Two factors spring to mind immediately when Bishop Barry Jenks is asked to describe what makes the Diocese of British Columbia distinct: a continuing influx of retirees moving to Vancouver Island, and its focus on mission work.
The retirees “bring with them the experience of life in other dioceses and particularly in the leadership of dioceses,” Bishop Jenks said. “They have been equipped for us in other places.”
They also bring stories of life – both good and bad – in other dioceses across Canada. But the influx of older, active Anglicans can give the diocese a false sense of security regarding numbers, he added. Like other dioceses, B.C. faces the challenge of trying to attract more young people and families to its churches.
Several groups and task forces are studying ministry to young people, including how to support the 15 or so youth workers in the parishes.
Bishop Jenks is even more concerned about the death of children aged eight to 12 in many parishes. While younger children are still in evidence, the older pre-teens have gone missing. He has asked for a consultation on this issue.
“There is a deterioration in the numbers. I’m greatly concerned about that.”
The diocese is known for its emphasis on world mission work. Parishioners respond generously to appeals through such groups as the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. Most parishes have representatives who are responsible for world mission work.
Many of Canada’s Volunteers in Mission hail from B.C. The program is given a high profile through the local diocesan newspaper which features the travels of the volunteers prominently.
[pullquote]Bishop Jenks can’t pinpoint why B.C. has become so interested in the world around it. “My own emphasis in my ministry has been looking beyond our borders and looking at the worldwide church,” he said.
At the same time, the diocese is active in social justice issues at home too, including supporting the Nisga’a treaty agreement.
A current focus is the Jubilee debt cancellation program which urges that the debts of the world’s poorest countries be cancelled as the new millennium approaches. The diocese held a Jubilee conference in late November which drew 75 people.
A mission conference held each January features Jamaica’s Bishop Alfred Reid this month speaking on the theme of economic justice and Third World debt.
B.C. also has a great diversity of views and theological positions in its diocese, the bishop said. People who participated in last year’s diocesan consultation with the national church listed that as the most difficult burden in the diocese.
“It is a challenge, definitely, to work together respectfully, realizing that we are one in Christ.”
The factor listed as most positive was mission and outreach work.
And what of the stereotype held by many Canadians that our West Coast neighbours lead a more relaxed, laid-back lifestyle?
It’s just that, a stereotype, the bishop said. He first came to Vancouver Island in 1970 and has been bishop for the last six years.
“I find people very busy, very involved and suffering from stress and burnout ? The kinds of stress and pressure on our clergy and people who are in other occupations is similar to that experienced in other places.”
Indeed, recent economic downturns in the forest and fishing industries have left some Vancouver Island communities struggling to survive. Some pulp mills which have shut down may never reopen, Bishop Jenks said. Many laid off loggers have no idea when they may be going back to work.
That also raises the issue for the church as to how long full-time ordained ministry can be maintained in some of these communities which have had vibrant congregations. New models may have to be considered, Bishop Jenks said.