Arctic bishop turns to England for clergy

Published February 1, 2000

A recruiting campaign in England aimed at priests willing to serve in Canada’s far North has drawn at least as much interest from the media as from potential candidates, says a bemused Bishop Chris Williams of the Diocese of the Arctic.

The Guardian is among several English newspapers that featured an article on the campaign after Bishop Williams placed advertisements in several church publications overseas, including the Church Times and Church of England Newspaper.

BBC Radio and a number of newspapers picked up on the story and interviewed the bishop, who grew up in Manchester, England.

The North American correspondent of the Daily Mail wants to profile an English priest who takes up the offer and relocates to the Arctic, the bishop said. A film company has even expressed interest in making a documentary.

As of late December, the ads had drawn 16 responses, one of which had resulted in a completed application form. That candidate “looks very promising,” Bishop Williams said. “We could do with clergy. We don’t seem to be too successful in Canada.”

The bishop hopes to hire nine clergy to fill vacancies at his 30 parishes. He said he first informally tried the usual route of theological schools in Canada but found little interest. Bishop Williams said that led him to place an ad in September’s Anglican Journal. That resulted in two responses, one of which was serious and the other from a Ugandan cook living in Montreal who misunderstood the ad. Since then, the bishop has been in touch with another two Canadians in theological colleges who have expressed interest in the Arctic.

“We certainly would not turn down anybody suitable from Canada,” the bishop said. “It’s simply a question of supply and demand. There’s certainly nothing anti-Canadian about this.”

It made sense to try England after Canada, the bishop said.

“The Arctic has always had a tradition of clergy from England, including myself,” Bishop Williams said, noting he left England for the North 40 years ago.

“I think in England there’s still a sort of ? I hate to use the word ? romance ? about the North. It dates back to the days of the early explorers. I think Canadian clergy are reluctant to go into the more remote areas of Canada.”

Bishop Williams said other bishops who are members of the Council of the North would echo that sentiment. “It’s not just the Arctic.”

The drive to fill priests’ posts has not been limited to foreign recruiting, however. “Over the last 20 years, we have been building up indigenous ministry,” he said.

Three Aboriginal candidates are currently studying for the ordained ministry but will not be available to serve for another 18 months.

It’s unlikely any English clergy will be working in the Arctic at least until the summer, the bishop said. Once an application is completed, candidates will be interviewed first in Britain. Then the immigration process begins, which can take a long time.

After a successful six-month stint, any new clergy will be asked to sign on for three years, after which a mutual decision will be made for any further service.

The Arctic is not an easy place to work. It is the largest diocesan territory in the entire Anglican Communion and has what many southerners would consider to be a forbidding climate. But the isolation is less these days than it once was, the bishop said. When he first came to the Arctic, a supply ship arrived just once a year with mail. Now parishes are serviced two or three times a week.

But the social problems are more difficult: teenage suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse. “There are different strains and stress on clergy,” Bishop Williams said. “The stress is probably greater these days.”


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