By The Reverend Deacons Rod McDowell, Jean Ruttan Yates, and Sheila Plant
The deacons of the Anglican Church of Canada have been in the habit of gathering every three years to worship, share, and educate in different locations across the country. In 2017 at our last gathering it was decided that the best way to describe a group of deacons was a “disturbance.” This article is the story of a wonderful gathering of the disturbance that happened this summer in Niagara.
In 2018, we accepted the challenge of hosting the triennial conference of deacons and formed its organizing committee for the diocese. By March of 2020 everything was in place. We had liaised with the executive of Association of Anglican Deacons in Canada (AADC), found and confirmed space at Mohawk College for the conference, planned all the worship and events, lined up guest speakers which included our primate, Archbishop Linda Nicholls. We were ready to go but then the pandemic began, and our residential conference was necessarily postponed.
By the fall of 2020, it became apparent that holding a residential conference in June of 2021 was a no-go and planning began for a virtual conference scheduled for July. After months of Zoom and emails with the AADC committee and our Lutheran sibling deacons, we were utterly exhausted but finally July 9 arrived. The conference opened, with the critical and wonderful assistance of Archdeacon Bill Mous and Mary Anne Grant by Zoom at noon that day.
The theme of the conference was “Deacons in a Pandemic and its Aftermath: A Virtual Community Coming Together” with over 100 participants. Deacons from across Canada and a few from the United States joined us along with a few priests, and our own Bishop Susan Bell, Bishop Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and Archbishop Linda Nicholls. Tom Vaughan, chaplain to the Niagara deacons, served as chaplain for the conference. Following the usual opening housekeeping, Bishop Bell welcomed the participants. Worship, lead by the Niagara deacons, featured a re-affirmation of our ordination vows lead by our bishop.
What then followed was an incredible address by our primate with some question-and-answer time followed by Zoom sharing with our very humble spiritual leader.
We think it is important to dwell on some of the points that Archbishop Linda spoke to us about, such as the importance of us listening. One of her first slides warned us to “keep our foot in the door.” She warned us that this was our time, and we must look for the gifts of others and bring the voices of these people to the Church. She reminded us that Jesus looked to those on the edges as we are called to do. About residential schools, Archbishop Linda said it was not enough to be sorry but to understand what happened, and to learn, and listen. She also urged us to keep our ear to the ground, to observe and advise our parishes and bishops. We must, she said, observe, notice, and name. It is our task to connect the Church to the world.
We followed her address and comments by being sent to breakout rooms for the remainder of the afternoon, and Friday closed with wonderful moments of contemplative prayer lead by Canon Stuart Pike.
The next day began with worship lead by Lutheran deacons and featuring an address by Bishop Susan Johnson. We then broke into three different webinars: Antonio Illas lead a group on Migrant Workers; Deirdre Pike facilitated a discussion on prejudice and inequality; Janice Whiteley offered a session on truth and reconciliation. We are deeply grateful to Antonio, Deirdre, and Janice as they shared their experience and journeys with us.
Saturday also included a business meeting for the association, which decided to change its name to Anglican Deacons Canada. Of note, Rod McDowell was elected to the board of directors.
The conference ended with worship conducted by the board and many goodbyes. It was a wonderful experience in which we felt the real presence of the Holy Spirit. It was indeed a virtual disturbance. Thanks be to God!