Bishop John Clarke of Athabasca
The bishop who stirred controversy last summer with an admonition through the media that Anglicans stop “beating themselves up” with guilt over the residential schools issue, will be the new chair of the 11-diocese Council of the North.
Bishop John Clarke of Athabasca was elected at an Edmonton meeting in January to a three-year term starting in July. Bishop Caleb Lawrence of Moosonee was elected vice-chair, and Bishop Anthony Burton of Saskatchewan will remain for another three-year term as secretary.
It was at the same meeting that a preliminary government proposal to resolve the residential schools crisis was first aired.
The logic behind bringing Ottawa’s first firm proposal to resolve the residential schools crisis to the council is clear. Of the 15 residential schools run by the Anglican church, eight were in the 11 dioceses which make up council territory, and many have significant native populations.
The Council of the North meets to share information, support and strategies to deal with unique problems faced due to the number of smaller communities in the north and the often vast distances between them. It is estimated that 15 per cent of Canada’s Anglicans live in 85 per cent of the country’s land mass, although this could change with projected future growth in northern Alberta and the North West Territories.
Member dioceses all receive subsidies from the national church to pay for the costs of ministry.
Members of the Council of the North are the Arctic, Athabasca, Brandon, Caledonia, Cariboo, Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Keewatin, Moosonee, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon dioceses.
Bishop Clarke said in a recent interview that he still believes that Anglican guilt over residential schools has detracted from the needs of the North and is “destructive.”
Born and raised on James Bay, Bishop Clarke says native clergy were strong influences on him as a young man. “Native priests provided me with a tremendous model of servanthood and humility.”
Bishop Clarke said he agrees with the present negotiations over residential schools issues, but “I fail to see how you can negotiate when you are being threatened (with lawsuits). I had wanted the litigation to stop, and it hasn’t.”
The work ahead for the Council of the North under Bishop Clarke will be focused on self-ownership, and self-sufficiency. Total grants from the national church to northern dioceses were reduced to $2.5 million for 2001 from $2.7 million in 2000. “This means that some priests in smaller communities will never be replaced,” he noted.
However, he added that the cutbacks could be positive.
(On March 7, Bishop Clarke was in a car accident in St. Albert, Alberta.
He suffered bruising and whiplash, but was expected to make a full recovery.)