As it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary on May 13, the diocesan Anglican Church Women is looking ahead to the future while honouring its storied past.
The women’s organization, commonly known as the ACW, will be marking the occasion at its annual general meeting, held on May 13 at Christ Church, Stouffville. The keynote speaker will be Health Minister Jane Philpott. Prior to entering politics, Dr. Philpott had an extensive career in family medicine, public health, medical education and advocacy for those living with HIV/AIDS.
The theme of the gathering, “Moving Forward in Faith,” reflects the ACW’s commitment to address the important issues of the day, says Anita Gittens, the current president and a member of St. Paul the Apostle, Rexdale. Among the subjects to be discussed will be healing and reconciliation, not just with Indigenous peoples but also with gay and lesbian people as well.
The theme also speaks to the ACW’s renewal, says Ms. Gittens. Like many churches and church organizations, the ACW is experiencing a decline in membership and is struggling to attract young women. Over the past couple of years, it has wrestled with the decision to close, stay the same or reinvent itself.
It has decided to reinvent itself. While continuing the work and fellowship it is known for, it is exploring new ways to reach new and younger members. “We don’t know how the diocesan ACW is going to look in the future, but we feel there’s an opportunity for us to be relevant and to be that focus of Christian community that is part of our purpose,” says Ms. Gittens. “We feel enough of our members have the dedication and commitment to do whatever is required to move forward.”
She says women’s lives have changed greatly since the ACW was formed in 1967. Often juggling full-time jobs and families, women today do not have the time or inclination to make long-term volunteer commitments. They still want to meet to discuss their faith, she says, but nowadays it’s more likely over a meal at the local restaurant. If they agree to help out, it’s often on an as-needed basis, she says.
The ACW is adapting to this new reality. It recently launched a Facebook page, hoping to engage a younger demographic. As well, some ACW groups in churches are meeting at different times and locations, and for a variety of reasons. “It’s almost like fresh expressions of ACW,” says Ms. Gittens, referring to the term used for new forms of church to reach seekers. “We have to meet them where they are and find out what’s relevant for them.”
She is confident that the ACW will succeed, mainly because its core mission is still as relevant today as it was 50 years ago: to be a focus of Christian community for all Anglican women, affirming their gifts and encouraging their ministries through worship, learning and service. “Everyone wants to belong and be part of something,” she says. “If young women see us being that and providing that, I think we will get there.”
In the meantime, she says, the ACW continues to be active in parishes across the diocese. “Our members love what they do, whether it’s catering, helping with worship, taking part in learning groups and Bible studies, lobbying their elected officials for change or doing charity work in the community.”
Indeed, the ACW has been active in every part of parish and diocesan life since it started. In parishes, ACW members serve as lay readers, Bible study leaders, Sunday School teachers and more. They organize parish dinners, bazaars, prayer groups, book clubs and travel clubs. They cater to bereaved families after funerals, knit prayer shawls for the sick, sew caps for cancer patients and dolls for sick children, and visit seniors and shut-ins.
Each year, the diocesan ACW gives money to a number of organizations, particularly those involved in social justice issues and outreach. For the past two years, it has funded groups that assist senior women, many of whom are battling Alzheimer’s disease. In previous years, the ACW has funded groups that work with homeless youth and those suffering from mental illness. A new focus for 2018-19 will be chosen at the annual general meeting on May 13.
The ACW funds some lesser known causes as well. It provides pension assistance to women who were missionaries but who are not entitled to a pension. It supports the Council of the North, and provides bursaries to female theological students. It provides funds to women who are training for the diaconate and also for women training to care for church chancels and sanctuaries.
The ACW has been ably led by 15 presidents over the years. They are: Pat MacKay (1966-68), Peggy Salter (1968-1970), the late Winnifred Goodaire (1970-73), Audrey Shepherd (1973-76), the late Lillian Bradstreet (1976-79), the late Peggy Lonsdale (1979-82), Georgi Doyle (1982-85), the late Betty McKim (1985-88), Gladys McClellan (1988-91), the late Jane Cook (1991-94), Marion Chambers (1994-97), Elizabeth Loweth (1997-2001), June Dyer (2001-2003), Marion Saunders (2003-08), Anita Gittens (2008-present).
The ACW in the diocese was created in 1967 with the amalgamation of four women’s groups: Women’s Auxillary, Mothers Union, the Chancel Guild and Church Year. The national ACW was created in that year as well, after General Synod passed a resolution in 1966 that the four organizations be combined to form the ACW. A national gathering of all Anglican women will be held on June 15-18 at Redeemer University College in Ancaster. It will be hosted by the ACW’s national executive.
For more information about the ACW’s annual general meeting on May 13, call the ACW’s office at 416-363-0018 or email [email protected]. For the national gathering, email Marian Saunders at [email protected] or call 905-439-2728.