Secretary of Synod provides an overview of the meeting, which will offer time for reflection on mission, ministry
By Matthew Townsend
Delegates to the Diocese of Quebec’s upcoming Synod, to be held Nov. 21-24 at the Monastère des Augustines in Quebec City, are set to experience a gathering that differs from past Synods in both membership and agenda. A number of honoured guests, including the newly elected primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, will greet the delegates, as well.
Synod is the diocese’s governance meeting held every few years to make policy decisions, elect leadership and gather members of the diocese around worship and prayer. This Synod—the 85th Ordinary Session of the Synod of the Diocese of Quebec—marks the first time the diocese will meet under revised guidelines approved in 2015, the last time the body gathered.
“At our last Synod, we voted to change the canon on how delegates are elected to Synod,” Canon Stephen Kohner, secretary of Synod, told the Gazette in an interview prior to the meeting. “We are a shrinking diocese, and it was felt that we could also look at reducing Synod for a variety of reasons, including financial ones.”
The view at the time, he said, was that a smaller Synod logically followed the diocese’s smaller population.
“The way of electing people who serve as delegates has changed significantly,” Kohner says. In the past, delegates were elected by each congregation in the diocese. All licensed clergy were invited to participate at Synod, as well.
For this Synod, delegates have been elected by each deanery in the diocese; 10 total clerics have been elected, representing the various deaneries and one region.
In a conversation with the Gazette in August, Bishop Bruce Myers said he is keeping an open mind to the revised synodical membership structure, adding that he views this as a trial run on something still evolving. Kohner agreed.
“Have there been growing pains? Absolutely,” Kohner said. “However, we want to give it a try. We want to see how this reduced-size Synod actually works—and if necessary, we’ll look at maybe changing our electoral process.”
Kohner said the election process has been “very smooth” and that it has worked. The “growing pains,” he explained, centred around concerns that large congregations might have disproportional representation within their deaneries. “It didn’t happen,” he said. “When we look at the delegates coming to Synod, there’s a really fair representation. It’s actually worked out.”
The secretary said he thinks the body of delegates offers a mix of newcomers and those with solid experience in church governance.
‘Where do we want to be?’
In addition to the new election process developed in 2015, Myers has brought a different vision to Synod, increasing emphasis on worship and storytelling—delegates to Synod will hear stories of mission and ministry from around the diocese.
Invited guests include the Most Rev. Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; the Rt. Rev. Mary Irwin-Gibson, bishop of Montreal; Mgr Pierre Goudreault, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sainte-Anne-de-La-Pocatière; the Rev. Dr. Jesse Zink, principal of Montreal Diocesan Theological College; and Mr. Robert Jordan, vice president, central and national accounts, Ecclesiastical Insurance. These guests, the secretary said, are expected to add to a mood of contemplation, reflection, and perspective of the wider church.
“I believe it’s going to be a breath of fresh air, just looking at the invited guests that are coming,” Kohner said. “They’re wonderful people who have a wealth of experience.”
The guests and delegates, he added, will “flesh out our orientations, our trepidations—but also, at the same time, help us consider, ‘Where do we want to be as a diocese? What directions do we want to take?’”
Part of what will allow for a reflective atmosphere, Kohner said, is a lighter legislative agenda than previous years. Only 11 canonical amendments were slated for discussion at Synod, he said, and he anticipated none of them to be particularly controversial. By contrast, past synods devoted more time to legislative discussion.
“When Bishop Bruce says he has a desire to ensure there is time for this reflection, prayer and fellowship, that’s being reflected in these proposed canonical amendments,” he noted.
Kohner said the move towards more pensive synodical gatherings began under the leadership of Bishop Dennis Drainville, who “challenged us to be the church” and to not view church buildings as monuments “but rather, to look at our communities. Bishop Bruce has taken that up, and he’s going to push it even further.”
“We’re making more room for pastoral matters.”
Four years since gathering
Kohner, who is from Montreal and works as a principal and teacher at a small English school in Baie-Comeau, was first elected to the secretary role in 1999. He told the Gazette that the diocese had not gathered in Synod over the last four years for a variety of reasons.
“One is Bishop Bruce wanted to ensure he had a full portrait of the diocese before calling a Synod—the time to meet with people, to examine the issues, to have a sense of where the diocese might want to be headed,” he said. “What are the priorities? What might the mission look like?”
This, he explained, has taken time to develop. “It’s a process, not an end product.”
The other reason is financial. “We simply have not had the necessary funds to call a Synod,” the secretary said. “They cost anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000, so that’s a huge chunk of the budget.”
He said the length of time since the last meeting served as encouragement to incorporate more pastoral and reflective discussion, acknowledging that the diocese’s constitution and canons would eventually need updating. “There are quite a few inconsistencies,” he said, noting that the DEC will form a subcommittee to explore resolutions to those problems.
“We felt that this Synod was not the time to go into the nitty gritty work of unpacking the constitution and canons to get them absolutely picture-perfect,” Kohner explained. Some of that work will be easy, but some “might take years. We’re talking about legislation that goes back to Queen Victoria. How do you change it? It’s very complex and could be very expensive.”
Thus, he said, this Synod would provide more of an opportunity for long-time members of the diocese and new arrivals to unite—and since the last meeting was held in 2015, a number of staff and clergy have never been to the Diocese of Quebec’s Synod.
“There’s been a lot of change, new people coming in,” he said. “For new clergy who have been here three years, we haven’t met them yet.
“This is a great opportunity. When you talk to people on the phone or communicate via email, it’s one thing—but face-to-face conversation is wonderful. It’s very empowering for people to connect with each other and see how much we have in common. And at the same time, to understand the regional differences.”
At the time this article was being written, the agenda for Synod was still being finalized. Kohner said in addition to legislative discussions and reflection on the life of the diocese, Synod would also include time for social events. “Those are always something people do look forward to, though one has to be careful how late one stays up at Synod. Bible study comes awfully early!”
Kohner said he was “ever hopeful” that the changes brought to this Synod, along with the fellowship and prayer in the meeting, would spark new ideas within the diocese. “It’s also a time for synergy. We’ve got a lot of wonderful people out there, and Synod is probably one of the few times, if the only time, when we can put all the energy and the ideas and the missions together in one place. That’s pretty exciting. That’s wonderful.”
The challenge, said Kohner, will be to ensure that the members of Synod feel empowered to return to their congregations, their deaneries and their communities with a “bold sense of mission and ministry.”