BISHOP MALCOLM Harding of Brandon has the year 2000 circled on his calendar, and it’s not because he’s worried about the millennium bug. The bishop has a grand trip in mind.
He’s planning a mission journey from the northern tip of his diocese to the south. It’s a distance of more than 1,000 kilometres that he and his wife and their supporters will travel by car.
“Two thousand is going to be an exciting time,” Bishop Harding said.
“We’ll go from community to community, teaching, sharing, doing mission work, getting kids together, getting families together.”
The inspiration came after Bishop Harding attended the Lambeth Conference in England in the summer. He began to envision “a new role for bishops as being missionaries and teachers. Maybe getting away from the more managerial stuff and moving into a prophetic role.”
The mission journey fits in well with the Diocese of Brandon’s tradition of evangelism and mission.
The bishop describes Anglicanism in his diocese as being “like two blades of a pair of scissors. There is certainly a fairly strong evangelical flavour and commitment to Christ. But balancing that is a real social service outreach.”
The diocese has “good, solid lay leadership,” he said, and a growing interest in the church from young people.
Every summer, the church runs a camp north of Brandon on Clear Lake. “It’s moving ahead by leaps and bounds,” he said.
For the past 20 years, an annual conference on the Holy Spirit has been held. “It’s a major event and we bring in speakers from all over the place.”
Not far from Brandon, in a town called Elkhorn, the Church Army also runs the Albert Knight Centre for Evangelism, headed by Capt. Reed Fleming. “He does a lot of teaching for us,” Bishop Harding said. “He’s licensed as a lay evangelist.”
In fact, the bishop is going to marry the strong presence of the Church Army with the growing interest in religion from young people to create a new full-time youth ministry co-ordinator position. By the end of the year, a Church Army person will be appointed to the job.
“The youth are the church of today and the leaders of tomorrow and they need to be involved in the decision making and the liturgy,” Bishop Harding said.
Equally important, according to the bishop, is the increasing participation of Natives in the church. In October, when members of the diocese held their synod, they included the tradition of the Native talking circle. People gathered in small groups, passed a stone around and shared their feelings. In the tradition of the sacred circle, the person holding the stone is the only one who can speak and anything said must never leave the circle.
“And God willing, it reflects the idea that we’re trying to see ourselves as a family,” Bishop Harding said.
“I would have to say that the evaluation reports of the sacred circle were exceptional. People just thought it was such a moving event.”
The Cree communities in the northern area of the diocese are now served by Native priests. Many are women and most have trained at the Henry Budd College for Ministry in The Pas.
“It’s kind of the nerve centre – the hub for all our ministries in the North,” the bishop said.
One of the teachers is Archdeacon Lydia Constant, who the bishop describes as “an extremely gifted lady. I mean, without Lydia, I’d be lost in many ways … She knows both cultures very well, Native and non-Native, so she’s a real bridge for me.”
Archdeacon Constant will soon have an added responsibility. She’ll be spending about a third of her time travelling to the Native communities in the north. “We have locally-raised clergy in these communities and they need continuing support and encouragement and nurturing, so she’ll be doing that.”
The diocese has begun twinning towns and villages in order to increase awareness between the non-Native southern farming communities and the primarily Native northern communities. “They communicate through videos and cassettes. They pray for one another. They share gifts, so they get to know one another.”
Bishop Harding supports the idea of the creation of a Native diocese. “I really believe that’s the way to go; let people take on their own leadership in partnership with us. They are ready now to take on that responsibility themselves; to plan things and do things their way.”
The diocese is a member of the Council of the North, which the bishop describes as a source of spiritual fellowship.
“We still survive on a support grant from the national church of about $210,000. We balance the budget every year and we keep going. But I hope one day that we’ll be able to say to the national church that we need less money.”
Bishop Harding feels optimistic about the future.
“I see a renewal taking place in the diocese spiritually. A growing thirst.”
He hopes to build more opportunities for ministry, teaching, sharing and doing mission work.
He called this a process of “rekindling the fire in the fireplace of Anglicanism … fanning the flames in the beautiful tradition that we already have. We’ve got the liturgy, we’ve got the word, we’ve got everything. Let’s make it come alive.”