Bishop Victoria Matthews heads a task force examining episcopal oversight in the diocese of New Westminster. Other members are (from left) bishops Donald Young, George Bruce and Thomas Morgan.
They have not spent sleepless nights yet, but they all agree that they are faced with “a most daunting task.”
Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton, who heads the task force created by the house of bishops to consider alternate episcopal oversight for those who seriously object to church decisions, considers her new responsibility “the most challenging thing that the Anglican church has asked me to do.”
“It’s a daunting task but it’s also a fascinating problem (to tackle),” she told the Anglican Journal. “I spend a lot of time thinking about it. This is an instance where I need to think outside the box.”
Bishop Matthews, along with Bishop George Bruce of Ontario, Bishop Thomas Morgan of Saskatoon and Bishop Donald Young of Central Newfoundland, are mandated to consult with bishops, clergy and lay leaders to “identify the range of possible circumstances in which alternative/alternate episcopal oversight might be called for.”
Bishop Matthews said that task force members find themselves grappling with many questions, among them, “What constitutes adequate episcopal oversight?” She added, “To get to that we have to weigh the range of answers.” She expressed hope that soon “a picture will emerge.” To date, she said, “We have no answer. There may or may not be an alternate episcopal oversight.”
Aside from conducting meetings with various dioceses, Bishop Matthews said the task force has been studying many models of alternate episcopal oversight to gain insights. She cited the example of the Navajoland in the Episcopal Church in the United States, which has an indigenous diocese with episcopal ministry over four different dioceses. Bishop Matthews also cited the example of Archbishop Andrew Hutchison of Montreal, who is metropolitan of the ecclesiastical (church) province of Canada and Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces. “He is archbishop of Montreal but he also ministers to people of the armed forces, which is not a geographic area,” she explained.
What makes their task more difficult, she added, is the fact that “there are different models but there is no model that perfectly fits into what we’re looking at.” The question of alternate episcopal oversight emerged because of the long, drawnout conflict involving parishes of New Westminster over the issue of same-sex blessings.
Bishop Matthews said, “We need to be highly respectful of the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop and the local metropolitan. But, at the same time, we also need to be able to hear the needs of people asking for an oversight. Those are two seemingly irreconcilable voices that we need to listen to.”
However, the bottom line would be “what would best serve the unity of the church?” said Bishop Matthews. Asked who will identify the terms in the event an alternate episcopal oversight is recommended, Bishop Matthews said, “We have no power or desire to be prescriptive. We’re simply going to give a report. They can throw the whole thing out or accept it.”