New bishops help face the future at House of Bishops

Published October 26, 2010

From left: Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, Mary Atagotaaluk and Susan Arreak at Place Jacques Cartier in Montreal. Photo: Harvey Shepherd


As parishes and dioceses in Canada’s Far North struggle with ever more scarce resources, new faces in the House of Bishops are helping the Anglican Church of Canada look to the future.

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa–consecrated May 14 as area bishop for what the diocese of Keewatin refers to as “Northern Ontario” parishes-was one of two Anglican bishops present for the first time at the Oct. 22-25 joint meeting of the Anglican House of Bishops and Lutheran Conference of Bishops in Montreal. (One of the six Lutheran bishops present was also there for the first time.)

Bishop Mamakwa’s election was described as historic, the first time an aboriginal bishop has been elected by aboriginal people using traditional aboriginal methods. Bishop Mamakwa heard Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, describe her election and consecration as a “wonderful, wonderful event” and a “holy moment.”

Bishop Mamakwa, a member of the Ojicree people-related to both the neighbouring Ojibway and Cree people-is married to Chief James Mamakwa of the Kingfisher Lake community where they live. She was previously archdeacon of the area she still serves.

The diocese of Keewatin straddles the Ontario-Manitoba border and extends from the U.S. border to Hudson Bay. Bishop Mamakwa’s area of the diocese starts north of Kenora, where the diocesan cathedral is situated, and covers 16 communities of between 300 and 1,000 residents each.

In an interview, Bishop Mamakwa said that becoming a bishop has been an important morale-builder for the community. In addition, being able to perform confirmations in an area where travel is difficult is particularly useful, she said. Travel from community to community, and to and from the area, is generally by air, except for a couple of months when winter roads are available. She supervises 43 priests, some of whom are retired but still quite active, and she is the only cleric in the area who receives a salary.

Her diocesan bishop, Archbishop David Ashdown of Keewatin, who is also Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land and chair of the national church’s Council of the North, shared a reminiscence that, before becoming bishop, she had led a project to get the diocesan canons (bylaws) translated into Ojicree. (She said in an interview that she found it exasperating that Ojicree delegates at synods were asked to vote on amendments to documents they did not understand.)
Bishop Ashdown said he later noticed that once the canons had been translated, no more was heard of them and he asked her why. She had said it was because they turned out to be irrelevant. When the Anglican Journal asked Bishop Mamakwa whether this meant that canons in general seemed beside the point or that those particular canons needed work, she replied, “Both.”

Also in attendance was Bishop Thomas A. Corston, who was elected bishop of Moosonee on July 16. Bishop Corston succeeded Bishop Caleb Lawrence, who for decades was at the helm of the diocese, which wraps around James Bay, covering a large area of Ontario and Quebec. Its’ cathedral is in the Timmins area.

Bishop Corston spent a total of about 24 years in the neighbouring diocese of Algoma, broken by stints of several years in Timmins, in the Moosonee diocese, and the diocese of Fredericton, where he met his wife, Ruth Sheppard. He has been editor of two diocesan newspapers, The Northland of the diocese of Moosonee as well as The New Brunswick Anglican.

Just before his election, Bishop Corston was archdeacon for the Sudbury area and rector of the Church of the Epiphany in that city. He worked with the Rev. Stephen Andrews, who taught at Thornloe University in Sudbury before his election as bishop of Algoma not long ago. He’s another relatively new voice in the northern church, along with Bishop Fraser W. Lawton of the diocese of Athabasca in northern Alberta.

In conversation, Bishop Corston described his new job as a steep learning curve and said he is finding it a challenge to meet his goal of visiting every parish in the diocese by Christmas.

He said that about half of the diocese is made up of First Nations people, noting that the First Nations parishes, mostly Cree. These parishes tend to be the stronger ones, he added, noting that many of the non-native parishes are struggling. Bishop Corston said he is hopeful that a current upturn in the mining industry could result in some recovery, particularly at St. Peter’s in Kirkland Lake, where he just installeda new rector.

Bishop Larry Robertson is no stranger to the House of Bishops but the Montreal meeting was his first as a diocesan bishop. He recently became bishop of the Yukon after serving for some time as suffragan bishop for the eastern part of the diocese of the Arctic.

Like Bishop Corston, he finds himself on a steep learning curve. As a diocesan bishop, he is now responsible for an ethnically diverse and relatively urban population rather than aboriginal people living in isolated communities.


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