As the winter days get longer and the warmer weather doesn’t seem so far away, the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario is looking forward to its spring meetings and events, building on the work begun last year.
The province’s spring gathering will take place in the last week of March. These gatherings usually include the Ontario House of Bishops, Provincial Council, provincial executive officers, and the Ontario Provincial Commission of Theological Education (OPCOTE). Provincial Council decided last fall to move one of its two yearly meetings online, instead of having both in person. While meeting online will keep costs down, Council understands that there is a need to meet in person so members can not only network but continue to build relationships between Ontario’s seven dioceses. The province’s meeting this fall will be in person to allow Council to do just this. The intent is to be fiscally responsible while ensuring that we do not lose the personal connection we have by being together in person.
While the province continues its work with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, the Advisory Committee on Postulants for Ordination, government relations and outreach, there is a significant focus on the continued work with OPCOTE. This work is a priority for the province. We supported a conference last spring called “Calling and Forming Priests for Tomorrow’s Church: Pathways to Partnership” that brought not only the heads of the Ontario theological colleges together but also individuals who are central to the work and discussions around vocations in the seven dioceses. The conference called us as “provincial bishops, dioceses and colleges to work collaboratively to discern vocations for priestly ministry for the Church of tomorrow, and together prepare them effectively for ordination and life-long formation.”
The province recognizes that times are changing for the Church. New ministry opportunities arise while some older ones are no longer viable. COVID-19 has forced many parishes and theological institutions to adapt faster than expected. That means our clergy, both current and those who are considering ministry, need to be trained to meet the needs of a Church in transition. It is time to learn and look with fresh eyes to assess and understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s important to understand parishes that are adapting positively and living the gospel, and how that looks from an academic perspective as well.
The discussion acknowledges that each diocese needs academic support designed to meet its ministry needs. Academics and understanding of the priestly vocation are not the same in every place. The ability to do ministry in Ottawa and Niagara can not simply be copied and pasted into Moosonee and Algoma. While we are one big church family, each diocese will bring its own ministry needs, gifts and resources.
This work on vocations is well underway, and discussions continue to evolve and grow as the working groups focus on topics such as governance, incubator parishes, lifelong learning and mentorship. Each topic is framed in the conference’s executive summary by looking at what is currently happening (current culture and context), what could happen (aspirational alternatives and improvements) and what will happen (implementing practical steps to move us closer to desired outcomes).
The reality is that change is inevitable, and it’s important that the province meet that change head-on and embrace it moving forward. Adapting to ministry needs in an ever-changing world is critical and the province wants to support that work. At our meeting in March, we look forward to not only bringing together people of the province but working with their dioceses’ distinct set of needs to build strong and healthy parishes and institutions.