Bishop Peter Coffin
The 60-year-old bishop of the diocese Ottawa, Peter Coffin, has announced his retirement in July 2007, a move that has surprised many Anglicans.
He will step down shortly after next year’s meeting of General Synod, the church’s governing body, which meets every three years.
Bishop Coffin, who became the eighth bishop of the diocese in 1999, announced his retirement at the annual diocesan synod Oct. 21.
“After much prayer and thought … I believe it’s time for me to move on,” said Bishop Coffin. He said that he would like to spend more time as bishop ordinary for the Canadian Forces. “This is really something I really want to do,” he said. “Men and women in the Canadian Forces and their families need all the support that we can give them.” Both the bishop and his wife, Deborah, come from military families.
He added that he has been asked to teach at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University, which has had an Anglican Studies program for 25 years.
A bishop known for his passion for ecumenism and peace and justice issues, he has served on many national committees including the Inter-Church Commission on Relief and Development, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and he chairs the Partners in Mission committee. In the 1970s, he and his wife lived in Malaysia, where he worked as lecturer at an Anglican seminary in the diocese of Kuching. “I had a wonderful time teaching Scripture,” he told the Anglican Journal shortly after his election. “My aspirations have always been academic.” Becoming a bishop, he said, was “not what I had in mind.”
In 2004, Bishop Coffin was part of a delegation of church leaders that visited Israel and Lebanon and returned with a call for the Canadian government to “take the strongest stance” it possibly could in seeking a negotiated peace between Jews and Palestinians.
Bishop Coffin leaves behind a diocese that recently approved a framework for a strategic plan that includes a review of church operations, including ways to attract new parishioners and boost finances.
He also leaves one that is deeply divided over the place of homosexuals in the church. A parish in the diocese has withheld contribution to the diocesan budget for the second year in the row, saying that it cannot support the liberal stance of “leaders in the diocese” on the issue of same-sex blessings. The priest of another parish has led the campaign to allow same-sex blessings at the diocesan and national levels. The bishop’s decision early this year to grant a temporary licence to an American priest, a lesbian who is married to a woman, also stirred a debate in the diocese.
The election for the co-adjutor bishop of Ottawa has been scheduled March 24, 2007, at Christ Church Cathedral. (The co-adjutor bishop will succeed Bishop Coffin when he retires four months later, in July.)
Ordained a priest in 1971, Bishop Coffin served Ottawa in two capacities before becoming bishop: as an assistant curate at St. Matthew’s Church and later, as dean of Christ Church Cathedral. He also served at parishes in western Quebec and eastern Ontario.
Bishop Coffin graduated with a degree in sociology at the University of King’s College (Dalhousie University) in Halifax and received a bachelor of sacred theology at Trinity College, Toronto, and an master’s degree in international affairs-development at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University in Ottawa. He has honorary degrees from the University of King’s College and Trinity College. In his undergraduate years, he served with the militia (Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa) and was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Army Chaplain’s Corps under the aegis of the Canadian Officer’s Training Corps. In November 2004, he was appointed by the primate to the position of Bishop Ordinary (Anglican) to the Canadian Forces.