Progress toward naming the Anglican Church of Canada’s first national native bishop slowed over the summer as candidates for the position and a national committee, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), struggled to define the job’s terms and mandate.
“We are still in a selection process and there’s nothing definite to disclose. We’ll likely make a selection at ACIP’s meeting in October,” said Archdeacon Sidney Black, ACIP co-chair, in a voicemail message to the Anglican Journal.
After the concept of a national indigenous Anglican bishop was approved at a native gathering in August, 2005 called the Sacred Circle, a target date for the first appointment was June, 2006. Several candidates, whose names have not been disclosed, were interviewed by committee members. Bishops in the Canadian church are normally elected by members of a diocese. A process for choosing the native bishop remains to be developed, but the primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, agreed to appoint the initial candidate, whose name would be proposed by ACIP.
“There are still some unanswered questions to be worked out and some discerning needs to be done. ACIP tried to reach a consensus (on a candidate) with a couple of conference calls, but it’s probably better that they meet face-to-face (in the fall),” said Ellie Johnson, director of the national church’s partnerships department, which includes indigenous ministry.
Archbishop Hutchison, noting that he remained “hugely” supportive of the idea of a national native bishop, said the church needs to move “gently and carefully.” In the meantime, to avoid lengthy changes to church canons, or laws, Archbishop Hutchison last year said the appointment should be an individual who is already a bishop.
“My hope is that the appointment will be made by the time of General Synod (in June of) next year. Between now and General Synod, the intent is to see some procedural recommendations that will regularize that appointment so it’s not always a private matter between ACIP and the primate, so it can be officially built into the system,” he said in an interview.
At the spring meeting of the house of bishops, concern was expressed over jurisdiction and finances for the new post. ACIP maintains that the national native bishop should have jurisdiction, which would include the right to perform confirmations and hire clergy, but under the present system, only diocesan bishops have that right.
“There is a lot of concern over those issues. The intent currently is that it is a pastoral appointment, not a bishop with jurisdiction – the same as the primate. The national indigenous bishop would come alongside bishops with large native constituencies and ask, ‘How can I help?’ That would be very much welcomed by a number of bishops,” Archbishop Hutchison said. “Where there is some tension is that some might see it as an alternative to their bishop.”
The pastoral aspect of the post is key, he said. “Our national indigenous communities coast to coast have been fixated on the anger and despair over the residential schools, with low self-esteem and confidence. When this came forth at the Sacred Circle, it transformed the mood of that conference and ACIP itself,” he said.
He linked the symbolic value of the office to his own position. “My own office is largely symbolic. The authority the primate carries is moral authority, not structural and jurisdictional authority. It’s similar to the authority of the (native) elders,” he said.
As for financing the office, Archbishop Hutchison noted that the partnerships department has identified existing funds that could be used.