Shortly before its first in-person meeting since the start of the pandemic, held Oct. 4-6 at a hotel near Toronto’s Pearson Airport, the Council of the North was given an early Christmas present.
The council, a grouping of nine jurisdictions (dioceses or diocesan equivalents) that receive financial assistance from the national church, received a $400,000 gift from an anonymous donor in the diocese of Toronto, said David Lehmann, bishop of the diocese of Caledonia and council chair.
The donor, Lehmann said, had initially contacted a local parish priest who said the Council of the North needed it more than his Toronto parish.
The priest, a former seminary colleague of Lehmann’s, “got some stories from me and asked what would I put it towards if I had a choice,” Lehmann recalled. “I said our training in ministry fund, because as we’re coming out of COVID and we’re wanting to gather or do things, it is the fund that will be most important to bring us together for meetings and gatherings.”
The council maintains a training fund established through a previous donation, spending a portion of the principal and interest each year.
Lehmann described the $400,000 gift as “game-changing, and just exceedingly generous and kind and thoughtful of both the parish priest and the donor.” The gift effectively extends the life of the council’s training fund for another decade, he said.
The Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh and diocese of Yukon both have training sessions planned, while the diocese of the Arctic plans to use some of the training funds for translation work.
Discussions on training at the October meeting delved into the relationship between council jurisdictions and seminaries, and how alternatives to today’s three-year residential programs might make theological training more accessible. For example, the diocese of Caledonia recently launched a two-year certificate program with the Vancouver School of Theology (VST).
“One of the things the whole church is realizing is that we need to train the next generation of clergy desperately, and that the old model of going away to a three-year residential program isn’t possible,” Lehmann said.
The diocese, which requires all lay readers and future clergy to have training in Indigenous studies, chose VST partly because of its Indigenous studies program, he said.
Strictly speaking, the gathering, held at a hotel near Toronto’s Pearson Airport, was both in-person and online. Six of the jurisdictions that make up the Council of the North were represented by someone physically present in the room, three by someone attending online via Zoom.
The hybrid model reflected continuing restrictions caused by the pandemic. Representatives of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, for example, were unable to leave their communities due to a local health order. All bishops who attended in person were fully vaccinated and wore masks throughout. No singing was permitted.
The pandemic was also evident in the council’s awarding of grants to support use of technology. From donations it had received, the council set aside $60,000 and awarded a total of $6,000 in grants to six jurisdictions to allow them to continue developing online worship and ministries.
Lehmann said that while some areas in the North have limited streaming capabilities and rely on radio, for others the internet has become an increasingly significant tool in ministry.
“There’s a call to keep the online going for some time longer, because not everyone is comfortable coming to in-person worship,” he said.
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, attended on behalf of the national church’s Strategic Planning Working Group to gather feedback about how their work might affect the council.
The primate said she attended to offer a “second round of listening in light of the proposed framework that SPWG has worked on. There was very little presentation and mostly listening to the council” on questions such as the impact of a change in the block grant to the Council of the North, and emerging possibilities for collaboration with the national church.
Despite restrictions due to the pandemic and the fact that not all representatives could physically attend, Lehmann said it was “life-giving” to be able to meet people in person again. He expressed gratitude to Anglicans for continuing to support the Council of the North.
“We are so thankful for the generosity of the Anglican Church of Canada that empowers and enables the ministry across the North and remote communities,” he said.