Two men and two women, including an existing bishop, a diocesan executive archdeacon, a cathedral dean and the director of pastoral studies at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College, are vying to become the next bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal.
In seeking to succeed Bishop Barry Clarke, 62, who will retire in late August, the candidates – Bishop Dennis Drainville, 61, of the Diocese of Quebec, Rev. Karen L. Egan, 57, of the theological college, Archdeacon Bill Gray, 60, of the Montreal diocese and The Very Rev. Mary Irwin-Gibson, 59, dean and rector at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston – have an impressive range of support, to judge by nomination papers filed for the electoral synod June 6.
They are also seeking a job that comes with more than its share of challenges. The number on church rolls in the diocese stands at around 11,000, less than a third of the total of about 40 years ago. The current bishop has faced big challenges in working with parishes to find ways to sell or creatively re-use vacant or nearly empty churches.
Two of the candidates-Drainville and Egan-place heavy emphasis on what they see as a need for a radical change of attitude to cope with the new reality. All four of them in one way or another indicate a commitment to further expanding the use of French by the Anglican church in Quebec.
Close to 80 elected lay delegates of parishes and a somewhat larger number of active priests are eligible to vote in the election. Voting is to continue, ballot after ballot, until a candidate has a majority of both lay and clergy votes. In preparation for the synod, delegates were supplied last week with biographical information and a 500-word statement from each of the candidates. The nomination form of each candidate was also required to be signed by two clergy and two lay delegates to the synod.
Most but not all of what follows is from the documentation forms submitted by the candidates.
Karen Egan, 57, studied science and library science at McGill University before her studies for the ministry and ordination as a deacon and priest in 2003 and 2004. As priest at St. Andrew and St. Mark’s Dorval between 2005 and 2013 she presided over the installation of an energy-saving geothermal heating system and earned a reputation as a gifted preacher. While a parish priest in the diocese of Montreal, she earned a D.Min. in preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, where she focused on roundtable missional preaching. She came on staff at the Diocesan Theological College in 2013 and is a member of the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Her nomination papers were signed by the Rev. Jennifer Bourque, a hospital chaplain; the Rev. John Simons, retiring principal at the theological college; by Marsha Hunter, a parishioner at St. Mark’s; and by Helen Foster of St. Stephen’s Lachine.
In Egan’s view: “The Diocese of Montreal is challenged by its deeply secular context, and its diminishing membership, which creates stresses in every parish and every level of the diocese. For decades we have watched as numbers and finances have diminished. Far from standing by and idly watching, we have made consistent efforts to understand our situation and to reverse the decline. Unfortunately most of our efforts have met with disappointment. I believe that the time has come to abandon our self-concerned efforts to increase the church in numbers and financial capital, and instead focus on vibrant worship which is open and accessible to the newcomer, and energetic mission in the world. I believe this focus on authentic Christian worship and service will surely lead to something more important than growth in numbers and power, namely, to a healthy and vibrant church that lives the Marks of Mission and is able to inspire future generations with a longing for God’s Kingdom, and the faith to live joyfully.”
Bill Gray, 60, spent much of his ministry in the Southwestern Ontario Diocese of Huron, where he had a wide range of parish, teaching and other responsibilities and received a range of specialized training. He moved on to All Saints’ Peterborough, in the diocese of Toronto, in 2007 and in 2012, to St. George’s Place du Canada, succeeding Leavitt. Last year, Clarke asked him to take on the additional responsibility of territorial archdeacon for churches on the Montreal South Shore and the Eastern Townships, even though the St. George’s is not in that area. Within months, Gray was made executive archdeacon of the diocese-succeeding Archdeacon (now Canon) Janet Griffith, who accepted a parish role in her previous diocese: Huron.
Gray’s nomination papers were signed by two other members of the diocesan Episcopal Council, Archdeacons James Bennett and Michael Robson, and by two parishioners of St. George’s Place du Canada.
In Gray’s view: “I have been privileged to be part of a diocesan team including front-line local clergy and lay leadership that has supported the development of regional ministry, repurposed churches through redevelopment, engaged in collaborative decision making and considered plans for new church planting. I have learned a great deal through this process of what’s possible. My experiences include serving as a diocesan officer, an archdeacon four different times in two dioceses, and a parish priest of 34 years. My relationships with diocesan staff, deanery leaders, clergy and laity means that I don’t require a steep learning curve but can invest more time in a seamless continuation of building on the great foundation we have built together. My goal is to help parishes manage change and transition. I want to encourage us to be people of hope and confidence in the gospel rather than a community of fear and anxiety.”
Mary Irwin-Gibson has not served in the Diocese of Montreal since 2009, when she took on her present post of Dean and Rector of St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, in the diocese of Ontario. However, her nomination papers were signed by Dean Paul Kennington of Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal, the Rev. Chris Barrigar of St. Peter’s in the Town of Montreal, known as a leading and articulate evangelical, and by two laywoman particularly active in the spiritual life of the diocese of Montreal – Sally Harrington Philippo of St. Paul’s Knowlton and Valerie Bennett of St. Paul’s Greenfield Park.
She picked up some credentials in business along the way: an executive MBA from the French-language Université du Québec à Montréal. She tells delegates to the electoral synod that she has “a heart for justice in society and for ecological issues.”
She writes, “Together we will work to strengthen this part of God’s Church. As a Diocese, we will apply our gifts of leadership, listening for the voice of the Spirit of God and growing ministry and service where the opportunities and gifts are present.
“We are facing transitions that challenge us. That is not new for the Church. We have a message of hope, grace and healing to share; that message is rooted in our life in Christ. Although we may wonder what lies ahead, the mission of Jesus Christ is not diminished and there is much remaining for us to do.”
Dennis Drainville has told his parishioners in the Diocese of Quebec-which is to the east of the Montreal Diocese, has its cathedral in Quebec City and covers a much greater area but only one-third as many Anglicans-that he is in the running because he wants the two dioceses to merge. He was a New Democratic Party member of the Ontario legislature between 1990 and 1993 and is still an activist and blogger on social justice issues.
He was educated largely in the Toronto area, studied theology at both Trinity College in Toronto and the “Dio” in Montreal. As a priest, he has served in two Ontario dioceses and briefly at Christ Church Cathedral before moving to the Quebec Diocese, where he taught in a CEGEP (community college) in the Gaspé between 1994 and 2006, and served in a Gaspé parish and later as a diocesan “missioner” from 2002 until his ordination as a bishop in 2008.
His nomination papers were signed by Archdeacon Ralph Leavitt of Ste. Agathe in the Laurentians, formerly of the downtown Montreal parish of St. George’s Place du Canada and known for his pastoral approach, and Rev. James McDermott of St. Mark’s in Montreal suburb of St. Laurent, known as something of a maverick. Drainville’s lay nominators, Wendy Crooks and Irene Martin, are from parishes north of Montreal.
Drainville’s brief statement calls for “a transition in many of our churches where full-time salaried clergy are no longer affordable” and argues that “in many ways we are simply not communicating with the world nor engaging in it in ways considered valuable.”
He adds, “The diocesan and parish structures need to be redesigned to serve a smaller community in a very different social context.”
Harvey Shepherd is the editor of Anglican Montreal, the diocesan newspaper of the diocese of Montreal.