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. “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 in 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 Hutchison, 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” in the total meeting budget of $450,000. The bishops voted to ask the Council of General Synod, which governs the church between the triennial General Synod conventions, to allocate that amount. The council next meets from May 11 to 14. 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 fund 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. Current figures show that the total refund could amount to $2.92 million; General Synod, the church’s national office, is included in recipients of potential refunds. However, the primate and several bishops pointed out that contributions to the settlement fund had specifically been earmarked to help natives move toward healing for themselves and reconciliation with the church. The bishops agreed to discuss the matter further at their next meeting in October. Bishop Anthony Burton of Saskatchewan, chair of the Council of the North, thanked the bishops for their “unexpected acts of generosity.” Native ministry was also the subject of a presentation from the co-chairs of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) on the move to create the new position of national indigenous bishop, now called the Anglican indigenous bishop since an earlier acronym had created confusion with another native group’s acronym. Archdeacon Sidney Black, co-chair of ACIP, distributed a video of the native Sacred Circle meeting last August that issued the call for a national native bishop as a symbol of healing and a major step toward self-determination for native Anglicans. “We have struck a selection committee … and the time frame we are looking at is June for the selection of the Anglican indigenous bishop,” he said, adding that the committee is considering candidates from Canada and the United States. It also wants to begin the process of changing the canons, or laws, of the church so as to give the new bishop full authority and jurisdiction across diocesan lines. Since a vote of two meetings of General Synod is needed to change canons, the earliest this could happen would be 2013, as Archbishop Hutchison has pointed out. The bishops expressed some confusion over the mandate, financing and terms of the new position, while adding their general support for the concept. “There is a high level of anxiety around this … it is so different, so new and untried. It is something we desire to support and we’re not sure how to do it,” said Bishop Gordon Light of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (of British Columbia). Mr. Black said many questions will begin to be addressed once the bishop is appointed. Archbishop Hutchison said that he believes “ACIP has gone too far” in immediately beginning the process of seeking full authority and jurisdiction for the Anglican indigenous bishop. “The Sacred Circle talked about an initial appointment of a national indigenous bishop … this is an interim appointment … we just had the beginning of a conversation that has a way to go,” he said. Former acting general secretary Ellie Johnson briefed the bishops on the latest developments concerning liability for the church’s involvement in the now-defunct Indian residential school system. 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. In small groups, the bishops discussed 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 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.