Can ministry in the North survive?

Published November 1, 2005

The Council of the North, anticipating a further erosion of support grants from the national church in the future and a worst case scenario of no funding at all, are working on a plan to be presented to General Synod in 2007 that would radically transform the way the mission of the Anglican Church of Canada will be carried out in the North.

The Council was forced to take a hard look at its future “because we can’t survive on the present system of cutbacks,” said Archbishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee, who is also Council co-chair. The support grants to the North are being “nickeled and dimed to death,” he said.

The Council is composed of nine financially-assisted dioceses – Yukon, Caledonia, Athabasca, Saskatchewan, Brandon, the Arctic, Moosonee, Keewatin and Quebec, plus the deanery of Labrador in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (formerly the diocese of Cariboo). These dioceses are spread out across 85 per cent of Canada’s land mass.

During its recent fall meeting, Council bishops reported back on questions they were asked to respond to over the summer: “What would you do if there was no support grant available for 2006? What would it mean? What alternative sources of funding might you identify?”

“It was a pretty bleak picture if we had no support grants at all,” said Archbishop Lawrence in an interview with the Anglican Journal. But, he added, “the summary seems to be that it would not mean the church would have to pull out,” but that it cannot exist in its current form.

“We would continue ministry but we would have to find other ways to deliver ministry,” said Archbishop Lawrence.

In the short term, the effect would be “chaotic,” the bishops predicted. “We would have to lay off great numbers of clergy, synod office would have to undergo a radical transformation, we would not have the resources to communicate clearly with one another, within dioceses and from diocese to diocese.”

Council bishops have lamented the fact that support grants, which were cut by as much as 30 per cent in the 1990s, have continued to decline. Although in recent years the Council was spared reductions, previous cuts were never restored; in 2006, the proposed budget for the Council has been decreased by five per cent or about $130,000. (See related story)

“This raises the wider question of whether General Synod wants to engage in Northern mission or not. We’re at a point where we won’t be able to go on with this kind of palliative care. In real terms we’ve lost 40 percent of our grants since the last decade,” said Council chair and Saskatchewan bishop Anthony Burton. “We’ve lost between half and three quarters of our stipendiary clergy.”

Keewatin bishop David Ashdown added, “Our response (to cutbacks) has been to either spend reserves or cut program. We are now at a point where there are no reserve funds and no program left to cut.”

Bishop Terrence Buckle of the Yukon said his diocese has reduced its employed clergy to six, less than half the number that it employed in past years.

A task group within the Council, which is also looking at ways of re-allocating the support grants “in the fairest way possible,” has identified the “basic minimum structure” in continuing the church’s ministry in the North. They include: having a bishop in each diocese, having a staff to assist the bishop, and having an “appropriate number” of trained clergy for the aboriginal and non-aboriginal congregations “paid a stipend commensurate with those paid in the Anglican Church of Canada.” (Since 2000, clergy in Council dioceses have been the lowest paid in the Canadian church, according to a Council report.)

The Council’s compensation committee will determine the financial implications of a reorganized ministry in the North as part of the overall plan to be submitted to General Synod, the church’s governing body, in 2007.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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