Magazine article Anglican Journal

Diocesean Leaders Cautiously Optimistic about Future

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Diocesean Leaders Cautiously Optimistic about Future

Article excerpt

The past decade has not been an easy one for the diocese of Niagara. Beset by financial woes, theological divisions over the place of gays and lesbians in the church and a series of lawsuits from parishes that left the diocese to join the breakaway Anglican Network in Canada, diocesan leadership has faced challenging times.

But these days, its leaders are cautiously optimistic about the diocese's future. For one, a settlement with the Anglican Network reached in 2012 has ended crippling lawsuits and left parish buildings from three breakaway churches in the hands of the diocese.

Over the past few years, said diocesan Bishop Michael Bird, the diocese has been able to climb out of a financial hole "and the financial picture of the diocese is pretty stable."

Canon Terry DeForest, vision advocate and director of human resources, added, "we're no longer just feeling at the mercy of those financial situations." A decision was made, for instance, to turn real estate assets into funds.

Joanna Beck, treasurer and director of finance for the diocese, noted that while the general fund operating deficit was $2.4 million at the end of 2009, it was $848,000 in 2014, and net assets have risen from $1.4 million in 2009 to $4.4 million in 2014.

"We're actually providing more services with, in some cases, the same or fewer people," she said. " [We are] trying to get proactive and doing things such that the impact [of decreased parish revenue] is less... It means doing things differently and being innovative and out of the box." For example, Beck noted that the diocesan synod has gone paperless whenever possible, which cuts down stationery costs and postage. It also has streamlined its annual reporting to simplify communications and avoid duplication.

The cause for optimism goes beyond financial matters. The diocese has a stronger sense of its mission, said its leadership.

Canon Christyn Perkons, director of congregational support and development, spoke passionately about the liturgical innovations being made by churches such as St. Christopher's in Burlington, which has involved its parishioners in creating new worship services that reflect the concerns of the community.

"It's a diocese that doesn't just offer Book of Common Prayer or Book of Alternative Services worship," she explained. "There are other [styles of] worship that reflect particular contexts that are unique to that area, and I think that gave people freedom and some space and the expectation to be actually engaged."

The Rev. Bill Mous, director of justice, community and global ministries, said he felt energized by the ways in which churches are connecting with the communities around them.

"One of the important things that has happened over the past five years is a renewed emphasis on community partnerships and engaging our neighbours," he said, citing ministries that churches such as St. Alban's, Beamsville, Ont., have established. (See story, p. 1),

"I think it's been energizing to hear those kinds of stories about how churches are finding new life by connecting with their neighbours and community agencies," added DeForest. While he agreed that the culture of church had "shifted profoundly" toward being more outwardly focused, he acknowledged that much remains to be done.

The diocese also continues to face difficulties in other areas. One issue it has come under fire for recently is its handling of the sale of the building that, until 2013, housed St. …

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