The next time the bishop of diocese of British Columbia resigns, the diocese may not elect a new one. At its biennial synod Mar. 6-7, the diocese changed its canon (church law). Now, the viability of the diocese must be determined before a bishop can be elected. If the diocese is not viable, a bishop from another diocese can be called to step in.
This determination of viability will be made by a committee formed on instructions of the metropolitan (chief bishop) of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon. Archbishop John Privett of the diocese of Kootenay currently holds the position. The ecclesiastical province includes the dioceses of British Columbia, New Westminster, Kootenay, Caledonia, Yukon and parishes in the Central Interior.
This committee must have “substantial representation” from outside the diocese of BC. Only after the metropolitan receives recommendations, and decides the diocese is viable, can an election for a new bishop proceed. Bishop James Cowan, presiding over the debate, said that viability would be defined as wider than financial viability.
If the diocese is judged not viable, “an alternate method of episcopal oversight”-that is, a bishop from another diocese-might take over.
“Is it possible to have a synod without a bishop?” asked the Rev. Ian Powell of Christ Church Cathedral, before the new canon was passed. “Yes it is, I believe so,” replied the bishop.
In his charge to the diocese, Bishop Cowan noted that many think there are too many dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada. “As we continue to maintain our present structures, the programmatic support which might be used to extend the proclamation of the Gospel is reduced, and reduced and reduced. Somewhere, somehow, this has to end.” He said the new canon is a small step to a solution that will require “much more drastic and imaginative thought and action.”
At General Synod 2007, a committee was struck to consider reducing from 30 the number of dioceses in the Canadian church. The diocese of Toronto is one of the largest dioceses in the Anglican Communion, but several are much smaller.
Primate Fred Hiltz, who attended the recent synod, said a number of dioceses have adopted similar clauses in their canons. Archbishop Hiltz said “they could be part of the solution.”
–Neale Adams is former editor of Topic, the newspaper for the diocese of New Westminster.