Making connections, energizing parishes: National Consultation on Congregational Vitality takes place

From May 14 to 16, 2014 a diverse group of seventy-four Anglicans and Lutherans gathered for a church-wide consultation in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Sharing a common passion for congregational development, this group represented twenty-four Anglican dioceses and three synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Congregational development is an eclectic ministry that looks different from context to context. It can include a range of work from helping urban parishes think through property redevelopment to launching regional ministries in sparsely populated areas. “It is basically a practice or discipline that is about resourcing, supporting, and provoking congregations to be as healthy, vital, and missional as they can be,” says planning team member Janet Marshall who works in congregational development for the Diocese of Montreal.

The three days took on a very collaborative, collegial atmosphere. The planning team was intentional in creating space where all participants could offer expertise in congregational development. Participants were encouraged to share both stories of success and lessons learned from failures.  Small group time allowed for a intermingling of perspectives; rural, urban, lay, ordained, Lutheran, and Anglican voices came together in breakaway groups.

In his plenary address, the Ven. Dr. Michael Thompson affirmed the grassroots work and collaboration taking place at the consultation. “The Anglican Church of Canada isn’t the collection of staff and volunteers that gather at 80 Hayden, and it isn’t the group of people who may or may not get elected to General Synod – it is the collection of ministries from coast to coast to coast. You are part of that national church.”

In closing, participants gathered for a time of reflection and looking forward. They considered how to best carry forward the hopes and goals laid out in their time together, including possibilities for online community building and support from national office staff in establishing infrastructure for ongoing conversations. Participants also expressed support for continuing sharing of wisdom and human resources among dioceses and synods, and more broadly throughout the national church.

The spirit of the full communion relationship between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada shone through at the consultation. Lutheran participants said they were grateful for being included and their Anglican counterparts asked for stronger ELCIC participation in planning future consultations.

Energy for this unique gathering came from annual meetings of congregational development staff from the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. These regional meetings helped cultivate a desire for a broader, national conversation about healthy and vital parishes.

A planning team made up of Janet Marshall (Diocese of Montreal), the Rev. Dr. Jay Koyle (Diocese of Algoma), and Canon Dave Robinson (Diocese of Toronto) spearheaded this first national consultation. Though not all Anglican dioceses have staff dedicated to congregational development, all could identify people connected with diocesan life and who were working on strategy for congregational development. The consultation was made possible by a grant from the Ministry Investment Fund.

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