Archbishop Caleb Lawrence
Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, diocesan bishop of Moosonee and metropolitan (senior bishop) of the ecclesiastical (church) province of Ontario, has announced his retirement effective Jan. 6, 2010.
Although by 2010 he would be one year short of 70, the required retirement age for bishops, Archbishop Lawrence has opted to retire for a number of reasons, including the fact that it will be the year he celebrates his 30th anniversary as bishop. His term as metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario also ends October 2009. (Archbishop Lawrence announced his retirement at a recent diocesan synod.)
“It’s going to be a completely different life for me,” said Archbishop Lawrence, who is the longest serving bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, consecrated in 1980. “I’m looking forward to stepping back from that kind of high-level, active church life.”
Born in Latties Brook, N.S., Archbishop Lawrence, who was ordained a priest in 1965, received his training in the diocese of Nova Scotia but ended up spending all 45 years of his church ministry in the north. (He earned a bachelor of arts degree at Dalhousie University, N.S., and a bachelor of sacred theology and an honorary doctorate in divinity from the University of King’s College, Halifax.)
Archbishop Lawrence said his ministry has been one of “unending growth and learning; just expanding all the time.”
For 15 years he was “on loan” from the diocese of Nova Scotia to the Arctic, serving as missionary, incumbent and rector of St. Edmund’s parish in Great Whale River, Que. That parish was a traditional meeting place between the Cree and Inuit, historic enemies.
“It was fascinating to learn another language and to immerse one’s self in two very, very different cultures,” said Archbishop Lawrence. “And then to try and understand, what does the Gospel mean in that kind of context? Within that kind of culture? How does that resonate with the spirituality of people? Where does it challenge it? How is it modelled and shaped? That was a tremendous experience.”
While at the Arctic he became one of the archdeacons who often traveled with then-bishop Jack Sperry. “He used to say that with the isolation of the Arctic, his archdeacons were really acting like suffragan (assistant) bishops, except that they were not in episcopal orders,” he said. “We had to go into areas, make tough decisions where there were crises in parishes and so on. And the bishop simply said, ‘I leave it up to you to do what you think is best and I’ll support you.’ It was tremendous training with a very affirmative bishop.”
The rigorous training came in handy when he became bishop of Moosonee, a diocese he described as “very, very different.” While the Arctic had two indigenous cultures, Moosonee was half First Nations, half non-First Nations, mostly of European ancestry.
“It was a huge and surprising adjustment because in the 15 years that I was in the Arctic I found that the church where I’d been trained to minister in a southern seminary in Halifax had changed drastically,” he said. “It was like a new English-speaking church.” He said that he took with him in his new job the “deep respect and profound appreciation for the ministry, spirituality and values of First Nations indigenous people.” His vision, he added, had been to build a diocese where both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Anglicans “could be a very powerful church in which we could affirm one another and strengthen one another, and expand one another in all kinds of wonderful ways.”
As for struggles that he’s had to deal with as bishop, he said, “I find that it’s very difficult sometimes to get a wider picture or to communicate that wider picture to people whose experience of church and whose idea of what church is and should be is very narrowly shaped around a theological perspective, around a specific culture, around a specific regional bias, if I can use that word.” He has struggled to encourage people “to believe in the church and not to regard the church with suspicion just because a particular expression of it is different from your experience.”
His early years as bishop came at a time when the whole church faced a lot of cutbacks that continue to this day. “We’re in the midst of trying to reshape (and ask), ‘how can ministry be offered to the people who look to the Anglican church for that ministry across an area if we have less than half the number of clergy we had in the early 1980s? We just can’t afford them,” he said. “We’re trying to develop non-stipendiary ordained ministry, but I think we’re very aware of some of the pitfalls of that. It can be very abusive if we expect people to work long hours for no pay.”
After spending more than four decades in the North, Archbishop Lawrence and his wife, Maureen, are moving to Nanaimo, B.C., where the weather is milder and they will be closer to their son (who lives in Kelowna) and daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren (who live in Nanaimo).
“I’d like to spend more time working with my hands – gardening, learning some new skills,” he said. “I’m going to spend time with family. I would like to have some time to travel to places.” Almost all the travel he’s done has been on church business, he said, the kind of thing where one flies into and out of the city seeing nothing but the airport and conference centre.
Many have been egging him to write a memoir – surely a bishop with decades of experience would have his share of stories to tell! He will get to it, he said. “I’d like to do that on reflection. I don’t want to just sit down and write it the day after I retire.” But first on his list is writing a story for his grandchildren. He already has a title: Numshowm, which is Cree for my grandfather, which is what his grandchildren call him.