The Diocese of Toronto’s 160th Regular Session of Synod was held Nov. 25-27 online. This was the first ever virtual Synod held by the diocese. The theme of Synod was “Love Thy Neighbour.” St. Paul writes to the Galatians, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” To the Corinthians, he writes, “Let all that you do be done in love.” Here are the highlights from Synod, in chronological order.
Synod begins with Eucharist
Synod began on Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. with a Eucharist, which was live streamed from St. James Cathedral. Despite early technical difficulties, nearly 400 people joined the service from their homes. It included a penitential rite lamenting the Church’s past wrongs against Indigenous peoples. Many of the musical pieces were pre-recorded by choirs and musicians from parishes across the diocese. The Eucharist is available to watch on the diocese’s YouTube channel.
Bishop gives Charge to Synod
During the Eucharist, Bishop Andrew Asbil gave his Charge to Synod. Using the story of the Good Samaritan, he spoke about sharing agape love with one’s neighbour, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Anglican Church in the Diocese of Toronto has stepped into this wilderness with a sense of enthusiasm, on adrenaline and on instinct, to serve,” he said. His charge touched on several subjects, including the ways in which we are called to show God’s love in the world, the need to discern where God is calling us into the future, and a call to generosity in stewardship.
FaithWorks celebrates 25th anniversary
After the Eucharist, Synod watched a series of videos celebrating FaithWorks and the work of its ministry partners over the past 25 years. The diocese was encouraged to meet the 100%+1 challenge: every parish participating in this year’s campaign, and every parish setting a goal exceeding its 2020 result by at least 1%.
Business of Synod begins with worship
Synod reconvened online on Nov. 26 at 9:45 a.m. with Morning Prayer led by the Bishop’s Committee on Intercultural Ministry.
Synod thanks sponsors
Synod thanked the presenting co-sponsors, Burgundy Asset Management and Canso Investment Council.
Members practice electronic voting
Synod members learned how to vote electronically through the online event platform. They were given instructions and took part in a few test polls to practice. A test vote revealed that a majority of both clergy and lay members considered themselves early birds rather than night owls, to which Bishop Asbil commented “that’s a very Anglican result.”
Diocese commits financial support to Indigenous reconciliation
Synod overwhelmingly passed a motion that recognized the diocese’s commitment to the work of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. The motion commits up to the 10% tithe from the Ministry Allocation Fund to further support and engage in that work of reconciliation, between now and the end of 2026. The Ministry Allocation Fund is sourced by selling properties in the diocese. The tithe of that fund is already set aside every year to spend on projects outside normal diocesan operations.
Discussion before the vote raised the issue of the commodification of land as a limited understanding of what land means, perpetuating the structures that led to Indigenous displacement in the first place. Speakers raised the possibility of spiritual covenants and spiritual support with Indigenous peoples.
Missional & Outreach Moment #1
Throughout Synod, members heard about how the diocese is living out its vision in the Missional & Outreach Moments – how communities are moving beyond their walls to find new ways of meeting people who are not being reached by traditional forms of Church, and how our churches are reaching out to the poor, the marginalized and the homeless.
In the first Missional & Outreach Moment, Synod heard from Holy Family, Heart Lake in Brampton about how it was able to pivot during the pandemic, grapple with technology and take care of its seniors. The parish had relied on Zoom and emails to connect with its members, but they realized it wasn’t enough. With a significant senior population trying to grapple with new technology, the parish founded a technical support team and help line to offer support to the parish’s senior members. A Reach Grant allowed the parish to provide devices to some seniors, and all the seniors’ ministry programs were able to run online. From a modest beginning of 22 parishioners worshipping online, Holy Family is now averaging 60-70 people in its online congregation. As the parish transitions to a hybrid model of worship, it prays for the grace of God to forge ahead.
Diocesan Council’s report received
Synod received Diocesan Council’s Report to Synod, which contains a list of council members, council’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a summary of all policy and major items discussed or approved by council, and a summary of diocesan grants, loans, and other funding. A total of $8.8 million in grants and loans were awarded from 43 different funding and granting streams from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021.
Bishop’s Committee on Healing gives update
The committee told Synod what has been happening since it was formed in 2019. It represents lay and ordained health care chaplains, faith community nurses, lay anointers, lay pastoral visitors and seniors’ ministry. The committee is chaired by the Rev. Canon Joanne Davies, chaplain at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and provides speakers for parishes, area days and workshops on a variety of topics related to healing in the Church. It provides resources on its Facebook pages for healing ministry and seniors ministry.
Missional and Outreach Moment #2
Synod heard from St. Olave, Swansea, which shared its online worship, online ministry and live streaming journey. The parish didn’t have a plan; it just set up a camera and started recording, with its clergy using their smartphones to record the services as a series of separate clips and parishioners recording themselves reading lessons. People responded enthusiastically, including members of the community who couldn’t attend church in-person even before the pandemic. Video offerings expanded to include the history of the parish, art variety shows, children’s ministry and even a wedding. The parish was blown away when its 2021 Lenten education series earned 35,000 views. St. Olave’s began to see the possibilities of a new way of parish ministry. Technology allowed the parish to keep people connected to the liturgy and sacred space – St. Olave’s without borders. With a grant from the diocese and encouragement from nearby All Saints, Kingsway, the parish bought a new computer and camera and learned how to start live streaming services. “Our parish, like our imagination, knows no bounds.”
Bishop to form Episcopal Leadership Implementation Team
Bishop Andrew Asbil provided an update on episcopal leadership in the diocese. In 2020, Bishop Asbil formed the Episcopal Leadership Working Group to consider and report to him on alternative models for the exercise of episcopal leadership, oversight, and pastoral ministry. In 2021, Anglicans participated in town hall meetings to provide their feedback.
Having considered the recommendations and feedback, Bishop Asbil announced that the diocese will move forward with three bishops: one diocesan bishop and two suffragan bishops. Suffragan bishops won’t necessarily be appointed to geographic areas, but will engage in ministry to the entire diocese. He will appoint as many as six to eight territorial archdeacons who will offer administrative oversight to two or three deaneries each.
Bishop Asbil will strike an Episcopal Leadership Implementation Team to develop a job description for territorial archdeacons, a selection and training process, and a timeline and communications strategy for these structural changes. The co-chairs of the implementation team are Susan Abell, ODT and the Rev. Stephen Kirkegaard. The episcopal leadership update can be viewed on the diocese’s YouTube channel.
Governance changes to move forward
Synod approved motions dealing with the Constitution and Canons that will allow changes to be made to the diocese’s governance structure. The changes to the governance structure will be undertaken during a two-year pilot project. The changes will include:
- Diocesan Council and Executive Board will be amalgamated into one body called Synod Council.
- The size of Synod Council will include 25-27 members.
- Five committees will be established: Audit Committee, Finance Committee, Property Committee, Human Resources Committee, and Risk and Governance Committee.
- Existing committees will be amalgamated.
- The committees will have decision-making authority delegated to them with parameters established by Synod and Synod Council.
Questions involved how members of Synod Council will be sought, how program committees will fit into the proposed governance structure, and when the committee will report back to Synod. After the two-year pilot, there will be a 75% threshold needed to either make these changes permanent or revert to the old structure.
Synod approved changes to the Constitution first considered in 2019. Then Synod approved Canonical changes. A third motion approved the Governance Pilot Project first considered at the last session of Synod, with the following amendments based on feedback since 2019:
- All members of Synod Council will need to be members of Synod. If not currently, the bishop can make them members of Synod under s.3(4) of the Constitution of the Diocese of Toronto, provided they are qualified under s.3(1)(a)(b)&(c) of the Constitution.
- All elected members of Council will be elected at Synod, rather than at Pre-Synod meetings.
- A carefully considered slate of nominees will be presented by the nominating committee, ensuring robust elections and a diverse group of candidates.
- The proposed model addresses possible changes in episcopal leadership and episcopal areas of the diocese.
- The committee chairs and up to five others will be appointed by the bishop, taking into consideration skills, abilities and the diversity (geographic, gender, age, theological and BIPOC) of the diocese.
- The bishops and those whom the diocesan bishop appoints to Council will together not hold a majority of votes (45.83%) with three bishops; 48% with four bishops; 50% with five bishops).
The pilot project will continue for two years, with a report back to Synod next year.
Missional & Outreach Moment #3
All Saints, Collingwood shared how it has stepped up and responded to community needs during the pandemic. The church’s weekly Friendship Dinner started many years ago. In March 2020, when in-person dinners were no longer possible, the parish decided to do take-out meals instead. The first take-out dinner held on April 1, 2020, gave out 65 meals. By October 2021, the team was giving out 220 take-out bags. But they saw that it wasn’t enough. Under-served people in the community were wondering what to do for food in between meals, especially as other churches weren’t holding their own dinners. All Saints developed Entrees to Go, handing out about 100 frozen entrees each week. The parish sees this as a vital ministry in its community, where there is so much need. “The church and community are hand-in-hand, and they have to continue that way.”
Synod approves constitution and canon, housekeeping changes
Synod voted to change Canon 15 to broaden the scope of how churchwardens are permitted to make payments, taking into account the modern reality of electronic transfers and credit cards.
Missional & Outreach Moment #4
St. Margaret, New Toronto described how its ministries expanded during the pandemic. When COVID-19 struck, the parish became a better neighbour, and its outreach ministries expanded beyond its imagination. With its own programs on hold, the parish got permission to redirect people to a community health centre and the Salvation Army, which were equipped to provide take-out hot meals. A group of local agencies got together and started to coordinate services and connect with each other, with leadership and coordination offered by the United Way and the City of Toronto. The Rev. Jacqueline Daley was invited to participate in this South Etobicoke Cluster. The group identified a need for a drop-in to give those most at risk access to hot meals, showers, laundry, and space to rest and get warm. St. Margaret’s became the home of this new drop-in. The parish’s new relationships with community partners and agencies have inspired its members to do more than they could ask or imagine.
Members raise issues, causes
During Members’ Time, members spoke about several issues and causes, including:
- Nuclear disarmament and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
- Fossil fuel divestment
- Geared-to-income housing
- The need to re-engage and make connections face-to-face in the community post-pandemic
- The lack of COVID-19 vaccinations in other parts of the world while Canadians are receiving third shots
- The Toronto Children’s Ministry Conference
- Thanks to the behind-the-scenes team for putting together an online Synod
Day ends in prayer
At the end of the afternoon session, the brothers of the Order of the Holy Cross led Synod in Evening Prayer.
Synod resumes with worship
Synod reconvened on Nov. 27 at 9:45 a.m. with Morning Prayer led by the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine along with the Rev. Canon Joanne Davies, chair of the Bishop’s Committee on Healing Ministries and an oblate of SSJD.
Financial reports and statements approved
Synod received and approved the Financial Report for 2020, the Audited Financial Statements for the Incorporated Synod for 2020 and the Audited Financial Statements for the Cemetery Fund for 2020.
Synod appointed the firm Grant Thornton LLP, Chartered Accountants, to conduct the audit of the financial statements of Synod, the Consolidated Trust Fund and the Cemetery Fund for the year ending Dec. 31, 2021, at a fee to be approved by the Audit Committee.
Synod votes on priorities and plans, budget
Synod voted in favour of the diocese’s priorities and plans and budget for 2022. Rob Saffrey, the diocese’s Executive Director, walked Synod members through the priorities and plans. As the diocese considers what a post-COVID Church will look like, the strategy is to be nimble and not make significant changes to diocesan ministry. The focus in 2022 is to assess how parishes will emerge from COVID-19, and not make major decisions until a long-term strategic plan is in place.
Patricia D’Souza, the diocese’s Controller, walked Synod through the budget details, including the revenue that supports diocesan ministry. There will be an estimated budgeted deficit of $1.74 million in 2022, funded by a combination of proceeds from land sales and the diocesan unrestricted fund. There will be no change to the parish assessment rate. The diocese is offering a one-month relief from allotment for all parishes in 2022.
Parish assessment rate approved
Synod approved an assessment rate for parishes of 24.70 per cent for 2022. This is the same assessment rate since 2019.
Missional & Outreach Moment #5
St. Margaret, Barrie talked about its missional transformation, which began 10 years ago. Since then, the parish has taken up the idea that it is profoundly missional. It engages in projects and events to engage with the community around it, creating trusting and welcoming places where people can have open conversations about where God may be at work in their lives. St. Margaret’s continually experiments with new ways of connecting with its neighbours, taking risks and trusting that God will lead them. During the pandemic, it has joined a coordinated project in Barrie starting food pantries. Churches around Barrie have seen that there’s a real need, and the pantries are well used. On Halloween, organizers trick-or-treated for food bank items to stock the pantry, with great success.
During Members’ Time, Synod members raised several issues, including:
- Thanks to the diocesan staff, Executive Board and Diocesan Council for their support of parishes during the pandemic.
- Appreciation for the parishes and musicians that submitted music to be included at Synod.
- The need to address the pain and division in society as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for a safe place to have conversations.
Synod Council members announced
The following clergy were elected to serve on Synod Council:
- The Rev. Simon Bell
- The Rev. Canon Dr. Stephen Fields
- The Rev. Canon Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert, SSJD
- The Rev. Maria Ling
- The Rev. Jesse Parker
The following lay members were elected to serve on Synod Council:
- Chris Ambidge, ODT
- Eirene Khean Cheng Wee
- Heather McGregor, ODT
- David Toycen, ODT
- Laura Walton, ODT
General Synod members announced
The following clergy were elected to serve on General Synod, which will be held in 2022:
- The Rev. Canon Nicola Skinner
- The Rev. Canon Dr. Stephen Fields
- The Rev. Molly Finlay
- The Rev. Roshni Jayawardena
- The Rev. Mark Regis
- The Rev. Claudette Taylor
- The Very Rev. Stephen Vail
The following laity were elected to General Synod:
- Laura Walton, ODT
- Chris Ambidge, ODT
- Yvonne Murray, ODT
- Gail Smith
- Marion Thompson, ODT
- David Toycen, ODT
- Mary Walsh, ODT
Finn Keesmaat-Walsh was elected to be the diocese’s Youth Member of General Synod.
Election of Honorary Secretaries
Bishop Asbil thanked Peter Newell as he retired from the position of Honorary Lay Secretary of Synod. He had served in this role since 2017.
- The following were elected for the ensuing two-year term:
- The Rev. Andrew MacDonald, Honorary Clerical Secretary
- Sheila Robson, Honorary Lay Secretary
- The Rev. Lisa Newland, Assistant Honorary Clerical Secretary
New vice-chancellors announced
Bishop Asbil said that new vice-chancellors would join Canon Brian Armstrong and Canon Paul Baston, the diocese’s existing vice-chancellors. Joining them are:
- Marg Creal
- Mark Hemingway
- Gail Smith
- John van Gent
Honorary canons named
Bishop Asbil named new Honorary Canons of St. James Cathedral:
- Canon Robert Saffrey, Executive Director of the diocese
- The Rev. Canon Simon Bell, St. Margaret, Barrie
- The Rev. Canon Andrea Budgey, Trinity College and St. Theodore of Canterbury
- The Rev. Canon Greg Carpenter, St. Jude, Wexford
- The Rev. Canon Susan Climo, Holy Spirit of Peace
- The Rev. Canon Stephanie Douglas-Bowman, St. Paul on-the-Hill, Pickering
- The Rev. Canon Timothy Haughton, Trinity East (Little Trinity)
- The Rev. Canon Maggie Helwig, St. Stephen in-the-Fields
- The Rev. Canon Stephen Kirkegaard, Holy Trinity, Guildwood
- The Rev. Canon Victor Li, St. Cyprian
- The Rev. Canon Erin Martin, St. James the Apostle, Sharon
- The Rev. Canon Claudette Taylor, Epiphany & St. Mark, Parkdale
- The Rev. Canon James Ferry, St. Peter, Erindale
Bishop offers thanks
Bishop Asbil thanked the many people who have worked to put Synod together. He said that we leave this Synod knowing that things are changing underfoot, and that we go into the future with confidence. God is with us. We are called to love each other, to love our neighbour as ourselves.