A self-described former street kid has been elected bishop of the diocese of Central Newfoundland.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you’ve been entrusted with a ministry that you do feel prepared, for but…there’s apprehension, there’s a mixture of emotions,” the Rev. John Watton, rector of St. Martin’s Cathedral in Gander, told the Anglican Journal.
Watton was declared the new bishop April 30 after an election that went to seven ballots, said Margaret Jenniex, program officer for the diocese.
Watton will be ordained bishop June 29 and represent the diocese at General Synod this July. He will succeed Bishop David Torraville, who announced his plans to retire last January after serving in the role for 10 years.
Watton said his first priority as bishop would be to listen to parishioners. “We need to invite everyone to the table, and we need to pay attention and listen to each other’s voices, because not one of us has all the answers,” he said.
In addition to a shrinking population, Watton said, the main challenge facing the diocese is the same as that faced by most other dioceses in the country: how to work out a role for the church in the face of cultural transformation. “The church is no longer that place where people can say, ‘You are the authority, you are the interpreter of culture for us, and we need your wisdom,’ ” Watton said.
“That is a challenge we have to face. We can only do that by getting to the table and sharing, and coming up with ideas of how to be present to people.”
Activities such as a community garden and a partnership with a local theatre company that provides music for worship at the cathedral, in return for using the space to train young people in theatre and music, have worked well for the diocese and are likely to continue, he said.
Born in Manitoba, Watton grew up in Glenwood, Nfld., a community not far from Gander. In a 2012 interview with the Gander Beacon newspaper, Watton said he lived on the street for some time, starting at the age of 13. As a young man, he worked as a mechanic before going on to study theology at Memorial University and Queen’s College, Newfoundland. He has served as a priest in the diocese of Central Newfoundland since his ordination in 1990, and has served the last 11 years at St. Martin’s Cathedral.
Asked by the Gander Beacon why he chose the priesthood, Watton said, “Well, I had a rough life. There was a lot of woundedness, a lot of hurt.” He said a lot of healing took place when he became a Christian. “And then I felt as if I was being called to share that with people.”
This is not the first time Watton has been nominated in an episcopal election in the diocese. In 2004, the diocese was unable to elect a bishop when neither Watton nor Torraville got a majority of votes after 11 ballots. In an election the following year, Watton withdrew from the contest, believing, he said, that Torraville was being called to the post.