September 2018 marks the 125th anniversary of the General Synod, and to commemorate this milestone, Archbishop Fred Hiltz is inviting Anglicans across the country to form conversation circles, and talk about their relationship with God and the church.
The Primate’s initiative is called Heartbeat of the Church, and is slated to run for eight months.
“What I really wanted to do was to give folks an opportunity to talk about their faith and to talk about their church,” Primate Hiltz says.
“Heartbeat is designed so that part of the conversation people will have will be an opportunity to talk about what their faith means to them; a time in their life when they felt very close to God; a time in their life when prayer was especially important to them; and a time in their life when they really felt that they were on a kind of growing edge in terms of their faith and commitment.”
Each conversation circle consists of a group of four or five Anglicans, and may be held at any location.
After an opening prayer, each member of the circle is invited to answer a few questions about their experiences of prayer, encounters with God, and times in which they felt close to Jesus. One person then reads aloud the gospel passage, John 15:12-17. Members reflect on this scripture and answer these three questions:
- Describe a time when our church made your heart glad;
- Describe a time when our church made your heart ache; and
- Describe a time when our church gave you hope.
The conversation circle concludes with members composing a heartfelt prayer for the church, praying together, and exchanging the Peace.
The format for Heartbeat of the Church emerged from discussions between the Primate and close colleagues. These included staff members of General Synod, as well as Dean Shane Parker, who is from the Diocese of Ottawa, and has been serving as the project coordinator for this initiative.
Over a number of meetings and conversations, the group steadily refined their approach to realizing the Primate’s vision.
“This was an exercise of hearing one another’s voices,” Dean Parker said. “It was not a strategic planning exercise; it wasn’t a program to be implemented. It was really an opportunity to create some space for people to reflect on what it means to be an Anglican, what it means to be in mission, what it means to be a people of prayer.”
“The main thing we wanted to do was to have people speak from their hearts,” he added. “We didn’t want this to be a head exercise. We wanted it to be a heart exercise.”
Pilot project experiences
From May 15-23, six pretest conversation circles met for a run-through of the Heartbeat format in Ottawa and Smiths Falls. The pretest included 27 participants between the ages of 15 and 87 with a roughly equal divide between men and women, representing a range of backgrounds including Indigenous and non-Indigenous, members of the LGBTQ community, and different levels of experience within the church.
Reactions from participants were universally positive, with only minor tweaks suggested in terms of style and format. The general consensus was that the conversation circle was an enjoyable experience and provided an ideal format for meaningful and thought-provoking discussion.
Maya McDonald, a recent University of Ottawa graduate currently serving as a cathedral council member at Christ Church Cathedral, participated in one of the Ottawa pretests. She appreciated the fruitful discussion on different social issues confronting the church, such as same-sex marriage and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
“I think it really renewed my spirit for the church,” McDonald, 25, said of her own conversation circle.
“We really had to talk through some of those more difficult issues and try to figure out, well, why is this not working for everyone? It really gave us hope for our own little piece of the church—but also hope that if it’s something that we can do at a table between four people, that we can do this with virtually anyone and bring the spirit of Anglicanism to others.”
“We can say that the doors of the church are open, and people will choose to or not choose to enter those doors,” she added. “But Heartbeat really makes it possible to have those conversations anywhere. Although we have that conversation within the church walls, I totally think it’s possible to have those conversations outside and really make it more [about] being Anglican, versus just performing and doing Anglicanism.”
Noel Platte from Julian of Norwich Anglican Church in Ottawa, a member of the Council of General Synod from 2013-2016, said that participating in the Heartbeat of the Church pilot project helped him “appreciate the discerning power of prayer”, relating past experiences to his own hopes and dreams for the church.
“My own prayer for the church was hopeful,” said Platte, 30. “While not blind to the challenges we will face, I feel like the church is well-poised to cultivate and empower Anglicans to be among the hands and feet of God in the world. I am inspired by the faithful lives of Anglicans across the land, and the difference each and every one of us is making.
“I am encouraged by the consistent outpouring of generosity and the loving service offered by our church to the wider world. I am excited to witness the movements toward an Indigenous Anglican Church. And I am appreciative of the servant leadership offered by our diocesan, provincial, and national governance structures. […] Grounding this heartfelt prayer in Scripture helped me to anchor myself to those first principles of my faith, and to hold fast to God’s love for me and the world.”
Speaking from the heart
Results of the conversations will be presented at the 42nd General Synod in July 2019, in Vancouver B.C.
This upcoming General Synod will take place at a transitional period for the church as Archbishop Hiltz will be stepping down and the synod will be looking to elect a new Primate. The gathering will also mark the first phase of discussion on how the church will approach its strategic planning post-Vision 2019.
Though the nature of those experiences may vary, the Primate hopes that Anglicans will deeply and truthfully express their feelings about the church and its ministry.
“What I’m hoping is that people are going to speak from the heart … that we’re going to really get some heartfelt expressions of moments when [people thought], ‘Wow, I am really proud to be an Anglican’, or ‘I am just so frustrated with our church’, or ‘I am so heartbroken’, or ‘You know what? What I see happening on this particular front makes me feel really hopeful as an Anglican, and I want to belong to this church.’”
Read the Primate’s letter on the Heartbeat of the Church.
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