Bishop Matthews confirmed in New Zealand election

Published March 18, 2008

Bishop Victoria Matthews

The Anglican diocese of Christchurch in New Zealand confirmed on March 16 that Canadian bishop Victoria Matthews has been elected diocesan bishop and will be installed on Aug. 30.

“I think of how much the people of the diocese will have to teach me, and I promise that I will be attentive to what (they) say. It will be the beginning of a whole set of new relationships, and I believe that when that happens there is a potential that is almost without limit,” said Bishop Matthews in an interview with The Press newspaper in New Zealand.

Bishop Matthews, who is 54, was most recently serving as bishop-in-residence at Wycliffe College in Toronto. She was diocesan bishop of Edmonton from 1997 to 2007. She has twice been a candidate for primate (national archbishop) of Canada. In 2004, she was nominated, but withdrew due to a diagnosis of breast cancer (she has since recovered) and in 2007 she was a close second in the election that chose Archbishop Fred Hiltz.

The Anglican Journal reported in February that church sources had said Bishop Matthews had been chosen the eighth bishop of Christchurch at an electoral synod held Feb. 15-17. However, under a three-step process in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the election had to be approved by the house of bishops and the general synod and the choice could not be officially announced before then.

The dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Peter Beck, told The Press newspaper that he was looking forward to welcoming Bishop Matthews. “I was part of the electoral synod which elected her and I think she will be tremendous. She is a theological heavyweight and I understand she has been an excellent bishop of Edmonton. She will bring with her all those skills.”

Coverage of her election in New Zealand focused on whether she is conservative or liberal on the question of blessing same-sex marriages. Some called her liberal for authoring a Canadian report that said same-gender blessings are not in conflict with core church doctrine and others called her conservative for stating that “the church needs to decide whether same-gender marriage is a faithful development of the Christian doctrine of marriage.”

She described herself as neither, but “a disciple of Jesus Christ who has been called by God into leadership in God’s church.”

She was chair of the Primate’s Theological Commission in Canada, which wrestled with the question of whether the blessing of same-sex unions is a question of Anglican doctrine. The New Zealand primate, Brown Turei, welcomed Bishop Matthews, saying that, “I am sure that, with all her experience, she will make a good contribution to our life.”

She is also a member of the Windsor Continuation Group, which will look at crucial questions about the shape of Anglican common life around the world. She is also involved in the planning of the Lambeth Conference this July, a decennial meeting of Anglican bishops from around the world, and will attend as Christchurch’s bishop-elect. At the last Lambeth Conference in 1998, she served on the communications committee.

Bishop Matthews said she visited New Zealand in the 1980s; she praised the physical beauty of the country and the warmth and hospitable nature of the people. 

Some disappointment was expressed that the new Christchurch bishop would not be a New Zealander. Rev. Malcolm Falloon, of Bryndwr, told The Press that “I think there are a lot of laypeople out there who cannot understand why a Kiwi has not been appointed. That is not necessarily anything against Victoria Matthews; it is more about the church in New Zealand.”

Bishop Matthews succeeds Bishop David Coles, who will become vicar of Wakatipu, Queenstown, on the south island of New Zealand, next month


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