Focus on education in N.S. has 200-year roots

Published June 1, 2000

Archbishop Arthur Peters

MORE THAN 200 years after it was founded, the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island still feels the influence of its first bishop, Charles Inglis.

“I’m No. 13,” Archbishop Arthur Peters said of his place as 13th bishop of the diocese and metropolitan of the province of Canada. “I’m not superstitious,” he added with a chuckle. He was ordained co-adjutor bishop in 1982, has served as diocesan bishop since 1984 and an archbishop for the last three years.

Irish-born Bishop Inglis lived in the United States from the age of 19 until after the American Revolution, the principal Anglican loyalist clergyman who remained in the colonies. He was consecrated bishop of Nova Scotia at Lambeth Palace in 1787, arriving soon after in Halifax to found the diocese, which once stretched over what is now much of central and eastern Canada.

Bishop Inglis was most interested in education and establishing churches and building up the clergy presence, Archbishop Peters said. By 1795, he had erected or completed 19 churches. He also played a major role in the founding of King’s College in Windsor, N.S.

“I look back to his time and the kinds of things he was involved in as something of a signal to the kinds of things the church has been involved in, in the wider community ever since,” Archbishop Peters said.

The diocese has recently refined its selection, monitoring and supervision of priests. Candidates go through a rigorous selection process that includes police checks and psychological testing, a diocesan-wide selection and vocational conference, a recommendation from the bishop’s office and attendance at the regional conference of the Advisory Committee for Postulants for Ordination.

Only then is a person recommended to begin training at a recognized school, most often the Atlantic School of Theology, during which evaluation and monitoring continues. Graduates are ideally placed under a senior priest for a year’s internship.

The increased rigour is partly a reaction to a few high-profile (and “all-consuming”) sexual abuse cases that arose in the diocese, the archbishop acknowledged, but it also helps candidates determine whether they really are called to ordained ministry.

Does the enhanced screening result in a higher rejection rate? “I wouldn’t say rejecting, as much as enabling people to identify that their perceived sense of a call is better expressed in another direction than ordained ministry,” Archbishop Peters said. “Our sense is that if we take great care with a person before, it bears fruit at the other end … It’s not unusual that sometimes a person finds after a number of years of ordained ministry, they ought not to have come this route.”

The diocese has revisited its policies on harassment and sexual misconduct. It now has an advisory committee of professionals to help it deal with such issues.

The concept of archdeacons and regional deans has been reshaped and both have been given authority to act without involving the bishop. Archdeacons focus on personnel issues and regional deans on administration, property, programming and finance.

Ministry is exercised in a variety of ways in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. The non-stipendiary ministry program allows people who have another way to make a living to allot a certain number of hours to their parish. Of the 10 priests and four vocational deacons involved, one is an agricultural scientist, two are teachers, one is a social worker and another is a homemaker.

All priests, paid and unpaid, now sign yearly covenants with their parishes, setting out the responsibilities of the priest, of lay people and those shared between both. At the end of the year, the covenants are reviewed with the archdeacon and any necessary changes are made. The agreements help to clarify expectations, establish boundaries and allow for evaluation.

The “ministry of the whole people of God” is a new thrust, Archbishop Peters said. “It has in its origins the real awakening of the meaning and import of one’s baptism. We encourage baptismal instruction, that it be entered upon with seriousness and intention, that it be celebrated with great relevance and intentionality as well, and that it be followed up with processes of Christian education.”

Two adult education programs – Logos and Alpha – are used frequently in parishes, as a way of educating lay people.

The name change of the diocese to add P.E.I. – voted on at the May 1999 synod – formally recognized that the diocese includes both provinces. The debate as to whether P.E.I. ought to form its own diocese is probably 100 years old, the archbishop said. But P.E.I. Anglicans are fewer than 5,000 strong in 10 parishes, making financial viability as a separate diocese questionable.

“There’s also the question, if they were their own diocese, what would they achieve that they’re not achieving now?” he said.

He and suffragan Bishop Fred Hiltz visit P.E.I. several times a year. The province has a representative to General Synod and at least one member on provincial synod and diocesan council. But it’s not easy representing the province from Halifax, the archbishop conceded. “I’m not always conversant with the challenges and forces at work, socially and politically in P.E.I.”

Both provinces are magnets for summer tourists, making a ministry of hospitality necessary.

Unlike, say, Toronto churches which often empty out in July and August, east-coast churches may be full of visitors. That presents special challenges for priests who want time off in the summer to vacation with their children. Parishes need to be reminded ministry is not by priest only.

While it remains a tourist destination, the island of Cape Breton has seen an exodus of young families and unemployment rates as high as 30 per cent as the island’s coal mines shut down. A task force will recommend realigning ministry and perhaps establishing cluster parishes.

“It’s very important for the church to be alive and present as a presence of hope in that climate,” Archbishop Peters said. Churches may not always have a local priest, however, and may need to rely on a combination of non-stipendiary clergy, lay readers and other involvement.

“We are really not in the business of closing churches,” he said. ” This is the last institution to engender self-esteem and hope.”


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