Cast the Net, the diocese’s vision, planning and strategy process, is entering an important new phase.
From mid-January to late February, four lay people from each parish will take part in online consultations that will help the diocese determine its direction for the next several years.
The consultations follow similar sessions with clergy, regional deans, Area Councils, Synod Office staff, Synod Council and Synod in the fall.
Each consultation will bring together about 20 people from several congregations. The sessions will last about 90 minutes and will be facilitated by trained members of the diocesan volunteer corps. Notes will be taken, but comments won’t be attributed to specific parishes or individuals. A summary of the consultations will be published.
Letters are being sent to all incumbents and churchwardens in January and February, asking them to nominate four people from their parishes to take part in the sessions.
“All congregations are encouraged to take advantage of this unique opportunity for lay voices from across the diocese to be heard, as we seek to discern where and how the Holy Spirit is calling us as people of God in this time and place,” says Bishop Andrew Asbil.
Cast the Net started last spring and will unfold over this year, with recommendations and calls to action coming to Synod in November. The name comes from John 21, where Jesus tells his disciples to cast their net on the other side of their boat.
“After the disruption of Easter, the disciples’ instinct is to return to the familiarity of fishing,” says Bishop Asbil. “But everything has changed, and the old way of doing things doesn’t work. Our instinct, too, may be to go back to what’s comfortable – what we know we’re good at. But God is calling us to do things in a new way. What will happen if we cast our nets on the other side of the boat?”
The consultations with laity will begin with a bible study focusing on the John 21 passage. Afterwards, participants will be asked some questions and take part in a group discussion.
“We hope people will be frank and forthcoming,” says Canon Ian Alexander, one of Cast the Net’s consultants along with Dr. Anita Gittens, ODT, and the Very Rev. Peter Elliott. “That’s been our experience to date. We root these conversations in prayer and in scripture. Not only is that appropriate but it really helps to unlock people’s minds and hearts. We’ve been pleased by how frank and open and even vulnerable people have been.”
The findings, together with those from the previous consultations, will be used by Cast the Net’s steering committee to shape its recommendations to Synod 2023. The recommendations are expected to include priorities for the diocese for the coming years. The steering committee is co-chaired by the Rev. Dr. Alison Falby, incumbent of All Saints Church-Community Centre in Toronto, and Dave Toycen, ODT, a member of Trinity, Streetsville. The committee comprises Anglicans, both clergy and lay, from across the diocese.
Dr. Gittens says the lay consultations are of the “utmost importance” so that Cast the Net is a “bottom-up” approach that includes hearing from those in the pews.
Canon Alexander says that every voice matters. “Sometimes I think people feel, ‘Oh, they’re coming around again to ask for our opinion, but nobody will pay any attention.’ But I can tell you from experience that the College of Bishops and the diocese are very attentive to what they’re hearing and wanting to know what’s being said. They want to take it on board and respond to it. So these comments will shape the ultimate findings that the steering committee will present in terms of a vision and a strategy for the diocese.”
Dr. Gittens and Canon Alexander expect the lay consultations will produce a broad diversity of opinions but also some points of commonality with the sessions that have already been held. Some common themes have already started to emerge from the sessions, they say, including a strong desire for a renewed emphasis on discipleship and evangelism. There has been concern about declining membership due to the recent pandemic but also good news about parishes reaching out beyond their walls in new and creative ways.
Dr. Gittens says there has been a lot of engagement with Cast the Net so far. “I’m really excited and surprised by it, and also by the appreciation that has been expressed around allowing many different voices and groups to be part of the process,” she says. “We’ve heard that time and time again, that people are very appreciative of being involved and of the deep listening that is happening.”
For more information, visit Cast the Net’s webpage on the diocese’s website, www.toronto.anglican.ca/castthenet.