Child of the rectory’ becomes new metropolitan of BC/Yukon

Published September 28, 2009

Archbishop John Privett

When John Privett was declared the new metropolitan (senior bishop) of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, he was surprised.

“To take St. Paul out of context, ‘I am the least of the apostles,'” he couldn’t help but tell the clergy and laity that elected him during a provincial synod on Sept. 25.

Archbishop Privett is, after all, the youngest bishop of the province, having been elected diocesan bishop of Kootenay only in 2005.

In an e-mail exchange, Archbishop Privett, 53, marvels at how his journey from being a “child of the rectory” in Whitehorse, has led him to where he is now – as the 11th metropolitan of the youngest of four ecclesiastical provinces in the Anglican Church of Canada. “Like the Alaska Highway, mine has been a winding journey through some challenging and beautiful country, but one which has always been shaped by a sense of the call of God and service in Christ’s church,” he says.

Born in Saskatoon but raised in Whitehorse, Archbishop Privett recalls that his home parish of Christ Church formed his earliest sense of faith and community. His father, Archdeacon Arthur Privett, served in Christ Church for 50 years, and was 92 when he retired. Archdeacon Privett died last May at the age of 94. “My father was a humble man who was deeply committed to Christ, to parish life and who had a great sensitivity to the needs and the strengths of the average person,” says Archbishop Privett. “He was proud of my election as a bishop, but quick to warn me to care for the clergy and the needs of all people. I suspect he would have said something similar to me after this election.”

As a young man, Archbishop Privett pursued undergraduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan, majoring in philosophy and English, degrees which he says, “laid the foundation for a lifelong inquiry into the nature of God and the hard questions that have been asked over the years…” He quips, “Richard Dawkins and his disciples are not particularly new.”

He later became co-ordinator of youth ministry in British Columbia and Yukon. “I did struggle for a time about whether my call was to ordained or lay ministry, but as that became clear, so did a deepening sense of vocation,” he said.

In 1981 he earned a master of divinity from the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad, Saskatoon, and was ordained a priest in 1982. A “life-long learner,” he pursued graduate studies twice after ordination – a master of education degree from the University of Alberta, and a doctor of ministry degree in congregational studies from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

Archbishop Privett believes that the role of the metropolitan is “changing and evolving.” Aside from performing constitutionally-mandated roles, such as chairing the provincial house of bishops and provincial synod, he believes the metropolitan has to help “strengthen the unity of the church and to help represent the breadth of the church both within and beyond the province.”

The metropolitan should show leadership in addressing “a rapidly changing context” that is causing the church to evaluate its way of mission and ministry with limited resources. “I am very interested in these questions of mission in changing times, and want to enter into discussions of where we are, what is working, what needs changing, and what is no longer serving the mission of the church,” he says. “I have a deep confidence that God is calling us to a new understanding of what our mission is and as we discern that mission together, we will be led into God’s new future.”

The needs “vary immensely” in the province of B.C. and Yukon, Archbishop Privett says, and the challenge is “to find ways to acknowledge our very different mission contexts and support each other in the mission to which we have been called.”

While some areas have to address the needs of new Canadians, others struggle with a rapidly aging population or a declining population, he explains. “…We also face declining financial resources and the shape of ordained ministry is changing,” he says, adding that the future might mean “more and more non-stipendiary ministry.” The challenge is “how we identify, call, train and support these leaders.”

Archbishop Privett will serve in a province that he describes as “stunningly beautiful,” and which he has undergone dramatic changes since he traveled it as a youth co-ordinator for 30 years. “There is a variety of cultures within the province and we see a vast gulf continuing to grow between the very rich and the very poor,” he observes.

The economic recession has affected many parishes and people. “Unemployment in the interior and the north is high with the collapse of much of the forest industry and a depressed mining industry,” he says.

Overall population is aging and growth is coming from immigration rather than birth rates. Changes notwithstanding, he says, “the strength of the church is its people and I am continually impressed with the high value placed on relationships, community and celebrating faith together.”

The province – which includes the dioceses of British Columbia, Caledonia, New Westminster, Yukon, Kootenay and the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior – is theologically diverse. Archbishop Privett acknowledges that while diversity can be “energizing and creative,” it can also “create tension, misunderstanding and deep hurt.” Archbishop Privett believes, however , that he brings a style of leadership “that can assist the church to work and discern together.” He describes himself as “a consultative person who believes deeply that the Holy Spirit resides in the church and not in any one particular person.”

(Note: This story, first published Sept. 28 has been updated and revised.)


  • 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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