By Bishop Todd Townshend
Peter saw a vision:
“I was praying . . . and there was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me.” (Acts 11:5)
John saw a vision: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea (the chaos) was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, . . . And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." (Rev. 21:1-4)
“Coming down out of heaven from God... The home of God is among mortals.” This kind of vision offers only a glimpse because—even if it happens three times, as it did for Peter—it pulls back up into heaven again. Yet, it is clear in these biblical passages: that heaven comes to earth, to redeem all of Creation and to reconcile all things to God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. The Holy Spirit of God does this.
It is true that many in the world are experiencing something closer to hell, right now, not heaven on earth. This work of God has not come in its fullness, at least not as we can see it. And it remains tempting to stay with that other image: that we go up to heaven—and escape all this. But no, in these words, we see that the vision goes in the other direction. We see that heaven comes down to earth, to us. This is good news. Come Holy Spirit, Come.
As our theme this year proclaims, we are “together on the road with Christ”. There are moments in life, and in our common life, when we experience being “at home”, and these tend to alternate with the experience of being “on the road”. I believe that we need both.
We need at least three kinds of “home”. Home we find in God, ultimately. The home of God is among mortals. In the theology of many, over the centuries, God is even called “home”. The ultimate experience of home is in the arms of God. It is also extremely important for every person to have an earthly home of their own, too. A place of relative security. A place to recover and be nourished and to grow. And thirdly, the body of Christ, the church, usually needs a community home which is found in our church buildings or wherever the people gather in His name. Finding “home” is good. Finding all three is even better.
We also know that, if possible, it is also essential to get out into life “on the road”. Indeed, after the Resurrection of Jesus, as we’ve seen through the season of Easter, Jesus comes to the disciples both in their “home” places, their rooms, but more often as they travelled along various pathways. It didn’t take long for this to become the primary image and identity of the earliest church: they were people of “The Way”. The way of Jesus alongside the presence of the Risen One.
I’ve made a lot of this “on the road” image lately. It seems to be to be one of those images for where we are now. It is a biblical pattern for our time – that we live our lives moving, unsettled much of the time, but that it is in this movement that God comes alongside us, indeed God summons us into this movement. And, in glimpses, we recognize God alongside, or out in front, or as host in our “homes”, as the One who is raising us up continually as his body and sending us out for the sake of the world.
I pray that this pattern will continue to guide us and remind us that, we’ve come a long way but we’re not there yet. I’d also like you to hear one another speak about these things, so to get this started we will have the first of two break-out conversations.
Question 1: We’ve heard about “where we are” as a diocese. How would you describe where you are, “along the road”, as an individual or as a church community?
At Synod in the fall of 2020, I offered four areas of focus and suggested they could be our priorities from 2020-2025. But before making firm commitments, I wanted to hear your input and weave in your voice, your desires, your vision. We set up a group to help with this and to work on getting good feedback. We brought it back to the next Synod, held in May of 2021, and found that the four areas resonated well, or well-enough, that congregations and parishes were able to recognize their life and work in these categories and found them helpful to see the way ahead in their evolving mission and ministry plans.
Planning and visioning work has been difficult to do during a global pandemic but we have been continually surveying the landscape, learning from those who can hint at what to expect next, and listening carefully to the needs of those around us, including all of you—listening to one another.
In my view, on a spectrum, we are about half-way between “let’s just get through this” (pandemic disruption) and “here’s a strategic, step by step, plan for our diocese” (more stable environment). Maybe more than half-way, but still just part-way, not all-the-way. We’ve started along several pathways simultaneously according to the categories of our aspirations: to become a more learning church, a more just church, a more diverse church, and a new church. In these areas, there has been great progress made—and I’ll name some of that in a moment.
I’m suggesting now that we spend at least another year with these same priorities to see what else begins to take root and to let things settle more in our common life – before we make larger commitments in an actual diocesan strategy. That’s what a strategic plan is for me, primarily, a set of commitment and priorities that guides us and challenges us and acts as signposts for how we’re doing. We feel ready to do this work over the coming year.
So, much of what I’m offering in this charge is an extension of the focus we’ve had since 2020. And the caution, to myself as well, is to avoid trying to ‘get back to normal’ or to ‘try to make everything happen at once”.
Here is a quick reminder of the language we have been using.
180th Synod, 2020, Our Identity and Mission in Christ
Strategic Goal: To shift the centre of gravity in the Diocese of Huron from operations to: renewal and new creation, better revealing the marks of mission by becoming: a learning church, a just church, a diverse church, a new church.
The KEY: to be open to God’s desire for us and for the world. (Phil 2)
181st Synod, 2021, Yielding to the life of the Spirit.
We looked at how, especially in a time of extreme and difficult disruption, we could learn from how the disciples of Jesus were drawn into the positive, disrupting presence of the Spirit of God. The stories in the Acts of the Apostles show the willingness of God’s Holy Spirit to suddenly show up in their lives to lead them, down pathways they never imagined. Acts teaches how people of faith can yield to the Spirit—how people of faith can yield to the life and movement and disturbances of the Holy Spirit of God.
While being open to this, I suggested that we use a simple “strategy” of deeper commitment to central Christian practices. Practices like: Prayer. Fasting. Study. Worship. Confession. Forgiveness. Sabbath. Hospitality. Alms-giving. All built around the practice of hearing and receiving and celebrating the presence of God in Word and Spirit through Scripture and Sacraments. Of course, all of this leads us to love and serve the poor, the weak, the lost, in Christ’s name.
This set of practices can be imagined as dynamic triangle of three types of activity: catechesis, worship, and stewardship. With the three poles opening up space in the middle for faith, for truth, healing and reconciliation with God and with one another, in Christ.
So, in what comes next, I’m going to alternate between updating you on some of what I’m seeing happen and what we’ve been doing, pointing to some new directions for things that we should keep doing, and asking you what you’re recognizing in your common life together in local community.
Last year I spoke about our common resources in two categories: property and people.
Our land, buildings, and money are tangible asset that need careful stewarding. It is getting hard to maintain and sustain them in many places. We are in the midst of experimenting with some new approaches as we work toward the goal of having an overall land, property, and finance strategy for the diocese.
Archdeacons are closely involved with me as we bring in resource people from organizations like Trinity Centres Foundation to consult and to open up new options.This has been good but we still need to push forward with a clearer set of strategies.
Likewise with financial resources, we will need some new strategies and criteria for redistributing these resources to be faithful in stewardship. Our financial model is based almost entirely on apportionment – a “fair share” formula for funding our common ministries. Yet, we also have been given enough funding, from the sale of church properties mainly, that we are devising a new set of criteria for grants, loans, partnerships, and other forms of developing and funding new ministries.This is very important for the new growth that God seeks among us. This work will continue.
The other category is people: human resources. This is our primary resource in the church. In almost every way, the strategy of becoming a more learning, more just, more diverse church, is a way to develop the disciple-power of the church. Good human-divine relationships combined with our common speech-action is the most powerful force available to us. We will continue to invest in one another for the sake of Christ’s mission.
Later in the afternoon we are going to hear from the Rev. Andra O’Neill who, along with her pastoral ministry at St. Mark’s in London, is also serving as Diocesan Stewardship Consultant.
There is huge potential for development in this area and I am ready for ambitious goals, praying that you are, too.
The Rev. Canon Gerry Adam will present later on Camp Huron and I want to express my thanks to all of the Camp Huron people for sustaining a presence and place for children and youth during these times. I think Camp Huron is an absolute gem in our midst. Both as a physical place and as an organizing principle for gathering children and young people to celebrate and grow as children of the Creator and disciples of Jesus. Camp Huron is also a first introduction to matters of faith and leadership in faith for so many. We have taken some steps to imagine in much bigger, broader role for Camp Huron in the years to come – without losing one bit of its core as expressed in the summer camp ministry. I think that God is going to bless us greatly in this area.
That leads me to some updates in the area of Learning Church.
There is already a lot of knowledge and wisdom in this church. The resources you bring to Christ’s mission are rich. To enhance this, and to celebrate it, this past year saw the creation of the Huron Learning Church Network. Extending the great work that Archdeacon Perry Chuipka has done with Paul Townshend and the continuing Congregational Coaches, Archdeacon Kristen Aikman will now be responsible for helping to develop this network of independent learning institutions and opportunities for learning—while she also helps me to develop a structure to support life-long learning plans for everyone who holds a license of the Bishop.
I hope to enhance both the early detection and development of faith and leadership in all Anglicans—through the work of people like the Rev. Dr. Lisa Wang in Catechumenal Ministries—and to find ways to extend this desire to learn right through to the end of our earthly lives. This will show an increase in the number of people who can serve as: catechists (teachers of the faith in small group or one-on-one settings), lay readers (those who proclaim the Word and help with liturgical leadership), deacons, priests, and other official ministries too numerous to name. The Learning Network, along with increased financial commitment, will help us to do this. Look for the new website where all of this information is, and will be, collected. Learning is for everyone, and it can be great fun, as we have seen.
Now for some examples of our development as a more Just Church.
I will say a bit more about this later, but Climate Justice and Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are our primary justice concerns. Yet, every single part of our common life together is a matter of justice. God wants God’s justice for all. We want God’s justice for all.
We ache with longing to see the day when everyone has proper housing, sustainable food sources, some kind of basic income, ability work, time to play, participation in community, in abuse-free environments where people can truly feel safe with one another. All of these are possible even though there are always setbacks along the way.
We understand the language of sin and the truth that our weaknesses combined with evil powers can break us down and cause us to harm one another. We know these things too well. The world around us doesn’t want us to talk openly about sin. Yet, if we are to know grace, we must be willing to constantly come face to face with the truth—that God’s justice does not always reign in us or among us. But that very thing—God’s justice—is what we have in store for us in the end. So, we continue to follow the lead of groups like Social and Ecological Justice Huron, our Justice League, and others, to considerably raise the bar for our ambitions and measurements. We will need to challenge ourselves not just to make the easy changes, but to aim directly for the difficult ones. We will need to move quickly, and we can because we do not do this work alone, God is with us. There are wonderful resources and tools among us.
One area of attention recently has been focussed on how those who have experienced abuse in the church, by other members of the church, have not found our processes to be helpful or satisfying in many instances. I have committed us to a comprehensive review of our policies and general practices with an eye to how victim-led and trauma-informed approaches can help us all. I have invited three people with lived experience and professional expertise to guide us in setting up the work. Please pray for those who have been harmed, for those who have harmed others, and that our church will be a place where healthy relationship can be learned and healthy community-life can be trusted.
How are we doing becoming a more diverse church?
As I’ve said before, this pertains to diversity and equity but I think of it more in terms of diversity in language and culture. How can the Anglican church in Southwestern Ontario begin to make much more space for the languages and cultures that do not flow directly from “all thing British”? We will all benefit from a diversity of sights and sounds in our common life of worship and service.
The Rev. Steve Greene, the Rev. Enrique Martinez, Archdeacons Osita, Sam, Rosalyn and many others are doing this work in earnest. We will be organizing listening sessions, anti-racism programs, gatherings for food and celebration, language programs, and liturgies that raise up the best of all the cultures you can find across the Anglican Communion. As “The Arch”- bishop Desmond Tutu said, “we are the rainbow people of God!”
I’ll be representing you at Lambeth conference this summer in Canterbury and London England. I’ll be there with almost 1000 bishops and some of their spouses from about 165 countries across the world. We are part of a communion of churches that includes about 80 million people. That’s a lot of diversity and I can’t wait to experience it. I’ll be reporting from England July 25 – August 8, and I hope I’ll bring home an even deeper commitment to a church that reflects the diversity of God’s creation.
And as for newness, a new church, this is the work of God’s Holy Spirit who brings heaven down upon the earth. We are coming to know all kinds of newness and I pray that we will be wise in our ways while embracing it. I do know that this newness will bring discomfort for all of us—but it will also bring joy. We cannot lack any joy. We need some festivals and others ways to release the joy.
May God make it so and may we be quick to recognize the new thing that is happening in our midst.
Question: Keeping in mind our four aspirations: learning, justice, diversity, newness . . . . what has been the most important thing God has done in your life, or in the life of your church community? When did you begin to recognize it?
In this last section of the time allotted to me for the Bishop’s Charge to Synod, I will ask the Ven. Rosalyn Elm to speak. Ros, as you all know, is the Archdeacon for Reconciliation and Indigenous Ministries. Ros is also known as the youngest child of Dr. Olive Elm, Doctor of Divinity, Elder, and founding member of LAIC.
When we raise our eyes above the ongoing and very important work of a Synod like this, we see at least two even greater needs, two even greater and most urgent opportunities. These two things need to be treated as the emergencies that they are: the Climate emergency and the Truth and Reconciliation emergency. Among the basic sins leading to both of these emergencies is: human greed of colonial conquest, evil claims of human superiority, and crass over-consumption of God-given resources.
In the Anglican church, finding a right-relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is job number one. I am sure that, if we can do this well, we will learn ways that will address all of the other emergencies we currently worry about, and the ones we are ignoring. We are acting on this commitment and we will give it all the time it needs.
We are at another turning point in the relationship but the work has been much harder on Indigenous people than it has been on the rest of us. We want Indigenous people to lead us, and to trust us, even while living with the trauma of so many broken promises and so many harms.
So, because there is hope in the midst of so much pain, I’ve asked Archdeacon Ros to offer an assessment of how people who identify as Anglican and Indigenous are doing and to help point us in the good ways of the Creator.