Beneath most discussions at the recent Diocese of BC Clergy Conference May 16-19 lay the specter of the “PLANNING FEASIBILITY STUDY REPORT” prepared by Waller & Associates for the ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF BRITISH COLUMBIA March 31st, 2016.

This document emerged as the result of Waller & Associates detailed examination of the Diocese of BC to determine the advisability of mounting a major fundraising campaign. Among a number of findings, Waller & Associates determined that the Diocese of BC is suffering from a trust issue. The Report states that:

Two unique elements related to this visioning process are critical to understanding this study, and the insights it was able to obtain through the interview process. The first is the fact that, prior to the appointment of Bishop Logan in February 2014 the Anglican Diocese of BC went through a painful process of closing parishes, creating deep rooted scars and memories that continue to linger in the form of skepticism and distrust of the bureaucratic entity that people generally refer to as the Diocese.

Waller goes on to recommend that we pause in the process of moving towards a major fundraising campaign while working on the issue of trust:

In particular, we believe the Diocese must first pause at this crossroad and give serious consideration to the implications of four critical issues that have been brought to light in the study, because they are the issues that will determine success or failure:

1. Trust: The reality is that if this new initiative is solely about money it will fail. If it is about faithful, genuine and meaningful change then it has great potential to succeed, because the currency of the church is not money – it is trust. Diocesan leaders must look at every action and decision and ask “Will this build trust?” because the reality that must be accepted first is that no one feels a part of the diocese at regional and parish levels and the levels of distrust are still excessively high. For all intents and purposes, this initiative should be focused almost entirely on “Parishes” and the diocese should step back as a beneficiary, and instead become the facilitator.

What does it mean to say people experience “skepticism and distrust of the bureaucratic entity that people generally refer to as the Diocese”?

What is this “bureaucratic entity that people generally refer to as the Diocese”?

A diocese is a community of communities. It is defined primarily by the geographical proximity of worshiping congregations identified as “Anglican.”

(nb:  In the past twelve years the designation “Anglican” has become more complex in the western world as parishes that call themselves “Anglican” have broken away from their diocese due to theological differences. They have formed separate “Anglican” entities within the boundaries traditionally defined as “diocese”. These new “Anglican” entities have no actual connection to the body that has traditionally been identified as Anglican within that geographical location.)

Complexity aside, individual parishes grouped together by geography have traditionally been known as a diocese. One of the strengths of this concept is that a diocese has the capacity to embrace a greater degree of diversity than is possible for a single parish. Parishes that might situate themselves theologically in different places, or whose liturgical practices might differ greatly, are enriched and strengthened by being in relationship with communities that are not identical. In the past this ability to embrace diversity was seen as a strength of Anglicanism. Sadly, as the church has become increasingly atomized and polarized around theological issues, this vision of unity within diversity has suffered. We have all been impoverished.

According to Simon Sinek in his TED Talk “Trust and Why” showed at our clergy conference, this atomization of the Anglican Church should have made trust easier to achieve in a diocese. Sinek argues that,

The very survival of the human race depends on our ability to surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe. When we surround ourselves with people who believe what we believe, something remarkable happens. Trust emerges.

But, as our diocese has increasingly had the opportunity to embrace fewer people “who believe what we believe,” trust apparently has not grown; it has diminished.

Janet Marshall, who facilitated our Clergy Conference framed the question our first evening together asking,

What does it mean to develop relationships of trust and what do we need to build the kind of trust we need for the collegial relationships that are essential?

These are good and important questions, but perhaps before asking what we need to do, it is important to ask what we are really saying when we claim that trust has been lost.