Need to redefine church is urgent, bishop says

Published January 21, 2010

Chateauguay, Montreal National Anglican Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald has urged the Anglican Church of Canada to “find other ways to be church,” especially among the marginalized sectors of society. Ministry to the marginalized is “one of the critical needs,” that the church needs to address, Bishop MacDonald said in a presentation to the first National Theological Conference held here Jan. 5 to 7.He said the church needs to “go outside the gate” even though there may be a lot to face that can be painful. “God is doing something in our world” and more often, it is among the poor and marginalized, he said. “We need to redefine the church in today’s world.”Bishop MacDonald cited as an example how the church is “so far removed” from the reality lived by young aboriginal girls in urban areas. One in three tries to kill herself or is pushed into sex trafficking, he said. While the parish model remains important, “we cannot restrict the church to those communities and congregations that can afford our preferred way of being church,” he said. If the church responds to the challenge, “we will begin to see increasing pressure, not to eliminate the way we are church today, but to expand the ways in which communities may become churches in the future,” he said. “This is a time of great urgency and of great promise,” said Bishop MacDonald. “The Anglican Church of Canada has the gifts, the charism [spiritual power given as a grace from God] and the people.”He also said it would be “neither wise nor responsible” to lower standards for ordained ministry in order to make it more accessible.”…We can and must raise our standards…,” he said. “Experience in bush ministry [native ministry] would suggest, however, that a redistribution of responsibility, along with our educational assets is required by our church worldwide.” He added that indigenous ministry has worked best when there are “high standards of discipleship, coupled with a high degree of sharing in a collegial and communal ministry.” What the church needs are people “with a commitment to lifelong learning and a commitment to discipleship,” said Bishop MacDonald. In considering appropriate standards for theological education, he underscored the need “for shared disciplines of prayer and worship for clergy and general membership” of the church. “How do we sanctify time and place in modern life?” he asked. “We need to find spiritual rituals that take us into the world,” he said. Morning and evening prayers were designed to sanctify time, he said. “It’s something we’ve lost.”He also decried the “catechetical [Christian education] crisis” that exists in today’s world, and said that it cannot be assumed that people will receive spiritual formation outside the church.Bishop MacDonald also asked the church to be mindful of how standards can often hide “invisible barriers” to ordination. He cited examples of terminologies and world views that do not resonate with people of other cultures applying for postulancy and ordination.He also talked about shifts in theological education. He cited how the “center of gravity” has shifted from the academy and later to cultural context, the congregation, and God’s mission. For a long time, the academy was seen as “the privileged trajectory of truth,” he said. “It was very Western, and we placed ourselves firmly in that world. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was unexamined.” What is needed, he said, is a balance of the four. Reacting to the presentation, Rachel Kessler, a master of divinity student at Wycliffe College in Toronto, said she was struck by Bishop MacDonald’s statement that the church cannot assume Christendom in society. “The scriptural narrative just isn’t speaking to my generation,” said Kessler. She cited how some of her peers didn’t know the story of Noah’s Ark. The diocesan bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Sue Moxley, emphasized the need to learn from other cultures. “We often talk about the problem of diversity, not God’s gift of diversity,” she said. She talked about the “abundance of opportunity” that exists in the Canadian church and said “we need to share our resources better on an international level.” Archdeacon Larry Beardy, diocese of Keewatin, underscored the importance of “community ownership” in theological education. He noted that while the Dr. William Winter School for Ministry in Kingfisher Lake, Ont., gets funding from the New England Company, its students are also sponsored by their communities.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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