May Synod: Our Annual Community Gathering

Synod 2011 may be a few months off yet, but for the Synod Planning and Agenda Committee and Synod Office staff, our annual May gathering is never far from thought.

The past two years have seen significant departures from the way we’ve done business in recent times. We’ve moved from the Sportsplex at Capilano University to our own diocesan facilities; we’ve moved from a Friday/Saturday format to a format which has incorporated a one day pre-synod gathering followed some weeks later by a major worship celebration and a one day business gathering. We’ve also moved away from catered lunch to an arrange-for-your-own-lunch situation.

Each year, the Synod Planning Committee collates the results of a post-synod survey.  The most recent survey was conducted on-line. With several years of data at their disposal, the Bishop, Synod Office staff and the Synod Planning Committee draw on a growing body of collective wisdom in their synod-shaping work.

What does this collective wisdom tell us? In terms of synod location, over 50% of respondents over the past two years approve of the change of venue to our own diocesan facilities. Venues so far have included St. Mary’s Kerrisdale and the cathedral. A successful pre-synod event was held this year at St. Dunstan’s, Aldergrove. Other parishes with the capacity to host synod are now offering their facilities for future events. While fixed pews are a hindrance to the kind of conversation we value and practice at our synod gatherings, respondents don’t think it’s an insurmountable situation.

This year’s survey respondents also indicated a 50/50 split concerning synod format: 50% expressed a preference for the former two day format, while 50% prefer the pre-synod gathering followed later by an evening gathering for diocesan worship and a one day formal synod session. There is significant support for maintaining our cathedral evening worship as an important part of synod. One respondent remarked that this year’s synod worship service was “the finest diocesan worship gathering ever”.

Realizing the need for fiscal accountability in the current economic climate, respondents appreciate the need to save money by shifting the location and format of synod – including the new food arrangements. Although a few respondents mentioned the desirability of having lunch catered, most are content with supplying their own food or making their own arrangements to eat at nearby restaurants.

In commenting on the format of a pre-synod gathering introduced this past May, one respondent remarked that “the pre-Synod event is a good format. It focuses our attention on the task(s) of Synod which translates into a more streamlined Synod process.” Another wrote that “this format assists me in keeping my energy level high for both events, whereas my energy tends to fall on the second day of the two consecutive days schedule”. The other side of the equation was summarized this way by another respondent: “it is difficult for many delegates, and clergy, to put aside two weekends in a month, so delegates may miss the pre-conference….Our lives are full”.

Two other respondents offered more detailed reflections:

“The one day format was limiting in terms of delegate to delegate interchange. The sense from the get-go seemed to be one of ‘keep it moving since we’ve only got a few hours’. It seemed to me that the message of cramming everything into one day was that we the delegates were being managed beginning to end….Synod should be much more than what it has been made!”

The second analysis again contrasts with this view:

“I found it less time consuming with the two split days. It was easier to focus on both the programs and the Synod business. I hope that they do this again. I also think that it is less of a financial drain on the diocese to use the larger parishes to held the synod and the pre-synod rather than a university setting. I also was pleased to have one offering in the Valley at St. Dunstan’s and the other at the Cathedral.”

Diverse opinion is, of course, fundamental to the Anglican way.

The most important aspect of Synod according to recent surveys is simply ‘getting together’ to fellowship, to learn, and to do business. “Part of the joy and ‘communion’ of Synod is getting together, meeting people and sharing worship, ideas, challenges, and having time to be reminded of some of the great things going on around the Diocese – through parish presentation, projects, associated groups and displays”, wrote one respondent. Another remarked that “the networking/meeting people/hearing from other parishes is important for lay people who spend most of their time just in parishes.”

All in all, in spite of the restrictions that exist, synod delegates on the whole like what’s happening. Some feel the change in facilities and format bring us “closer to the purpose of the synod.” One respondent noted that, “while I liked the tables at the gym that enabled round table discussion, the expense is not justifiable and for presentations people had to turn their chairs with their backs to the table anyway. The Cathedral and St. Dunstan’s allowed some moving of chairs to face each other.”

As chair of the Synod Planning and Agenda Committee, I welcome your input. Please feel free to add to the collective wisdom. Your response to this post could have a significant influence on the planning of Synod 2011. Please share your thoughts. Join the conversation.

Steve Bailey

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