The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) has proposed a national summit to discuss the issue of non-stipendiary, or unpaid, aboriginal clergy, most of whom are serving in large native communities across Canada.
“Nobody wants the problem put on their laps, not because they’re not concerned, but because there are no resources,” said Mark MacDonald, the national Anglican indigenous bishop. “What we’re suggesting is a cross-church consultation, a summit where a whole group of people (can discuss) what can only be described as a moral issue for all of us. There’s no entity to solve it effectively.”
Bishop MacDonald, who offered his reflections at the recent meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS), the Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body between General Synods, said addressing the matter would “impact positively the other ministries of the church.”
Noting that the average age in native communities is less than 20, Bishop MacDonald said, “Our demographics are like 1945 to 1955 church demographics. We have this huge opportunity and tremendous growth. The fields are ripe for harvest.” He added that he was presenting ACIP’s proposal for the summit “not as a conundrum but a real possibility for growth and movement in the future.”
Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, the diocesan bishop of Moosonee, reacted to Bishop MacDonald’s remarks by saying that the house of bishops had been “trying to address” the need but that it was having difficulty coming to an agreement with ACIP. He noted that talks between the two sides have bogged down. (Discussions collapsed in 2004 when a joint task force of the house of bishops and ACIP announced that the two sides disagreed on whether to limit discussion on compensation for non-stipendiary ministers to Council of the North member dioceses and whether to embark on a five-year pilot project providing remuneration for clergy in these dioceses. The council is a grouping of ten financially-assisted dioceses, including the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior, formerly the diocese of Cariboo in British Columbia.)
In response, Bishop MacDonald said that he was aware of initial recommendations made to address the issue. “It was a good swipe but we need to look at a larger field of vision,” he said, adding that there needs to be a discussion on what makes for an adequate stipend and an adequate mission.
In an earlier interview, Bishop MacDonald said that a priority that has emerged in his work is responding to the needs of unpaid native clergy. “They’re out serving in very difficult circumstances without much support,” he said. “We really have to work hard and I think, imaginatively, to find ways to support this vital work. They’re doing an extraordinary job … They’re responsible for massive chunks of territory and an unbelievable number of churches.” He said that they often respond to “a lot of crisis and tragedy” in native communities.Meanwhile, Bishop MacDonald also announced to CoGS that Thorneloe University in Sudbury, Ont., and Wycliffe College, Toronto, are co-sponsoring in 2009 a cross-cultural consultation on theological formation.