The diocesan council of Keewatin has voted to modify the structures of the diocese by creating an area ministry in the predominantly aboriginal parishes of Northern Manitoba and preparing another, Northern Ontario, to become a self-determining native diocese in the future.
The bishop of Keewatin, David Ashdown, who concurred with the council’s decision, said the proposals are a response to the changing needs of the diocese and the desire to better carry out its mission. It also speaks of the diocese’s commitment to self-determination for aboriginal Anglicans, he said.
“I think what we’re doing is very much on the cutting edge of making that dream a reality. I think that the whole church can benefit because I think we may be creating an example of how some transformations can take place,” said Bishop Ashdown. “I would hope that we might be trailblazers or pathfinders for the rest of the church.”
The proposals, which involve the creation of two new episcopal positions, was to be presented for approval to Keewatin’s diocesan synod scheduled for Feb. 28-March 2.
The proposal for northern Manitoba will also be presented for approval to the diocese of Brandon, since some of its parishes will be incorporated into the planned structure.
Voting unanimously during its meeting last Feb. 1-2, the diocesan council also authorized Bishop Ashdown and Bishop Mark MacDonald, the national Anglican indigenous bishop, to work with a working group to set up a process for the selection of an area bishop in that region. The northern Ontario group underscored that its bishop would have jurisdiction “within the canons of the province of Rupert’s Land, the diocese of Keewatin, and the Anglican Church of Canada,” said Bishop Ashdown. “In other words, a clear message that this is not a separate church or separate group of anything else.”
Both proposals require the concurrence of one meeting of the provincial synod of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land, as well as one meeting of General Synod, the governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada.
The proposals are a result of extensive consultations conducted in 2007 by Archdeacon Larry Beardy in northern Manitoba and by Archdeacon (acting) Lydia Mamakwa in northern Ontario.
“Parishes had a common concern that the episcopal ministry was not being addressed as was needed by communities. People said they needed pastoral and sacramental ministry – from confirmations to ordinations,” said Archdeacon Beardy who visited 27 parishes from Brandon to Churchill, Man.. “With the magnitude of the area, it’s just not easy for the bishop to cover it.”
To illustrate, Bishop Ashdown said, the distance it would take for him to visit parishes in Gillam, Man., would be the same as going northwest to Edmonton. “I would have driven through the dioceses of Brandon, Qu’Appelle, Saskatoon, and into Edmonton.” The vast distances and the high cost of transportation have also meant that the diocesan council only gets to meet once a year.
One of Canada’s largest dioceses in area, Keewatin covers 480,000 square kilometres and covers parts of Northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba.
“We see this as part of our whole kind of history. The church is always modifying its structures to meet the various circumstances which it finds itself in,” Bishop Ashdown said of the proposals. Keewatin itself was a product of change, he said, for it had been carved out of the diocese of Rupert’s Land and Moosonee by the province of Rupert’s Land in 1899. “What is now northern Ontario region, for example, went from being the diocese of Quebec at one time, to becoming part of Moosonee diocese, and in 1902, when Bishop (Joseph) Lofthouse was appointed to become the bishop of Keewatin, our diocese at that point stretched right to the North Pole,” he said. “In the 1930s, when the diocese of the Arctic was formed, considerable parts of the diocese of Keewatin became part of the Arctic.”
In 1975, the diocese divided itself into three regions – northern Ontario, northern Manitoba, and the southern region.
Asked what relationship northern Manitoba and northern Ontario would eventually have with the diocese, Bishop Ashdown said what is certain at this point is that northern Manitoba would like to maintain its relationship with the bishops of Keewatin and Brandon. The northern Ontario proposal would allow the area to eventually become an independent diocese.
“I don’t want things to be seen as hard and fast at this point. We don’t know exactly. We’re trying to be faithful to what we think the Holy Spirit is calling us and to take it one step at a time,” he said.
Asked what would happen to the diocese itself, Bishop Ashdown said, “It’s hard to say.” He said that the predominantly non-aboriginal southern region supports the direction that the two northern regions are taking and is also working at its own self-determination. “Who’s to know one part of the region might continue on as the diocese of Keewatin?” But he added: “I’m not particularly anxious about that and I don’t think anyone else is, at this point, because we all feel comfortable in the direction that we’re going. So, whatever the upshot of that is, at the end of the day, that’s what it will be. If the diocese of Keewatin were to disappear and be re-manifested in some new way, that wouldn’t be the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination.”
Bishop Ashdown said that while grants are available from the Council of the North, “there’s also a need for each region to take more responsibility for its own life.” (The estimated cost of running a bishop’s office is about $200,000 per year, according to Archdeacon Beardy.)
He cited that in 2005, the diocese had changed its budgeting process so that parish assessments are spent in their specific regions.
Bishop MacDonald, who has been involved in the consultation process for both proposals, said “the primary goal as it’s been expressed in both places is to a more full realization of the incarnation of the word of God in their community. In other words, to make the Gospel more living and real in their communities.”
The Grand Chief of the Nishnabe Aski Nation, Stan Beardy, met Jan. 21 with Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, to express support for the proposed creation of a native diocese in Northern Ontario.
“Our message to him (Archbishop Hiltz) was that yes, we’re loyal to the Anglican Church of Canada, but we feel that we can do greater good work if we had greater responsibility,” said Mr. Beardy, who is Anglican.
Archbishop Hiltz has acknowledged that, “the concept and conversation (around the proposals) could become some kind of model for other areas in the Anglican church.”