Bishop’s message on the Church Bookroom

Dear Friends,

The Church Bookroom has been part of the Diocese of Ontario since it’s creation in 1960. While it’s prime “reason for being” has been as a retail outlet, over the years it has served as a resource for churches, groups, clergy and laity to identify and obtain books, recordings, liturgical and clerical supplies, cards and giftware to support their work and personal exploration of faith. It has also been a place of fellowship as well.

For many years, the Bookroom met these goals and at the same time generated a financial surplus which contributed to the life of the Diocese of Ontario. Across the Anglican Church of Canada, most dioceses had some type of similar ‘bookroom’ retail operation and the National Church operated the ABC (Anglican Book Centre).

However, in more recent years the world of retail business has changed dramatically with the substantial increase in online shopping, the emergence of large retailers like Chapters, Indigo, Amazon and the like. They have changed how people purchase the things they need. The demographics of our churches and their congregations has also shifted—both the amount and the types of things which are being purchased.

Over the last 20 years, other diocesan bookroom operations have struggled with the difficult balance of operating a retail operation. Diocese after diocese and the National ABC all ceased their operations. The ones operated by other denominations and by private individuals have also disappeared.

Our Church Bookroom staff have worked hard over the years to adapt and to try to consolidate customers as retail outlets have closed. These efforts included advertising, expanding the goods offered for sale and taking the Bookroom ‘on the road’ to outside events (other diocesan Synods, outside conferences, meetings, etc.). By working to provide a service focused on helping customers find and obtain what they needed, our operation was able to meet the many needs of not only our parishioners but also a range of other denominations.

Financially, the business moved away from an operating surplus (profit) and began to operate with small deficits. Given the mission and work it did, these small deficits (losses) were absorbed within the overall operation of the Diocese of Ontario without major concern.

In 2015, the Finance Committee contracted the Queen’s School of Business (through its MBA program) to undertake a study with the goal of better understanding and improving operations. Several of these recommendations were implemented as the operation transitioned from the old 90 Johnson Street location to the new Diocesan Centre on Ontario Street.

We recognized that 2017 would be a difficult year as the changes were implemented and the location changed. The loss on operations went from the small deficits in prior years to a loss of over $50,000 in 2017. With the changes in place, it was viewed that 2018 would be an important and pivotal year for the business.

We now have audited and approved financial statements for 2018, including the Church Bookroom.  Unfortunately, despite the hard work of the staff, 2018 was a difficult year. The loss on operations increased to almost $75,000 and in addition, there was a financial write-down of obsolete Inventory of an additional $55,000 bringing the total loss for the year to almost $130,000.

Clearly, the Diocese of Ontario cannot continue to financially sustain this level of deficit. At it’s April 2019 meeting, Synod Council (as the governance body of our diocese when Synod is not in session) reviewed the results and the factors that lay under these results. After a lengthy discussion, Council made the difficult and painful decision that we now need to close the Church Bookroom.

Beginning today, we are starting the process of closure. There are many elements to be detailed and handled, including the selloff of inventory and fixtures, communicating with customers, suppliers and other organizations as well as working through a fair and equitable transition for the staff. It is expected that this will occur over the next few months.

As a diocese, we also need to ensure that we understand the needs of our churches, clergy, laity and organizations so that new and innovative ways can be developed to support them. The clear objective in this work is to align to our Diocesan Vision & Strategy and with the direction we took at Synod 2018 to provide support to the churches of the diocese. This work led by a working group of Synod Council, under the direction of the Diocesan Executive Officer (Alex Pierson), will be a key focus in the month of May. More information and opportunities for input and consultation will follow.

This decision and implementation are difficult, but they reflect the reality we face and the commitment which we are living out as good stewards of the resources that we all share together. We give thanks for the work that has been done by all involved over the years and particularly our current staff—Phil, Tracey and John. Our prayers and support are with them as they move into transition over the coming months.

Yours in Christ,

Bishop Michael