Bishop Gordon Beardy, who served as the first aboriginal diocesan bishop in the Canadian Anglican church, rejoined the diocese of Keewatin in mid-April to assist the current bishop, David Ashdown.
“I know that this appointment will bring great joy to many … and I invite you to join with me in extending to Bishop Beardy the warmest welcome and assurance of our prayers as he undertakes this new phase of his ministry and the next step on our journey together,” Bishop Ashdown wrote in an April 15 pastoral letter to his churches.
Keewatin, based in Kenora, Ont., straddles northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba and about half its members are aboriginal. Bishop Ashdown, who is not aboriginal, was elected in 2002 after serving as then-diocesan bishop Beardy’s archdeacon.
Bishop Ashdown’s letter said Bishop Beardy will perform confirmations and ordinations, “provide pastoral counsel and direction to the clergy in conjunction with the diocesan bishop,” give advice and counsel to the diocesan bishop and participate in the wider church through house of bishops and other meetings.
In an interview at the mid-April house of bishops meeting, where Bishop Beardy’s appointment was announced, Bishop Ashdown said his friend and colleague has “a lot of wisdom and has long had a reputation in healing and reconciliation work (between native and non-native peoples).”
Bishop Ashdown also mentioned (as previously reported in the Anglican Journal) the diocese’s new plan to carve a self-determining native diocese out of the northern Ontario part of Keewatin and an aboriginal area ministry in the northern Manitoba parishes.
“The people are having a general assembly to establish the process for selecting their bishop. Whoever becomes the area bishop, it’s a new concept. There may be some opposition and misunderstanding. I don’t want to fight those battles myself and Gordon is a wonderful ally,” he said.
Bishop Beardy, who is 57, will be a volunteer and remain in his secular job of deputy chief of the Oji-Cree community of Muskrat Dam, about 500 km north of the diocesan office. It was established on the traditional lands of Bishop Beardy’s grandfather, Chief Samson Beardy.
Bishop Beardy said he sees a new relationship emerging between native Anglicans and their church. “I want to be sincere in how I help develop the new Anglican church,” he said.
He was elected in 1996 and resigned in 2001, just a few weeks after delivering an emotional address at that summer’s meeting of General Synod in which he formally forgave then-primate Archbishop Michael Peers and the Canadian church for the abuse suffered by native people in residential schools.
“I was one of the public figures serving in the church. I began to think, ‘Am I doing it for recognition or ministering sincerely and working toward healing and toward the glory of God?’ I needed time off to go back to who I really was,” he said.
Bishop Beardy, who has seven children, also said he needed to return to his family and community. “I’m a country boy at heart. I love nature and I love my family and I wanted to work among my family, being away from the media,” he recalled.
After he resigned, he worked in a native healing program before becoming deputy chief of Muskrat Dam.
When the position of national indigenous bishop was created last year, he did not put his name forward, he said, because he was concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest. “I was one of the people who forwarded the motion (at General Synod) for the national Anglican indigenous bishop. People might have thought that I wanted that office,” he said.