The Administrator’s Reflection at the 50th Synod of the Diocese of Brandon

By on December 31, 2023

Editor’s Note: Traditionally, there is a “Bishop’s Charge” at any Synod, where the Bishop outlines their hopes and dreams for the Diocese. Following that, a committee usually gathers to respond to the charge with practical ideas, et cetera. However, we did not have a bishop when we met at the 50th Synod in November 2023. It was thought that while the Administrator should preach at the opening service, casting hopes and dreams for the diocese was not part of his job description. Following is the reflection from that opening service.

My Sisters and Brothers of this 50th Synod of the Diocese of Brandon,

One of the long-held traditions of our synods has been the “Charge from the Bishop” which they would read during the opening eucharist. This charge was to help set out a vision for the diocese over the coming years and to give shape to the hopes and dreams we have as we continue to follow Christ. There would also be a committee formed to respond to the bishop’s charge, pulling out specific action points and suggesting ways, via motions, to begin to give some shape to how those hopes and dreams might be accomplished. It is an amazing process whereby the bishop will set the course of our diocese and to which we would respond by plotting that course and setting the sails, to use imagery that our last bishop was fond of.

This year, things will be a little bit different. As your administrator, it would not be right for me to attempt to do something that should only be the dominion of someone elected to be our servant shepherd.  My job is not to set the course.  Rather it is to do my best not to run us into the rocks while we await our new captain! Okay, enough nautical imagery for now.

Before I continue, I would like to extend our thanks to the people who have worked very hard to bring not one, but two synods together. Thanks to Rev’d Cheryl for managing the entire process for us. And Father Matt Koovisk, our secretary of synod for all his work before he leaves us for new adventures in BC. Thanks also to Teresa Levich, Deb Clevett and Father Chris Evetts for their hands on work. A huge vote of thanks to Archdeacon Kara and the episcopal search committee for all their work. And of course, thanks to Archdeacon Jonathan and all the good folks here at Redeemer & St. George’s for hosting us. There are no doubt people whom I have forgotten to mention, but please know that your work is very much appreciated, because these sorts of events only come together because of the work of many hands, so again, on behalf of all of us, thank you.

We have much to do over the coming two days, but our biggest job will be on Saturday, when we, the members of synod, elect a new bishop for this diocese.  To do that, I believe that we must reflect on our past before we can look to our future.

I have been blessed to have been in ordained ministry in this diocese since 2004, so I can say that I have seen us at some very low points but have also seen us do amazing things. When +William was elected in October 2015, the future looked very uncertain. We were, as a diocese, struggling financially, and having difficulty attracting clergy to come here. That is not at all unusual for a Council of the North diocese, but we were also suffering from several years of scandal which made our situation even more tenuous. In short, the road ahead looked very bleak. Personally, I wondered if our 7th Bishop might well be our last.

But then, the Holy Spirit reminded us, as so often happens, that God is not done with us yet. With new leadership came new vision and new hope. Faith grew and with that came a renewed energy. More new people came to our diocese, and with them came new approaches and priorities. Let me give you just a few examples of this.

One of the first things that was done was to look to our brothers and sisters in the north and make reconciliation more than just a buzzword, but a lived-out reality.  Our northern sisters and brothers were finally provided with the tools and resources to allow them to determine their priorities for ministry and act on them. I believe that there is now a new relationship with north and south, indigenous and settler.  This happened because of the vision of what should be, combined with the faith that said this is how it must be.  Vision and faith. This ongoing mission of reconciliation must remain a priority regardless of who our next bishop is going to be, and I’m confident that none of us would allow this diocese to take one step backwards when it comes to the good road we are walking together.

Another thing that was recognized is that some of the old models of ministry simply did not work well anymore. Not everyone called into God’s service would be a seminary-trained priest. Yes, having a Master of Divinity is wonderful, but it can also be a challenge for those who cannot afford the cost or lack the ability to relocate. Having said that, education is never a bad thing and should not be limited to those whose circumstances allow them to access it. It’s also important to recognize that theological education should not be reserved only for those seeking ordination.

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Any follower of Christ who wants to deepen their understanding of theology, scripture, church history, liturgy or pastoral care should have access. Because of the dedication of our laity, especially our lay readers, we are stronger and quite frankly could not possibly do a lot of what we do without them. Therefore we need to uphold our lay leaders and give them the some of tools of ministry that used to be mostly the domain of clergy.

As a result, through cooperation with Huron University College at Western University, the Licentiate in Theology, or LTh program was born. As many of you know, we have instructors, graduates and current students among us here today. And again, as you might know, this program is designed to be able to be accessed remotely and is also free of charge to anyone within the Council of the North. That’s us! This diocese, through the vision of our former bishop and others, created something that would have seemed impossible before. Another example of what vision, coupled with faith, can accomplish.

One final example that I would like to offer this evening is the ministry that is now taking place at our church camp. If you’ve been in the diocese for a while, you’ll know that not all that long ago, the camp was seen by some as a huge drain on the finances of the diocese.  A place that few people attended but soaked up a lot of money annually. People talked about getting rid of it somehow, as other dioceses have done with their camps. But again, through vision combined with faith, it was recognized that this camp could be seen as an anchor, pulling us down, or we could see it as an incredible opportunity for ministry and reconciliation. With some financial resources from outside our diocese, and a lot of blood, sweat and tears from within it, our camp has now been transformed into something that supports children from all walks of life, including various indigenous communities in the north and from Sioux Valley. From a burden, to a place of hope, love, acceptance and learning.  Vision and faith, over and over.

And as much as I know you all know this, we need to remember that the things we do over the next few days will have an impact that will be felt for many years in this diocese. This cannot be taken lightly because there is far too much at stake. We are prayerfully to decide who our next servant shepherd is to be, the person who will be responsible to walk alongside us in faith, helping us see God’s vision for a world that desperately needs good news.

Our reading from the 61st chapter if Isaiah reminds us of this. This particular part of Isaiah was believed to have been written after the exiles had returned from Babylon. They were returning to a home that no longer looked like the home they once had. Things had changed.  Who were they now? What would they need to do to remain faithful to who God had called them to be? Listen to these words again, “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour —  to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”

We live in a world that is, for so many, a world of sadness and pain. A world that values people by the weight of their bank account, the size of their house, the number of likes on Twitter. A world that tells many people that they do not matter, or are a burden, or simply doesn’t see them at all. But that’s where we come in. To bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the wounded and brokenhearted, to show people that they are indeed loved, that they matter, that God himself calls them his beloved. In a word, we are called to bring people hope. It is an awesome responsibility and because of that, I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us in the following few days to give us a glimpse of the plan that God has for this diocese, for us, and for our new shepherd.

So here we are, gathered for the next couple of days to continue with what we pray will be vision and faith. My sisters and brothers, we have come so far, and with God’s help, accomplished so much. Let us recall these words from St. Paul that we heard earlier, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”

Our job is to continue to let those roots grow down into him and our lives be built on him.  What is God calling us into? Where is he leading us? I cannot answer that, except that I know that he is calling us forward. To do more, to be more, to learn more, and to love more.

We are called to move forward, not backward. So let us, with every prayer, and with every word spoken and heard in the coming few days, ask what God would have us do: to help us grow, to deepen our roots, and to strengthen our relationship with him, each other and the world that we are called to serve. Let us not fall back but continue to move boldly forward, seeking his vision and acting in faith.

After all, we’ve seen what happens when we do that! May God’s love and peace be with us all.  Amen.


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