Lawrence says primate should be embracing

By on May 1, 2004

Caleb Lawrence

Bishop of Moosonee

Age: 62 Bishop Caleb Lawrence, who is fluent in the Cree language, believes that the primate “has to be a different kind of primate for each age and provide leadership in different circumstances.” Archbishop Michael Peers, he said, brought “tremendous intellectual depth” to the position. His predecessor, Archbishop Edward Scott was “a social activist and a visionary.” His predecessor, Howard Clark, was “more a patriarchal figure.”

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The next primate, he believes, “has to be someone who would model an open, welcoming community in which no one needs to feel an outsider. He or she will have to find a way to include those on the extreme edges, conservative or liberal, and make them feel that they are welcome and part of a church that includes people who are very different.”

Born in Lattie’s Brook, N.S., he grew up on the family farm as the oldest of six children. An ancestor was close to ordination in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland but fell in love with a Scottish woman who was Presbyterian and they emigrated to Canada in 1817. Although he did not grow up in close contact with native people, he said that at one General Synod, “I said the land on which I was born was Mi’kmaq traditional land and never ceded, never sold. It was taken over by Acadian settlers who were forcibly expelled. So, I am personally heir to that kind of history. You can’t undo history but it has made me strongly conscious of the inherent rights of people who have traditionally lived on that land.” His career has been spent entirely in northern locations. He is the longest-serving bishop in the Canadian church, consecrated in 1980. His diocese covers northern Ontario and is the second-largest land area after the diocese of the Arctic. About half the parishioners are indigenous, mainly Cree.

He earned a bachelor of arts degree, a bachelor of sacred theology and an honorary doctorate in divinity from the University of King’s College, Halifax. Ordained in 1965, he served at St. Edmund’s parish in Great Whale River, Que. That parish was a traditional meeting ground between the Cree and the Inuit, historic enemies. “I saw two peoples, distinct in their own cultures, come together as one church community,” he said. It was there he learned to speak Cree, but he says he speaks it with “a Quebec accent.” He was canon of the Cathedral of St. Jude in Iqaluit, Nunavut, from 1974 to 1975 and an archdeacon in the diocese of the Arctic from 1975 to 1979. He has served as a member of National Executive Council, the national eco-justice committee and national program committee.

He likes to cross-country ski and read. He and his wife, Maureen, have three grown children.

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