Qu’Appelle faces a precarious future

By on November 1, 2000

Rt. Rev. Duncan D. Wallace

A 1997 PROFILE of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle sent to candidates in an episcopal election used the phrase “residential school” once. Today, the successful candidate from that election, Bishop Duncan D. Wallace, 62, finds much of his time occupied by the fallout from that one issue.

The profile said the diocese had to “support the development of indigenous leadership and models of ministry” and foster “greater inter-cultural understanding,” but no one at the time could have foreseen the avalanche of lawsuits filed by Natives who claim they were abused in church-operated boarding schools.

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The number of suits numbered about 330 as of last June, , said Bishop Wallace in an interview. “So far, our (total) legal costs are over $297,000,” he said. The diocese has projected revenues for this year of about $642,000. After Cariboo, Qu’Appelle is in the most difficult financial straits as a result of these lawsuits. (In a letter to Canadian clergy dated September 8, Archdeacon Jim Boyles, general secretary of General Synod wrote: “The Diocese of Cariboo has already exhausted its resources, and if nothing changes, The Diocese of Qu’Appelle and the General Synod itself won’t be far behind.”)

The litigation in Qu’Appelle arises from the church’s operation of the Gordon residential school in Punnichy, Sask. Former school administrator William Starr pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting 10 students and was imprisoned.

About 230 plaintiffs have settled out of court with the federal government and, recently, the first out-of-court settlement was reached in connection with a lawsuit that named the diocese. “One hundred fifty thousand dollars is to be paid out. The federal government will pay it, but will try to collect a certain amount from us,” said Bishop Wallace.

The diocese is in the process of projecting a budget for next year, so Bishop Wallace declined to estimate how long the diocese can keep operating. Referring to the financial situation, he acknowledged, “It’s always there in the background.” The diocese’s next biennial synod will probably be in the fall of 2001, he said.

The diocese is working on healing initiatives for its indigenous population. “I spend a fair amount of time on the Gordon Reserve. I think I have a good relationship with the chief and council,” said Bishop Wallace. Canon Helena Houldcroft is a liaison with aboriginal and non-aboriginal parishes and with General Synod about the residential school situation.

Rev. Dale Gillman, who is native, is based at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Regina, and is working on counseling projects for natives in the city and on the reserve.

Bishop Wallace is no newcomer to the diocese. Before his election, he was dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral for 20 years. Born in Kitchener, Ont., he was educated at the University of Manitoba and St. John’s College, Winnipeg. He and his wife, elementary school principal Mary Emily Wallace, have a son and a daughter, both adults.

The Diocese of Qu’Appelle, originally called Assiniboia, was created by the province of Rupert’s Land in 1883. The first bishop, a British missionary named Adelbert Anson, was based in the town of Qu’Appelle. (The name comes from the French translation of an Indian legend. A young man travelling down a river to his wedding hears his bride calling his name. He answers, “Who calls?” All he hears in response is a voice echoing, “Who calls?” He arrives at his destination to learn that his beloved died calling his name. “Qu’appelle” is French for “who calls.”) In 1943, the see city was moved to Regina and in 1973, St. Paul’s was given full cathedral status.

Like several of his predecessors, Bishop Wallace is coping with a declining number of parishes. His immediate predecessor, Bishop Eric Bays, wrote in the Saskatchewan Anglican newspaper in 1997 that there were just over 100 points, or congregations, in the diocese, down from 250 in 1959.

“One of the major issues for close to 50 years has been rural depopulation” as smaller farms are absorbed by larger ones, said Bishop Wallace. The population of Saskatchewan itself has stayed constant at about one million for at least two decades, he noted. Of the diocese’s 43 parishes (down from 45 in 1997), four are predominantly First Nations. Total parish membership is about 11,000, with a 60/40 urban/rural split.

Prairie geography presents certain unique challenges. For instance, the greater parish of Oxbow in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan is bigger in area then the whole Diocese of Niagara. Niagara has about 110 parish clergy, but Oxbow has not had a full-time parish priest since 1988.

Bishop Wallace’s concern is “how to carry on creative, constructive ministry with a shrinking population.”

To that end, the diocese is developing local ministry teams where one or two members are identified for ordination by the local people, he said. They train at home through correspondence courses offered by the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad in Saskatoon and through some study within the diocese.

One bright note, Bishop Wallace said, is that he’s seen a renewed interest in ministry, with eight people coming to see him recently to talk about ordination. “I don’t know what started it all. They’re not teenagers or in their 20s. There’s a fair spread of ages,” he said. The diocese also started to develop a strategic plan, which began with a clergy conference that asked such questions as: What is good about us? What do we need to survive?

But Bishop Wallace acknowledges that there are “a lot of unanswerable questions.”

He has been bishop for a relatively short time, but said little about the job surprised him, after 20 years at the cathedral.

There was one thing, however. “One’s relationship with the clergy changes almost overnight. I found it very tricky to be in some senses employer and pastor. The two are in conflict sometimes,” he said.

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  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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