Bishops ask General Synod to help poorer dioceses

Published June 1, 2006

Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster recommended that dioceses receiving refunds from payments on liability for residential schools might contribute to an endowment for Northern dioceses. The total refund could amount to $2.92 million.

Niagara Falls, Ont.
Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, at their regular spring meeting, responded to a call for more support for poorer dioceses, asking that the cost of their attendance next year at General Synod be subsidized and discussing contributions to a proposed endowment fund.

Eleven less-populated and less-affluent dioceses, whose bishops meet semi-annually in an informal grouping called Council of the North, presented a report which noted that General Synod support for those dioceses has declined to $2.37 million for 2006 from $3.55 million in 1993. There are 30 dioceses in the Canadian church.

The effect of this decrease, coupled with increases in the cost of living and the necessity of ministering to remote First Nations communities, has led to staff cuts in bishops’ offices and cuts to many programs, including youth and evangelism, the report said. In the diocese of Saskatchewan, which covers the northern third of the province, suffragan (assistant) bishop Charles Arthurson has taken early retirement, but continues to work in a voluntary capacity, making him the “first non-stipendiary (unpaid) bishop of the Canadian church,” said Bishop David Ashdown of Keewatin (eastern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario).

Before the bishops gathered from April 23 to 27, several had contacted the church’s national office in Toronto, concerned that the costs of attending the 2007 General Synod in Winnipeg were higher than in previous years. (See related story, Anglican Journal, May issue) Due to concerns about the University of Manitoba’s ability to host the event, which lasts seven days and includes more than 400 participants, the synod was moved to hotel space, where room and meal costs are higher than at university accommodation.

[pullquote]”The question has been raised whether some dioceses might reduce the number of delegates who go to General Synod,” Archbishop Caleb Lawrence told the bishops; his diocese of Moosonee, which includes northeastern Ontario and part of Quebec, is a member of the Council of the North. “This is very serious particularly in light of some of the agenda items (such as blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples). Some of those dioceses in more remote parts of the country would represent very important perspectives, particularly around human sexuality.”

Archbishop Andrew Hutch-ison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that subsidizing 20 per cent of the northern dioceses’ attendance at the synod meant “finding $20,000.”

The bishops voted to ask the Council of General Synod (CoGS), which governs the church between the triennial General Synod conventions, to allocate that amount. (CoGS later passed the motion at its meeting in May; the amount will come from the national church’s budget.)

In discussions of how northern ministry could best be supported, the bishops noted that the church’s new financial plan, Letting Down the Nets, proposes that an endowment be created that would benefit the Council of the North. Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, recommended that those dioceses receiving a refund as a result of a new agreement with the federal government on liability for native residential schools might send it to the endowment. The total refund to General Synod, the church’s national office, and dioceses could amount to $2.92 million.

Former acting general secretary Ellie Johnson also briefed the bishops on the latest developments concerning liability for the church’s involvement in the now-defunct Indian residential school system. (See related story in this issue.) The bishops expressed appreciation that the recently-elected Conservative federal government intends to honour the agreement, including an early payment of $8,000 to elderly and infirm claimants.

The bishops also began work on the contentious issue of whether the church should offer blessing ceremonies for gay couples, currently permitted in the diocese of New Westminster. The question was deferred to the Primate’s Theological Commission by General Synod 2004 and the committee produced a report that said the matter could be considered a matter of doctrine, since it touched on the theology of marriage, but not core doctrine. The distinction is important since gay Anglicans are pressing for the issue to be decided and changes in church doctrine need approval by two General Synods.

The bishops moved into small discussion groups to consider which things – Christ’s resurrection, the trinity, holy matrimony, among others – are core Anglican doctrine and which are peripheral.

The exercise was not meant to develop hard definitions, said Bishop Victoria Matthews of Edmonton, in an interview, but to “begin a conversation.” Some bishops, among them Barry Clarke of Montreal and Ben Arreak of the Arctic, found it useful. “It was helpful to the house (of bishops), to clarify what is core doctrine. Most agreed that holy matrimony is not core but is a doctrine,” said Bishop Arreak.

However, one group that included Bishop Ingham, said they could not complete the exercise. “The (the primate’s commission) have not clarified what they mean by doctrine. They have lumped many other things under what they call doctrine, such as the blessing of houses. The report fails to distinguish between doctrine, teaching, tradition and practice,” he said in an interview.

The bishops are expected to continue the discussion at their October meeting, Bishop Matthews said.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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