At its May 1 Assembly, the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) unanimously passed a historic resolution asking the synod of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon to recognize APCI as a territory with rights to elect a bishop through its own nomination and electoral processes.
“This recommendation will forever change community relationships within the Anglican church,” said suffragan bishop for APCI Barbara Andrews. “We are asking to be defined as a territory, that will both set us on a new path and allow us to honour those we have hurt in the past by our corporate actions…”
If APCI becomes a territory, it will be named as a geographic area and it will “enshrine our unique governance model,” said Andrews.
The resolution, moved by pastoral elder Jimmy Toodlican of Scw’exmx and seconded by pastoral elder Amy Charlie of Lytton Parish, was a product of the bishop’s task force for the election of a bishop for APCI, which had been given the task of exploring how APCI might be given more control over its episcopacy.
The task was not a particularly easy one.
When the diocese of Cariboo ceased to operate in 2001 after it was bankrupted by residential schools lawsuits, Anglicans in the central region of B.C. regrouped into an assembly and have since occupied an unusual place in the Anglican Church of Canada. As APCI is not a diocese, it does not have a diocesan bishop – Andrews is a suffragan to the Metropolitan (senior bishop) of the province of British Columbia and the Yukon, though she functionally serves as leader of the parishes.
As Cathy Wozlowski, a lay delegate from St. George’s church in Kamloops, put it in comments made to the Assembly, “Right now, we know we exist, but because there is no precedent for us, the ecclesiastical province and General Synod do not recognize us – so as far as they are concerned we don’t exist.”
APCI’s members would like to attain a greater degree of autonomy over their affairs, but they also do not seek to become a diocese.
Bud Smith, speaking on behalf of the bishop’s task force, explained the reluctance to return to a diocesan form of organization as being rooted in a commitment to practicing concrete reconciliation.
“We said [in 2000] that we were going to wind up the operation of our diocese [of Cariboo] in a way that was a sacrifice of our organization,” he said. The hope was to start a process that would be “some kind of greater or continuing healing and reconciliation for all that had happened in our diocese, particularly surrounding the residential school in Lytton.”
As part of this, back in 2001 APCI had committed to placing the needs and considerations of its indigenous members first, followed by the needs and considerations of the non-indigenous parishes and, finally, the administrative needs and functions of the ecclesiastical province. It is a commitment that APCI has attempted to realize by providing its indigenous members with 15 extra seats, with voice and vote at its assembly, in addition to those already held by delegates from indigenous parishes.
But while APCI had continued to evolve its own way of doing things, it did not have autonomy over its own affairs, and its bishops were appointed by the ecclesiastical province.
The solution suggested by the task force, and which was given the unanimous approval of APCI’s indigenous council on March 29, was to have APCI recognized as a territory, with the right to elect its own bishop. Being recognized as a territory would give APCI the autonomy of a diocese, without forcing it into the structure of a diocese.
But there was another reason why the term “territory” was appealing – as Nellie Joe, an indigenous delegate from Shulus noted: “The word ‘church’ or ‘Anglican church’ still has an affect on the survivors of the residential schools. As soon as they hear ‘church’ or ‘Anglican’…they either quiver or freeze – they still haven’t gone through that recovered state.”
Joe believed that the term “territory” would carry less baggage than “diocese. While these are certainly uncharted waters for the Anglican Church of Canada – as Smith put it, “there’s no other place that does not have a diocese that will also have a bishop that will have an ascribed area that functions in the same way as a diocesan bishop” – it is not without precedent.
“We already have within our provincial canons, which have been there for decades, a provision for dioceses, regions, or territories,” said Archbishop John Privett, Metropolitan of British Columbia and the Yukon. “So in some ways it’s going to fit in well, we just haven’t used that term for a long, long time. I think it’s part of reaching into the past for what was possible, to create the future.”
Having been passed by the Assembly, the resolution will now go on to the provincial synod this fall, where it will be voted on again.