Northern dioceses want closer relations with native Anglicans

Published November 1, 2007

The Council of the North has identified the mending of its strained relationship with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) as one of its top priorities for the next triennium.

The council, a grouping of 10 financially-assisted dioceses (plus the Parishes of the Central Interior, formerly the diocese of Cariboo) in Canada’s North, which met here Sept. 20-22, will also focus its attention on financial development, leadership development, and ecumenism over the coming three years.

Bishop David Ashdown, the new chair of the council, noted that endorsements made by General Synod in June guaranteeing the council’s annual funding at the 2006 level of $2.37 million for the next five years and allowing it to conduct its own fundraising initiatives had “lifted a tremendous weight” off the shoulders of Council members.

“Just knowing that we’re not walking alone and the whole church is enthusiastically walking with us has resulted in a sense of new life, excitement and enthusiasm that you’re seeing,” said Bishop Ashdown, who is also bishop of the diocese of Keewatin.

In recent years, the council had lamented the decline in grants that it receives from General Synod.

In an interview, Bishop Ashdown noted that the Council and ACIP have “drifted apart.” He said: “We’re pursuing similar, but different, agendas. As a consequence, what you have with that kind of drift is (that) misunderstandings arise.”

Bishop Ashdown acknowledged that part of the misunderstanding involved the appointment of a national Anglican indigenous bishop, an idea which was approved at the August 2005 Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle in Pinawa, Man.

“I think there were some misunderstandings over what the role of the national indigenous bishop would be,” said Bishop Ashdown. “There were certainly a number of reports that said that this appointment now meant that (the national indigenous bishop) now had pastoral oversight over all aboriginal congregations in Canada, which naturally caused a bit of distress and confusion, particularly to bishops who, in fact, do have jurisdiction and oversight over these communities.”

This “misunderstanding” has now been laid to rest, said Bishop Ashdown, largely because of assurances made by Bishop Mark MacDonald, whose appointment as national indigenous bishop was announced last January by ACIP and then-primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison. “I would like to give so much credit to Mark, who came to the house of bishops and said, ‘I want to make it very clear: I don’t work in the diocese without the co-operation and without an invitation from the diocesan bishop,” said Bishop Ashdown. “I think that put a lot of minds at ease … The relationship that Mark has established with diocesan bishops is so positive.”

Bishop Ashdown noted that his diocese was among those who expressed concern about the process leading up to the appointment of a national indigenous bishop. Still, it is significant that the first confirmations that Bishop MacDonald performed were in Keewatin last summer. “I have expressly told Mark that he doesn’t require permission every time he comes to the diocese. He has the blanket permission to come and go in the diocese of Keewatin as he chooses,” said Bishop Ashdown.

Council members unanimously made Bishop MacDonald a full member of their body.

Bishop MacDonald, who attended the meeting for the first time as national indigenous bishop, told the council that his goal was to ensure that ACIP and the council could work together.

“My perception is that at General Synod, the presentation of ACIP and the council were mutually illuminating and they (members) didn’t see them as different,” said Bishop MacDonald. “I really believe we are natural allies and when we do well, it helps us both.”

He also emphasized that ACIP is “first and foremost a spiritual movement,” and “we will embody that at the local level.” ACIP is aware that it needs to establish a connection with local communities, he added. “If ACIP people aren’t seen as people of local communities, if they can’t share in fellowship, it really hurts my work and their work substantially,” he said.

Bishop MacDonald said he has seen “a renewal and a revival” of the Christian faith in his recent travels to aboriginal communities, which have been experiencing a baby boom. “I see a post-colonial renewal of the church. That’s going to be a challenge and perhaps our salvation.” He said that there is “a growing interest among tribal leaders that the church has a critical role to play in their communities.”

During its meeting, the council also:

  • resolved to launch a major fundraising effort together with the newly-created office of financial development at General Synod, the church’s national office, and develop stewardship education and culturally-appropriate material for aboriginal communities;
  • agreed to open dialogue with other denominations, with a view to building up northern congregations, especially in isolated areas;
  • created a task force to develop criteria for how grants will be distributed among council members. The council had earlier agreed to review the distribution of grants to member dioceses.


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