doing and how we can help them connect with each other.”

These consultations can be traced back to the church’s strategic planning process in the early 1990s. When faced with difficult choices about what work the national church could continue and what it could no longer afford to keep up, the General Synod voted to concentrate on the North and on overseas partnerships, leaving areas such as congregational development, youth and program work to the dioceses.

“Now, we’re trying to find out how the dioceses are doing with that,” said Ms. Shawyer.

For example, she said, if a diocese in Newfoundland is doing something interesting in youth work and a diocese in Saskatchewan wants to enhance its own youth program, the latter “wouldn’t have to start at ground zero,” since the national church would be able to help the two confer about the work.

So far, consultations have taken place in four dioceses: Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Huron, Moosonee and Athabasca. More are planned in the coming months for Montreal, Keewatin, Nova Scotia, Qu’Appelle, Brandon and British Columbia. Ms. Shawyer said she expects all the consultations will be completed by June.

While the consultations are organized at the national church level, they are very much driven by the dioceses themselves. It is the dioceses which determine the format of the consultations, including the priorities they’d like to see addressed.

“We really want to respond to dioceses’ needs,” said Ms. Shawyer. While she will not necessarily attend each consultation, a member of the Council of General Synod or national church staff will. For instance, if a diocese tells her it wants to focus on proportional giving, she will arrange for a member of the financial management and development department or its committee to attend. If another is interested in francophone ministry, she will send a francophone priest who is employed with the national church.

When the Council of General Synod meets in March, Ms. Shawyer will have compiled reports from the six consultations which will have been held by then. she plans to have completed by then. She said those reports may contain some messages from the dioceses that are appropriate for the Council to address.

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