CHARACTERIZED BY wide open spaces, a mix of rural and urban communities and stunning landscapes, the Diocese of Algoma encompasses a wide mix of parishes, including ones that operate strictly in the summer.
Algoma stretches 650 kilometres in three different directions, beginning north of Toronto and Huron, Bishop Ron Ferris noted.
“The north shore of Lake Superior feels very isolated, spread out, rural,” he said.
Thunder Bay is urban whereas Manitoulin is unique with its long history and native population.
Algoma began as part of the Diocese of Toronto in the 19th century. The Toronto bishop would visit as far as Sault Ste. Marie at irregular intervals, Executive Archdeacon Rodney Andrews said. The neighbouring Toronto and Huron dioceses promised to start a new diocese but offered no money.
The first bishop of Algoma, Fred Fauquier, obtained the needed cash donation in England, which he used to buy a house. The stately old home still houses the bishop more than a hundred years later. But no money was offered to run the diocese so Bishop Fauquier raised and sold vegetables from his land to neighbours.
In the beginning, the bishop travelled around his diocese by steam ship. “He fired off a cannon to let people know he was arriving,” explained Archdeacon Andrews.
Train travel came next then travel by car when the TransCanada highway was completed in the early 1960s. Now travel in a small plane is quite common. The archdeacon even has his own plane.
The diocese is divided into five deaneries, each with an archdeacon, a regional dean and two lay stewards who comprise the executive. While Bishop Ferris tries to visit each parish annually (and with about 110, that can mean three per weekend), the archdeacons take care of clergy inductions and the like.
“The deanery system really works for us here,” Bishop Ferris said.
Rather than bring together people from across the diocese, for the last three years deanery festivals have been held so people can travel shorter distances to meet.
The diocese is growing, the bishop added, noting it has experienced a 3 per cent increase in average Sunday attendance in the last two years.
Algoma is home to much of Ontario’s cottage country, where both Canadians and Americans retreat for lengthy summer vacations. “One of the consequences is it stays busy all year long,” Bishop Ferris said. “There’s not a quiet season.”
|DIOCESE OF ALGOMA Founded in 1873.
Synod organized June 1906 at Sault Ste. Marie.
Meets biennially. Area of diocese: 113,000 sq. km (70,000 sq. mi.).
Anglican census population: 61,580.
On diocesan parish rolls: 17,500. Clergy: active 54, on leave 10, retired 39, honourary lay readers 192, parishes 59, assisted parishes and missions 10, total congregations 111.
A number of early retirees have moved to Muskoka, for example. They may spend two days working on contracts from their homes and have lots of time leftover – and talent – to offer the church. The diocese has a high level of lay participation, the bishop noted.
It also has some very enthusiastic tourists. McGregor Bay, for example, is populated by American tourists for two months of the year. About 120 people attend the Anglican church there on Sundays, all arriving by boat. The church built its own docks there after the local store closed and pulled out its docks.
While in operation for just two months, it does everything a small parish would, the archdeacon said: choose officers, hold an annual meeting, fund raise, organize a Sunday School and music, run a Bible study. Many of the participants are not even Anglican but may be Methodist or Presbyterian.
Some of them have retired to Florida and their Muskoka summer homes are a way of keeping in touch with the church, the archdeacon said.
The diocese has a history of raising its own clergy dating back 100 years when the bishop at the time realized bringing in imports from England wasn’t working. Leading laymen were invited to consider becoming ordained. These days, candidates have to meet areas of competency but don’t necessarily have to complete a seminary program, Archdeacon Andrews said. They might take courses through Thorneloe College in Sudbury or do correspondence courses, for example.