ACIP to examine native bishop idea

Published October 1, 2005

The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), during its regular fall meeting later this month, will begin to discuss the idea of a national indigenous bishop – a position that was requested by the native Sacred Circle meeting in August and supported by several bishops and the primate.

“ACIP needs to de-brief (receive information)” when it meets Oct. 26-30 in Toronto, said Donna Bomberry, co-ordinator of indigenous ministry at the national office in Toronto. “It will begin discussions. It needs to strike a selection committee, come up with criteria (for the position),” said Ms. Bomberry.

Among other questions: will the post be voluntary or paid? If voluntary, who will pay for expenses? If paid, who will pay the stipend? The Sacred Circle’s request asked “the Anglican Church of Canada to provide” the bishop but added that the bishop “will have spiritual support from the whole church and will be monetarily supported so the indigenous Anglican church stands strong and independent of any subordination.”

The Sacred Circle, a national gathering of indigenous Anglicans, met for the fifth time since 1988, this year in Pinawa, Man.

The declaration also called for the bishop to have “full authority and jurisdiction for aboriginal communities across the country.” A bishop with full authority has the right to ordain and discipline clergy, among other functions. The primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, committed himself to the creation of a national native bishop within one year, but pointed out that a post with full authority would have to be approved by General Synod and probably wouldn’t be a reality until 2013. (The next General Synod meets in 2007.)

The concept of a bishop with a non-geographic diocese represents a significant change for the Canadian church, with the exception of the bishop ordinary to the armed forces (currently Peter Coffin of Ottawa), who supervises military chaplains.

In recent meetings of the full house of bishops where the concept of a national native bishop has been discussed, some diocesan bishops – who have jurisdiction over their dioceses – were concerned as to how the powers of a non-diocesan bishop would intersect with theirs. Across the country, there are about 225 congregations with predominantly indigenous membership located in several dioceses and about 130 indigenous Anglican priests.

Seven bishops stood with Archbishop Hutchison at the Sacred Circle to support the idea of a national indigenous bishop, representing more support from the episcopacy than ever before.

However, the diocesan council of the diocese of Keewatin, which is primarily native and includes parts of Manitoba and Ontario, at a Sept. 1 meeting, adopted a statement expressing some concerns.

While supporting the concept, the council said that “provision of a national bishop would require significant structural changes. The Anglican Church has traditionally been organized along geographical lines. There is a danger in appearing to be attempting to reorganize ourselves along racial lines.”

It also felt that “the expectations for a national bishop appear to be unrealistic. There needs to be more provision for actual pastoral presence. The current terms of reference appear to be more political than pastoral.”

The council also said “there needs to be clear provision for funding of this position” and asked whether other “critical work will suffer” if the national church provides all the funding. “Secondly, if all the funding comes from national church sources, it will increase the sense of dependency (for indigenous peoples) rather than self-sufficiency,” the council said.

The council recommended that further consultation take place with aboriginal Anglican communities to develop a clear mandate for the job and asked General Synod (the national office) to “assist in a process of stewardship education and financial development unique to aboriginal culture to enable indigenous Anglican congregations to move more toward self-sufficiency.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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