Saskatoon balances urban and rural tensions

Published March 1, 2001

SASKATOON doesn’t cover a particularly large area, compared to some of its fellow dioceses, but one of Archbishop Thomas Morgan’s toughest challenges has been creating a sense of unity.

“In the last (federal) election, the rural areas went Reform and the cities went NDP and the church has worked at not letting that (kind of division) happen,” he said, pointing to three recent initiatives aimed at forestalling resentments among parishes in the country and those in the see city, Saskatoon.

Last year, the diocese introduced a housing equity plan for rural priests. Rural priests live in rectories owned by the church while most urban priests use a housing allowance to buy their own homes. When they move on, the urban priest has built up some equity, but the rural priest leaves with nothing.

Under the plan, the diocese, parish and priest each contribute $20 per month to a fund which the priest can draw in lieu of this equity.

The diocese has also leveled the cost of fire insurance for all its churches, since rural churches that are farther from fire hydrants are charged more than city churches. Also, Archbishop Morgan noted, travel costs are a burden for multi-point parishes, so the diocese is subsidizing those expenses. “The diocese has said no parish shall pay more than $5,000 for travel,” he said.

Getting everyone at the oars to pull together has not been an easy job since February, 1993, when Archbishop Morgan, now 60, was elected bishop of Saskatoon. He had served for eight years as bishop of the neighboring diocese of Saskatchewan and was asked to stand for election (among other candidates) in Saskatoon by the diocesan search committee. The diocese was experiencing open conflict between the bishop, Roland Wood, and the cathedral parish.

At odds with the bishop over the choice of an incumbent for the cathedral parish, among other matters, parish leaders formed a “diocesan affairs committee.” In May, 1992, it produced a report blasting the diocesan office and the bishop for “mismanagement,” “abuses of power” and maintenance of a “climate of fear.”

Six months later, Bishop Wood resigned, citing a desire to return to parish ministry and an offer from the bishop of Athabasca to serve at the cathedral in Peace River, Alta. Archbishop – then bishop – Morgan arrived to find that “the conflict had wreaked havoc on the community.”

The challenge, he said, “was to create a sense of community and trust. People had retreated to themselves. The first two years were very hard.”

The clergy, many of whom were figuratively keeping their heads down during the conflict, “were wonderful,” Archbishop Morgan said.

Apart from the city of Saskatoon (pop. 194,000), the diocese, which is in the shape of a wide belt across the province of Saskatchewan, consists mostly of farm communities.

Historically, the northern part of the province, which is the diocese of Saskatchewan, saw fur trading settlements, while the middle part saw land settlements, Archbishop Morgan said.

The diocese of Saskatchewan, which occupied the northern two-thirds of the province, was established in 1874. The growth of the city of Saskatoon prompted the establishment of a new diocese in 1932. The new diocese retained the name Saskatchewan and the old one was renamed Saskatoon.

The diocese has one native parish, but did not have any residential schools, so it does not face financial problems relating to legal costs and settlements, Archbishop Morgan said. However, he said, “the future of the Anglican Church of Canada weighs as heavily on me as on (Bishop) Jim Cruickshank. The challenge is to hold the centre, to hold the faith,” he said.

(Bishop Cruickshank’s diocese, Cariboo, faces bankruptcy due to residential schools legal costs.)

Archbishop Morgan was born on a farm in Emmaville, Sask. After university in Saskatchewan and London, he served as a parish priest in Britain for several years before returning to Saskatchewan in 1969, serving rural and native parishes well into the 1980s. He was consecrated bishop of Saskatchewan in 1985. Last year, he was named archbishop and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land. He and his wife, Lillian, have two sons and a daughter and four grandchildren.

His father was a Welshman and Archbishop Morgan said his heritage may explain why he has felt “at home” with native people.

His attitude toward aboriginal people has changed over the years. “When (native bishop Charles) Arthurson was elected bishop (in 1989), I realized I could never do for the Cree what they could do for themselves. At the beginning (of my career), I was quite confident it was appropriate for me to be a priest among aboriginal people,” he said.

Demographic trends that run throughout the west, such as population moves from rural to urban areas, have affected the diocese, and the number of Anglicans on parish rolls has declined.

The diocesan office is very lean but Archbishop Morgan noted that there are no subsidized parishes in the diocese, even in congregations that contain just 45 families.

Although a recent fund-raising campaign has raised just $200,000 of its million-dollar goal, Archbishop Morgan said his sense is “we are financially stronger each year.”


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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