Focus to be on unpaid and Indigenous priests
The Anglican Church Women (ACW) of the diocese of New Westminster, in southwest B.C., have provided a gift of $100,000 to assist retired clergy with housing in Council of the North dioceses.
The diocese’s ACW has given the money to the Anglican Foundation of Canada (AFC) to distribute on its behalf, with an emphasis on helping Indigenous and non-stipendiary retired clergy. It has also challenged other ACWs across Canada to donate what they can to increase the fund.
Gail Revitt, president of the ACW in the diocese of New Westminster, says the women were inspired to help after reading a December 2020 Anglican Journal article on the Rev. Jonas Allooloo, the former dean of St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut who found himself homeless upon retirement.
“We thought that if he is having problems, then probably [so are] others in the Council in the North, especially those who are non-stipendiary and who have been living in church rectories,” Revitt says. “What do they do after they decide to retire?”
The Council of the North is a group of nine northern dioceses, including the Territory of the People and the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, supported by grants from General Synod. Many clergy in the Council of the North are non-stipendiary, meaning they are not paid for their ministry.
Though Allooloo has since found housing, the housing shortage remains an acute problem across the North. The Nunavut Housing Corporation, an agency of the territorial government, in 2016 described a “severe housing crisis” in the territory. Its 2019-2020 report estimated that 56 per cent of Inuit there lived in overcrowded homes.
On March 22, Northwest Territories Housing Minister Paulie Chinna spoke to the federal government’s Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs on the effects of the housing crisis and its disproportionate impact on Indigenous people, which include long waiting lists for public housing.
“Housing in the North is a huge issue,” says Council of the North chair David Lehmann, who is also bishop of the diocese of Caledonia, in northern B.C. In Caledonia, he says, all but one community have a 0.1% vacancy rate.
“In the city of Prince Rupert, it’s not uncommon for housing to cost $2,500 a month, which exceeds what a Council of the North pension would be by a fair bit,” Lehmann says.
The northern housing crisis disproportionately affects Indigenous clergy. Many are non-stipendiary or have served their entire career in church housing, says Lehmann, who himself lives in a house owned by the diocese of Caledonia.
Non-stipendiary clergy, Revitt says, have “been the ones keeping the Anglican church going in the North, made it viable, and it’s quite amazing that [they’ve gone] without any help… As non-stipendiary, too, they will not be getting a pension from the Anglican church.”
The New Westminster ACW, however, had an ace up its sleeve that put it in a unique position of being able to support housing for retired clergy—an asset that itself originally came from housing.
In the 1950s, members of the New Westminster ACW had purchased a home that was mainly used to support missionaries coming and going through Vancouver to the east. Over the years, they also used it as a boardroom and for work in their Bales for the North program—an annual tradition dating back to the late 1940s, in which ACW members sent packages of used clothing north to Yukon to support those in need.
Several years ago, the ACW sold the house after it had become too expensive to maintain. As a result, the group gained a large financial windfall, held with the Consolidated Trust Fund in the diocese of New Westminster. “We were able to do things more than maybe other ACWs across Canada, because of this fund,” Revitt says.
After they read the Journal article detailing how the northern crisis was affecting retired clergy such as Allooloo, the New Westminster ACW throughout 2021 discussed how it might be able to help. Consulting with Lehmann several times before making the decision, its members earlier this year voted almost unanimously to use their funds to support retired clergy in the Council of the North, particularly non-stipendiary.
Non-stipendiary clergy, Revitt says, “have given their service to our church, to the people in the Council of the North all these years and have asked very little of us as the broader church.”
The Council of the North will decide how to distribute funds, working with the AFC. Scott Brubacher, executive director of the foundation, says he has had an initial conversation with Revitt and Lehmann about the $100,000 gift and possible ways to structure the fund and disbursements. As this article was being written, the plan was still in its early stages and details remained to be worked out.
“We are excited about the potential of this very generous gift from the diocese of New Westminster ACW, and we look forward to working with other ACW groups and the Council of the North to support retired clergy in the North,” Brubacher says.
Housing needs of retired clergy vary depending on their circumstances. While some have been able to retire and find housing supplied through programs from local Indigenous governments or government agencies, others find themselves with nowhere to go upon retirement.
Lehmann recalls one instance where a “granny suite,” or self-contained living area, was built as an extension onto a house for a retired clergyperson to live. However, the house’s heating system wasn’t designed to support this added living area.
“The granny [suite] was a little cold, and so the [diocese] was able to find some funds, step in, and make sure that the clergyperson was properly housed” by upgrading the HVAC system, Lehmann says.
Three years ago, the diocese of Huron presented its own $100,000 gift to the Council of the North to help with clergy housing costs. These funds mainly went towards repairing housing and infrastructure that northern dioceses already owned.
Working with the AFC to distribute the ACW’s latest gift, the council and ACW are weighing different options for how the funds might be drawn down over several years—and whether other ACWs across Canada might be willing to contribute and grow the fund to make it a more long-term response.
“The council is very thankful to the New West ACW for their generosity and their vision, and to our partners at the Anglican Foundation who are helping pull this together—and hopes that others will jump on board as we look to a future where we can ensure that all who have served the church are well-served in their retirement,” Lehmann says.