Of all the good news that came out of York-Scarborough’s town hall meeting on March 3, the most impressive fact may be the most overlooked: that 110 people from across the episcopal area gathered on a Saturday morning to talk about Church.
The crowd that filled St. Andrew, Scarborough’s parish hall was a clear sign that Anglicans are not only passionate about their churches but also willing to share ideas with Anglicans from other parishes to build up the body of Christ.
“It’s one thing to get excited about what’s happening in your own backyard, but to get excited about what’s possible with other Anglicans in other parts of York-Scarborough – that’s really great,” says Bishop Kevin Robertson, the area bishop.
The gathering was part of a year-long effort by Bishop Robertson to get to know the clergy and laity of his area – “their needs and concerns, their joys and struggles,” he says.
Bishop Robertson, who was consecrated in January 2016, has been meeting with clergy in deanery clusters and with laity on parish visits, but this was the first time everyone had a chance to come together to talk about mission and ministry.
“I felt it was important to take those conversations I’ve been having to the whole group in all 59 parishes, or at least those who wanted to come out, and ask them what they saw as the needs of the Church in their own local setting and in York-Scarborough,” he says.
The morning was divided into three sections: two table-group discussions followed by an open forum. Participants sat with others from different parishes, then were asked the first question: As you look around your neighbourhood and community, where do you see God at work, and where are the needs?
After a discussion and a short break, they were asked: Based on the needs that were identified, how would you prioritize what your church should be doing to respond? What is your church doing well and not well? What does your church need to start doing, continue doing and stop doing?
The questions produced lots of conversation and ideas – enough to fill about 60 flip-chart pages. The group identified three main priorities: finding new and better ways to engage with neighbours, especially those who don’t know about the Church or the Christian faith; youth ministry and children’s ministry; and meeting the needs of a multicultural, multilingual society. The open forum also produced several good ideas, including developing a local catechesis program.
Bishop Robertson says the event surpassed his expectations. “One of the clergy told me afterwards that he came to the town hall because he thought he had to, but walked away feeling that we had a great conversation and was encouraged about ministry in the area.”
Bishop Robertson plans to bring the information to York-Scarborough’s clergy conference in Niagara Falls on May 9-10, then to develop a mission plan for the area. “I’d like the area to set out some concrete steps to address the three priority areas, in really specific ways,” he says. “I’m hoping we can do that over the summer and into the fall. Then we can call the whole town hall group back together and make sure we’ve set out some benchmarks for what success will look like.” He hopes parishes will create mission plans as well.
As the only episcopal area in the diocese that is located entirely within a city, York-Scarborough has a unique opportunity to create a plan for urban mission and ministry, he says. “I’m really intent on moving along this understanding of what it means to be an urban church. I don’t know where that’s going to lead, but I think some really good stuff is possible.”