Suzanne Lawson of St. Peter, Cobourg and David Stovel of St. John, York Mills have been chosen to receive the Anglican Award of Merit, the national church’s highest honour for lay people. The award is given in recognition of their contributions to the life of the church.
Suzanne Lawson is sometimes introduced at conferences as a “rampant lay woman” because of her passionate support of the laity. It’s a title she is comfortable with.
“I’m not anti-clerical, but I think we have to step up and claim our call to be the church,” she says.
For the past decade, Ms. Lawson has been one of only three Canadians – and the only lay person – to sit on the Anglican Consultative Council, an international body that meets every three or four years and is considered one of the church’s “Instruments of Communion.”
On the national level, Ms. Lawson was General Synod’s executive director of Program in the early 1990s, working with the staff at Church House in Toronto. “That was an amazing experience,” she says. “I never thought I would work for pay in the church. I worked with an incredible staff and oversaw some really rich ministries.”
During her first week on the job, she attended the first meeting of General Synod’s working group on residential schools. Shortly afterwards, she hired two people – one in eastern Canada and one in western Canada – whose primary focus was to listen to the stories of residential school survivors. “We began to hear people’s stories when they hadn’t even told those stories to themselves,” she recalls.
She played an integral role in creating General’s Synod’s first strategic plan, developed from 1992 to 1995. During that process, a national gathering of indigenous Anglican leaders made a covenant to pursue self-determination within the Anglican Church. The covenant extended “the hand of partnership to all those who will help us build a truly Anglican Indigenous Church in Canada.”
The statement, called “A Covenant and Our Journey of Spiritual Renewal,” became one of the foundational documents in the relationship between Canada’s indigenous people and the Anglican Church of Canada.
“At the time, we didn’t have a clue how valuable and central it would be to the whole future direction of General Synod,” says Ms. Lawson. “That was in 1994, and look where we are now. We still have a long way to go on our journey together, but to go from being totally separate to committing to walking alongside each other is amazing.”
At the diocesan level, Ms. Lawson was chair of a committee in the 1980s that formed the Logos Institute, one of the Diocese of Toronto’s most successful programs. A school of lay ministry, the institute trained more than 400 course leaders and taught the Christian faith to thousands of people.
“We had no idea what we were going to do,” she recalls. “We were told we needed to find a way to educate adults about the faith. But it worked. For years, it did the job superbly.”
Ms. Lawson has provided extensive training and volunteer management expertise to the church. She was the author of “Discerning, Deciding, Doing – a Process of Transformation: A Call to the Diocese of Toronto for the New Millennium.” Written in the early 1990s, the document recommended ways to improve the diocese’s governance. One of its recommendations was to reduce the size of Synod.
In the early 1980s, she wrote a Bishop’s Paper on volunteer management for churches, a document that has been widely used ever since by both the Anglican Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
Ms. Lawson says there are two reasons why she has been so involved in the church over the years. “One is that it’s the place where my faith has grown. It has given me opportunities to understand my faith better, to live it out better, and hopefully to live a better life. The other reason is, I’m very interested in systems and structures. I have felt all along that the church can do better at the way it does its work. It can treat people better. What are the systems we need in place so that we can be better?”
She says she is receiving the award on behalf of all lay people and volunteers. “So many people do their ministry and should share in such honours. All who give of their time and skills make the church a better representative of God’s mission – people like those who organize meals for the marginalized, churchwardens who give so much, leaders of Bible studies and those who visit the sick. I value so much of what lay people do.”
David Stovel has served the national church and contributed significantly to the growth of pension funds as a trustee to the General Synod Pension Plan, the Lay Retirement Plan, the Continuing Education Plan, the Long Term Disability Plans, and the Employees’ Benefits program. He has served as chair of the Board of Trustees from 2000 to 2010, as a member of the Central Advisory Group of the Pension Committee, as chair of the Asset Mix Sub- Committee of the Trustees and continues as a member. He was the Pension Committee’s representative on the Unit of Public Social Responsibility and the Socially Responsible Investment Group and treasurer for St. John, York Mills.
Mr. Stovel, vice-president and portfolio manager at RBC Wealth Management, told the Anglican Journal he was “truly honoured” to receive the award. He described the board of trustees of the General Synod Pension Plan as “without a doubt the most professional and competent board that I know.”
He added, “My involvement over the past 30 years has been most personally rewarding, and I have appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the financial wellbeing of the clergy.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, will present Ms. Lawson and Mr. Stovel with the award.