Participants break into circle groups at the 2015 Vital and Healthy Parishes consultation. Photo by Matt Gardner

Vital and Healthy Parishes consultation builds on gains in second year

Ongoing efforts to enhance congregational vitality received a fresh boost this spring when Anglicans and Lutherans met in Niagara Falls, Ont., for the second annual Vital and Healthy Parishes consultation.

The three-day meeting, which took place from May 11 to 13 at the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre, built on the previous year’s consultation and saw an increased turnout among Lutherans and smaller Anglican dioceses.

“Last year we had a lot of information sharing and excitement about meeting each other across the country,” said Lynn Uzans, vocational co-ordinator and working team member for the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

“I think that the conversations went much deeper this year…We still affirmed each other, but we were also more likely to kind of push for more clarity and push back when we didn’t agree. So I think there was more maturity this year.”

In total, 51 representatives of the Anglican Church of Canada and 13 representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) attended, encompassing both lay and ordained members. Organizers estimated participants were split almost evenly between newcomers and those who attended the previous year’s consultation.

One first-time participant was the Rev. Lisa Vaughn, leader of the Building Healthy Parishes team for the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, who said she would be returning to her diocese “inspired and hopeful.”

“I really appreciate the networking and the storytelling,” Vaughn said. “We’re embarking on some new initiatives in the diocese, so we’ve been able to glean some lessons on what not to do, and also coming back with some ideas and some models that we can hopefully put into practice.”

The event included two major components. On the first day, participants gathered into circle groups where they shared stories of congregational initiatives that had proven successful in worship, ministry or mission, as well as those that were less successful.

Subsequent days saw the event shift into a “marketplace planning” format, with participants able to join different presentations and discussions on a wide variety of topics—from amalgamated parishes to church planting, from non-Sunday ministry to leadership training and reaching out to millennials.

“People are free to attend whatever conversation they choose or to move between conversations, and just to experience that way the various questions that we’re exploring,” ELCIC British Columbia Synod mission consultant and planning team member the Rev. Eric Krushel said.

A common theme was the importance of a missional approach, which focuses on God’s action in the world and how churches can become more involved.

Dave Robinson, director of congregational development for the Diocese of Toronto and a member of the Vital and Healthy Parishes Working Group, underscored the need for congregational vitality on that front.

“You’ve got to work on congregational health in order to be missional,” Robinson said.

“Part of it is simply a matter of capacity,” he added. “If a parish is failing, it’s not going to have the wherewithal to actually do the hard work to get out of its building.”

Following the consultation, organizers and circle group leaders planned to compile the ideas generated by participants into an internal report, likely to be completed in the summer, which would provide guidance for each church going forward in its efforts to improve congregational vitality.

Looking to the future, Uzan noted, “I’m hoping that…both the Anglican and Lutheran churches will invest time and energy and money into some of the initiatives that we think might make significant differences.”

View the report from the 2014 Vital and Healthy Parishes consultation.

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