WHEN GOLD FEVER hit the country in the mid- 19th century, thousands flocked to gold fields to seek their fortunes. Prospectors built camps along routes in the interior of central British Columbia. Anglican missionaries arrived from Victoria between 1860 and 1865 and built churches in Lillooet (St. Mary”s in 1861) and Barkerville (St. Saviour”s in 1870, which is still in operation). A party of clergy and laymen arrived in 1911 and eventually established a mission that reached as far north as Fort George (now Prince George).
This same pioneering spirit is still part of the Diocese of Cariboo, said Bishop Jim Cruickshank, its seventh bishop, elected eight years ago. The economy is still resource-based, but there is less money to be found in mining and in the beleaguered logging industry. But though challenged by economic realities, the diocese exhibits a keen sense Christian stewardship.
There are 9,000 Anglicans in the area; 4,000 of these consider themselves church members. There are 28 full- and part-time clergy, six pastoral elders and 30 licensed lay ministers in the diocese.
“The diocese has a lot of heart,” said Bishop Cruickshank. “There is a warmth and friendliness about the diocese. This is a somewhat small diocese in terms of population, but it covers a huge geographic area. What we have is a small number of people with big hearts.”
The Diocese of Cariboo was incorporated in 1914. Prior to that, it was part of the Diocese of New Westminster. Cariboo covers 166,000 sq. km of varied terrain, from snow capped mountains to thick forests and arid desert-like regions. The two major population centres are Prince George in the north and Kamloops in the south. Both cities are served by major airlines, railways and bus lines. Two major highways also connect the two.
In an area where it can take up to eight hours to drive to a meeting, the diocesan administration has learned to schedule gatherings creatively. The executive committee, for example, meets three times a year for an entire weekend. In alternate years to synod, leaders of the parishes organize a gathering of the diocesan families called Equip Cariboo. The First Nations of the Scw”wxmx parish hosted the event in 1998.
“It is a joyous celebration of our life in the diocese,” said Bishop Cruickshank. “The last time we met, there were more than 400 people there. It was really quite wonderful.”
Creativity is also driven by the need to use financial resources wisely, he said. The diocese is part of the Council of the North and receives a grant from the national church. In the early 1990s, when the national church had to tighten its belt, the pinch was felt in Cariboo.
“But, rather than pouting about it, we took a good look at our budget and a good look at ourselves,” said Bishop Cruickshank. As a result, the diocese decided to farm out some staff functions to parish clergy. “Each of them took on some diocesan responsibility. As a result, we don”t have a we/they mentality. Each of the clergy views the diocese as part of the parish and so there is very much a shared ministry between the diocese and the parishes.”
At its most recent synod, in October of last year, the Diocese of Cariboo voted to reduce its grant from the national church by 10 per cent per year until the diocese becomes self-supporting.
“We”ve made leadership in stewardship a priority,” said Bishop Cruickshank. “There is a significant level of giving in the diocese and it has doubled in the last few years, and every church building has been well maintained. It is our goal to reduce the grant until we aren”t receiving anything at all. It is really just a sign that we are growing up and becoming more financially responsible.”
However the diocese”s financial future is uncertain, he added. With several pending lawsuits over abuse in residential schools dating back to the 1950s, the diocese has to take one day at a time. Legal costs are staggering and long term planning is difficult, he added. But, once again, the spirit of the explorers is still part of the diocese”s character.
“Yes, it is true that the legal fees are huge so far, and we aren”t done yet. But, in spite of the fact we may be bruised, we will go on. The church will remain and the Gospel will be proclaimed. We may find ourselves losing our institutional resources, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
As a faith community, the people of Cariboo diocese are looking forward into a future that is concerned with how the church helps the world around it, said Bishop Cruickshank. He noted that the diocese has a high level of giving to the Primate”s World Relief and Development Fund.
“We want to move out of survival mode and into a sense of mission to see our social ministry as a priority.”
Nancy Devine is a freelance writer and editor based in Aurora, Ont.