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“God gives us the gift of sacred groves and holy places where we can be still and know God.”
Bishop Bob Bennett

By Bishop Bob Bennett

The theme for this Synod is encapsulated in the Anglican Communion’s Fifth Mark of Mission: “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”

To help frame our theme, I give you three pillars to undergird all that I hope we might be about this next while.

First pillar, from Janet Hurlow, a resident of the hills of West Virginia:

God blesses all who reach out for his love. In God’s Love find peace.
In God’s Love is all peace.
The true spirit of peace comes from God.
There is no peace in things of earth’s craving.
Spend your time in God’s Love
And you shall understand.
This is earth,
In her wisdom she comes in many ways.
While you seek her treasures, she seeks God.
This is.
Children of God use earth’s treasures in God’s Love.

Second pillar from the indaba conversations of the Lambeth Conference of 2008:

“Indigenous peoples have traditional understandings of the earth as a gift of the Creator and of their relationship to it and its creatures being one of interconnectedness and responsible caring. The indigenous peoples have reminded us that we are not aliens in a wilderness to be conquered, but integral parts of the created order, as are plants and animals, which are to be cherished and nurtured.”

Third pillar from the communique issued by 17 Anglican bishops who gathered in South Africa in February:

“In different ways each of our own dioceses are deeply impacted by climate injustice and environmental degradation. We accept the evidence of science concerning the contribution of human activity to the climate crisis and the disproportionate role played by fossil-fuel based economies. Although climate scientists have for many years warned of the consequences of inaction there is an alarming lack of global agreement about the way forward. We believe the problem is spiritual as well as economic, scientific and political. . . . For this reason the Church must urgently find its collective moral voice.”

Sacred Groves, Holy Places

God gives us the gift of sacred groves and holy places where we can be still and know God (Psalm 46.10) ­— as with Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18), Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28), Mary in the garden on Resurrection morning (John 20), Jesus withdrawing to deserted places to pray (Luke 5).

I suspect that each of us has one or two particular places of stillness. As a teenager, my sacred grove and holy place was the family cottage at Bayfield along the shoreline of beautiful Lake Huron. I have vivid memories of peaceful solitude as I walked the beach and basked in the glory of God’s creation.

As was the case for Abraham, Jacob, Mary, and Jesus, one has to return from the place of stillness to re-engage. Strengthened in the Spirit of God, I always returned ready and willing to re-enter the multiple relationships of life where each of us live, move, and have our being. We can’t stay in the stillness; to be faithful means to be a “sent” people, conduits of God’s love and purpose.

Children and Grandchildren

The blessing of blessings for grandparents is to gaze upon the pure innocence of a grandchild and in that moment see the glory of God reflected back. The innate response in such moments is to “praise God from whom all blessings flow”.

There is a coming together of all this whenever I take my grandkids for a simple walk in the woods or a leisurely stroll along the sunny shores of Huron. There’s always a moment somewhere when I ruminate about what it will be like when Riley takes her grandchild for a similar stroll. Will her sacred groves and holy places enable her to praise God — or not?

We know with increasing clarity that this “fragile earth, our island home,” is groaning from abuse heaped upon abuse with the resultant climate change. We also know that to continue same old, same old is not sustainable or appropriate.

I believe that it is time for the saints of Huron gathered in Synod to engage in deep conversations about these things both for our sakes and more particularly for our grandkids and their kids. Sisters and brothers in Christ, what exactly does it mean for us “to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”?

To help us in our quest, we welcome to this Synod the Rev. Canon Ken Gray.

The Life of Synod

Since my first diocesan Synod in 1974, I always get a jolt as I peruse the many and varied reports contained within the Synod Journal. Sometimes I wonder if this annual reporting is so familiar to us that we don’t realize the breath and scope of the missional life of this diocese. I’m going to highlight just a few things here.

Huron’s Strategic Mission and Ministry Plan

When communities such as ours experience stress (which is pretty much always), there are various ways to react. As a diocese, we have embraced the strategic approach.

Under the leadership of Ven. William Harrison, we continue to work away at implementing the latest iteration of the diocesan strategic plan. Remember the five priorities: external focus on mission, effective leadership (lay and clergy), faithful use of resources, an effective communications strategy, liturgical excellence.

Here’s a stream-of-conscious flow that comes into my mind when I mull over these priorities:

Renison Institute of Ministry; Education for Ministry; Huron University College offering a licentiate in theology; ongoing closing, reorganizing and amalgamation of parishes; possibility of locally trained clergy; revitalized Anglican Fellowship of Prayer; post-ordination training events; reorganized and re-invigorated Lay Readers Association; the College of Deacons; ongoing educational events for clergy; the rebuilding of diocesan trusts to be used for ministry.

In the area of communications, we have hired Lashbrook Marketing and Public Relations to help us move quickly in addressing very real concerns.

And the Doctrine and Worship Committee has particular responsibility in supporting the bishops’ ministry of ensuring liturgical excellence. The key in a world of liturgical challenges (that is, eucharistic hospitality, revision of baptismal or eucharistic rites, the use of the historic creeds, confirmation rites and the like) is to know where particular responsibilities for major liturgical experimentation or revision lie, which is mostly at the national level or the diocesan level through the ministry of the bishop.

First Peoples of the Land

This has been a memorable year. The Lenni-Lenape, Algonkian, Iroquois Council (LAIC) lost two members who also were members of Synod: Mrs. Leona Moses and Mr. Leslie Elm. Leona, in particular, served her church and community at every level and was known and respected pretty much everywhere. Both are sorely missed.

Here are some personal highlights as I think about the long journey to a place of healing, reconciliation, and self-­determination.

The National Aboriginal Day of Prayer took place at the Mohawk Chapel.

The visit of senior staff to the Mohawk Institute was a deeply moving and emotional experience. (Thanks to Norm Casey for being such an able guide and fount of wisdom).

It was my honour to admit to the degree of doctor of divinity (honoris causa) Ms. Roberta Jamieson of Six Nations and the National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald at Huron University College’s theology convocation.

Two weeks ago I was blessed to be at Walpole Island where Rev. Canon Laverne Jacobs, Rev. Erwin Oliver, and I were surprised and feted by the Walpole community celebrating our ordination together over 40 years ago.

I look forward to joining the members of the Huron indigenous family at the Sacred Circle at Port Elgin this summer, a gathering of indigenous Anglicans from across the country. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s closing ceremony took place in Ottawa earlier this month.

Renew H

ealthy parishes engage in strategic visioning that inexorably leads to securing resources that enable the community to realize its vision. This is an over-and-over-again dynamic which is self-evident in vibrant faith communities. Dioceses also strive to be healthy and vibrant by engaging in strategic visioning.

Renew is the “what do we need to get there” piece. To date, the total amount secured in cash and pledges for the five priorities of Renew is well in excess of $5.5 million.

The major emphasis in these early days has been Parish Vitality. Across our diocese, parishes engaged in strategic visioning that is rooted in the local missional context and then set about to realize their particular passion.

Some parishes, like St. Paul’s, Southampton, St. John’s, Tillsonburg, and St. Matthew’s, Windsor, have embraced significant capital challenges. Others like Trinity, Blyth, (with their Toonie Tuesday Outreach Ministry) and Grace, Ilderton, (through their Cans for Camp initiative) have got it just right for their particular context.

Recently, I worshipped with St. Luke’s, Broughdale, and discovered that this community adjacent to Western University has done Renew very well. The vestry went through a visioning process and through that experience concluded that reaching out to their neighbourhood and particularly Western is their missional context. To realize that vision, the vestry has embraced a goal of a quarter of a million dollars.

A while ago, I found myself at Canon Davis Memorial in Sarnia to dedicate critical improvements to the parish hall: a lift, an accessible washroom, and an automatic front door. I clearly caught their vision as I observed an elderly parishioner take the new lift to the upper parish hall, a place she had not frequented for years due to mobility issues. At the reception following in the parish hall, I was informed that Phase 2 of Renew is to air-condition the hall as it presently cannot be used in the dog days of summer.

Bishop Terry and I will speak in the session of Synod about the next phase of Renew — diocesan priorities.

Concluding Thoughts

Bishop Terry and I are honoured and blessed to be bishops of this wonderful diocese. As I gaze out over the gathered community in this our cathedral church, I see friends, colleagues in ministry and above all, fellow pilgrims on the way. For me, this is one more sacred grove and holy place.