It took eight ballots and 10 hours for 350 synod delegates to electVen. Peter Coffin, the rector of Christ Church Cathedral, as coadjutor bishop and the person to lead the Anglican Church in Ottawa into the new millennium.
The 52-year-old Dean of Ottawa led on the first ballot, garnering more support from both lay and clergy voters than did any of the other 11 nominees. And when the first results were flashed onto a large screen in the cathedral where the election was held March 27, Dean Coffin, sitting in a pew near the back of the church thought to himself: “It’s too late to get out.”
Contented to remain as the rector of the cathedral parish, which he said is “rather loving and affirming,” Dean Coffin will instead be consecrated as coadjutor bishop June 24 and will succeed Bishop John Baycroft who leaves later this year to represent the international Anglican Communion as ambassador to the Vatican.
While welcoming the challenge of his new duties as coadjutor bi-shop, Dean Coffin noted in a Journal interview that the celebration of his election was tinged with some sadness. “I couldn’t go out and celebrate that night because I was just a little stunned and also because I knew I was going to lose something,” he said. His congregation’s celebration at the cathedral the next day was also subdued, tempered by the fact that their rector is being reassigned.
Described as a dynamic team leader with excellent skills in communications, teaching and preaching, Dean Coffin said he would like to see the church bear more of the fruits of the Spirit, including that of self-control. “I would like to see the folks who are passionate about certain things be generous with each other,” he said. “We talk a lot about the need for dialogue but until the spirit of generosity exists it precludes the possibility of those things.”
A strong believer in ecumenism, Dean Coffin said that although “macro” ecumenical dialogue is important, it is at the grassroots level – where people are working in coalitions on projects such as sponsoring refugees or building a seniors’ residence – that much of the “substantive” ecumenical progress is made. “It just needs to be affirmed and encouraged,” he said.
Like Bishop Baycroft, Dean Coffin is passionate about issues of peace and justice, and Third World development. “This is particularly an area that we see eye-to-eye on,” said the dean, who has served on several national church committees including the Inter-Church Commission on Relief and Development, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and the National Partners in Mission Planning Group. As well, in the early 1970s he and his wife, Deborah, lived in Malaysia where he served as lecturer at an Anglican seminary in the Diocese of Kuching. “I had a wonderful time teaching Scripture,” he said. “My aspirations have always been academic.” Becoming a bishop, he pointed out, “is not what I had in mind.”
The dean also said he appreciated comments made by Bishop Baycroft in his homily at the eucharistic service launching the electoral synod. “They were very helpful comments to us all and I think that was a really good beginning.” Speaking to the 12 nominees, the Bishop said the “reality check” of the Gospel is that it “asks us to choose the way of self-denial.” The election of a nominee as bishop isn’t a “reward” or “the culmination of a career,” he said. “You need to know – as well as us – that this is God’s work, because that’s all that matters.”
Dean Coffin was ordained as a priest in 1971 and became assistant curate at St. Matthew’s Church in Ottawa before leaving for Malaysia two years later. On his return to Canada in 1976, he served at parishes in Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario until 1990, when he was appointed dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa.