Victoria Matthews, who was the first woman to be elected a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, will step down as bishop of Edmonton on Nov. 30. She said in a letter that her next move is uncertain.
Bishop Victoria Matthews, who broke new ground for women in episcopal ministry and was twice a candidate for primate, or national archbishop, announced on Aug. 2 that she will resign as leader of the diocese of Edmonton, citing that she believes “God is now calling me in a different direction.”
Bishop Matthews, who was elected in 1993 the first female bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, said in a pastoral letter that her resignation is effective Nov. 30.
“Some will wonder if I have health concerns, and others will ask if I am angry at the Anglican church. The answer to both questions is no,” said Bishop Matthews in the letter. “I am well and I love our church. I am an Anglican and hope to always minister in accordance with the grace and mercy of Christ our Saviour.”
Bishop Matthews was unavailable for an interview.
In 2004, Bishop Matthews withdrew as candidate for primate after being diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy sessions, she returned to her leadership role in her diocese after seven months of medical leave.
This year, she was again nominated for the office of primate and was a close second in the voting at General Synod 2007 in Winnipeg. Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Nova Scotia was elected on the fifth ballot.
“Just as the Holy Spirit called me to Edmonton in 1997, so I believe God is now calling me in a different direction. For over two years this has been present in my prayers and the time has come to say ‘yes’ to the prompting of the Spirit,” she said in her letter. She added: “Most recently I have become convinced that I am meant to resign as your bishop before knowing what comes next. While this is a bit disconcerting, I am proceeding in obedience to what I believe is God’s will.”
A noted theologian, Bishop Matthews, 53, chairs the Primate’s Theological Commission, which after being asked by General Synod 2004 to offer its opinion on same-sex blessings, published the St. Michael Report, stating that such blessings were a matter of doctrine, but not core doctrine.
In 1993, Bishop Matthews became the first woman in the Canadian church’s episcopate when she was elected suffragan (assistant) bishop of Toronto; in 1997, she was elected diocesan bishop of Edmonton and became the first (and still the only) female diocesan bishop in Canada.
In an interview with the Edmonton Journal in 2004, Bishop Matthews acknowledged that she has blazed a trail not just for women but for young girls. “I’m amazed at all the little girls who say, ‘I think I’m going to be a bishop when I grow up.’ It’s a role model they’ve never had the opportunity to see before. When I was four years old, the church wasn’t even talking about having women priests.” She scoffed at the media attention over her ordination. “In Toronto, the media went a bit nutso and did all this talk about ‘woman bishop.’ And I said, ‘Two things: “woman” is not an adjective and “bishop” is not gender-exclusive, so why do you specify?’ A bishop is a bishop, this one happens to be a female. Big deal.'”
She has chaired the house of bishops’ task force examining alternative episcopal oversight for dissenting parishes, and has served on the Council of General Synod and the faith, worship and ministry committee. She was a member of the Book of Alternative Services evaluation commission and the planning group for the 1998 Lambeth meeting of Anglican bishops worldwide.
Before and after her ordination in 1980, she worked in inner-city schools in Haiti and traveled extensively.
She earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College in 1976 and from 1976 to 1979 she was a recipient of the North American Theological Fellowship and attended Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Conn.
She was priest advisor to the Anglican Youth Movement in the diocese of Toronto from 1980 to 1984 and was also involved in the Christian-Jewish dialogue for youth. She is single.