Richmond Hill, Ont.
Northern dioceses continue to face a range of serious challenges-but a recent upsurge in partnerships with southern dioceses, parishes and individuals has been making a real difference, members of General Synod heard Saturday, July 9.
The Council of the North, a grouping of dioceses supported financially through grants by the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod, covers 85% of Canada but contains only 15% of its population, Michael Hawkins, bishop of Saskatchewan and chair of the council, said in an address to General Synod. These dioceses, he said, grapple with the financial challenge of having to minister to far-flung communities, not to mention isolation, harsh weather and sometimes-unreliable communication. Many northern communities have very high needs of pastoral support because of suffering associated with poverty and the legacy of the Indian residential school system and other effects of colonialism, he said.
Many of the council’s priests are unpaid; 134 of its 295 clergy are non-stipendiary, Hawkins said.
“We need to…find better ways to support these faithful ministers of the gospel,” he said.
However, he added, there is also “much to celebrate” in the work now being done in northern dioceses. For example, northern Anglicans are helping preserve Indigenous languages through projects such as the recent production of a children’s Bible in Inuktitut and the ongoing work of translating the Bible into Oji-Cree-continuing the valuable work of earlier Anglican missionaries, he said.
The past few years have also seen a flourishing of North-South partnerships-a sign, that “the ministry of the Council of the North is truly a ministry of the whole church-we are in this together-by the whole church,” Hawkins said. “It’s so encouraging to see these relationships are blooming and growing across our church.”
General Synod then heard first-hand accounts of a number of these partnerships.
One of these involved the creation of an Indigenous ministry in Thunder Bay, Ont., to address an apparent reluctance of many Indigenous people living in that city to seek spiritual help away from their home parishes.
“In many cases, it was as if the diocesan boundary was coming between them and the pastoral care they needed,” said Stephen Andrews, bishop of Algoma.
In response, a number of meetings were set up between Andrews, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and others.
“Some Natives present there expressed a desire for a Native ministry in Thunder Bay,” Mamakwa told General Synod. “It seems really important to them to have a connection to a northern ministry.”
Many young Natives come to Thunder Bay for their education, she said, and many of them face challenges such as language barriers and the difficulty of adjusting to city life.
“If someone can read and speak and sing with them in their home language, Oji-Cree, that’s a real blessing,” she said.
As a result of these meetings, Andrews gave Mamakwa licence to operate in Thunder Bay-the first time such an arrangement has been made in Canada, Mamakwa said.
Larry Robertson, bishop of Yukon, told General Synod about the contribution made to his diocese by the “ministry of presence” model, which involves volunteer ministry, often by southerners, for a year or more. It’s made a big difference, Robertson said, in a diocese that now supports only three stipendiary clergy.
“One thing we’ve learned is that we can still do ministry-real life-changing, Christ-centred, healing ministry-but we need to do it in a different way,” he said. “One of the ways we have been able to do that is to partner with some very special people from across the rest of the church…What a blessing they have been to the parishes they have served.”
General Synod also heard about partnerships between the diocese of Athabasca and Atlantic dioceses, meant to address the problem of Newfoundland oil patch workers “falling through the cracks” and not getting the pastoral help they need while working in the west; a covenant of mutual support between the diocese of Montreal and the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior; and a partnership between St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa and St. Thomas’s Anglican Church in Moose Factory, Ont., on suicide prevention.