Number crunchers and members of the Council of the North narrowly averted a crisis here at their recent meeting, reaching a tentative compromise after one diocese said it would quit the group.
A disagreement arose at the Oct. 3-6 meeting, with the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador announcing withdrawal of its membership after council approved a motion that would result in a “dollar-for-dollar decrease” of diocesan grants for dioceses which pay their clergy a minimum stipend higher than the $26,000 amount set by the council.
The motion also asked that the council “request all dioceses paying stipends and allowances above the council scale, to freeze those stipends at 2004’s rate.”
The motion on stipends, or salaries, was introduced following a comparison made by the council’s compensation committee of minimum stipend amounts paid by each member diocese. The study showed that Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador paid its clergy a minimum stipend of $33,000; the dioceses of Quebec and Keewatin also paid a minimum stipend higher than $26,000.
Bishop David Ashdown of Keewatin supported the motion, stating that even though his diocese was “one of the offenders” he believed such actions were needed to “work for equitable and fair compensation.”
Dean Michael Rolph of Athabasca spoke out against it saying “it goes against the spirit of co-operation in the council.”
After the motion passed, Donald Harvey, bishop of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, said his diocese would “with much reluctance” withdraw its membership at the end of the year. “We can’t freeze the salary of 30 parishes of the diocese for the five clergy of Labrador,” said Bishop Harvey.
The bishop added that the diocese joined the Council of the North “not as a diocese but as a deanery; when we were invited to join there were no conditions put on us.” The diocese’s deanery of Labrador is financially supported by the council.
Bishop Cyrus Pitman, who will succeed Bishop Harvey when he retires at the end of the month, said he felt “miserable” that his diocese was seen as “a breaker of the covenant.”
Bishop Gordon Light of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (in British Columbia) asked Bishops Harvey and Pitman to reconsider their decision saying, “I wouldn’t want to be part of a body that saw you at the door. The council very much includes Labrador. To lose you would be to lose part of our heart.”
Hoping to break the impasse, an amendment was later introduced from the floor stating that the “dollar-for-dollar decrease” of grants for those who don’t comply with the minimum stipend scale would take effect only in January 2006.
But Bishops Harvey and Pitman were unmoved by the amendment. “We can’t ask our clergy to take a pay cut so that we can be in compliance,” said Bishop Harvey.
On the final day of the council meeting, Canon Mike Lowery of Brandon, who chairs the committee, announced that he and Fred Evans, financial officer of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, met to re-examine the salary and benefits provided by the diocese.
“One of the things we (committee members) didn’t know was the basis under which Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador was accepted into this body and that it’s different from Quebec.” He said that Mr. Evans had explained to him that “Labrador has an actual northern location experience that exceeds what they are actually finding and that it actually costs more to live in Labrador than what they’re funding and that it’s more akin to the Arctic.”
Mr. Lowery told the council that there was a possibility that the annual grant of $40,000 that Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador receives from the council would remain the same because of this new information.
In an interview, council chair Bishop Anthony Burton said that the council has been scrutinizing financial statements of its members because “the church is not awash in money and people are now looking very closely at every area of spending to make sure that every dollar is going as far as it can for the service of the church.”