‘Sticks in a bundle’

Photo: O. Bellini/Shutterstock
Published February 1, 2024

Financial pressures drive dioceses to increased collaboration

As revenues shrink, many dioceses across the Anglican Church of Canada are increasingly collaborating with one another to find savings—and in at least one case have discussed merging.

On Oct. 16 and 17, councils from the three dioceses that cover the civil province of Saskatchewan—the dioceses of Saskatoon, Qu’Appelle and Saskatchewan— met to discuss ways they could work together more closely in finance and administration. They also spoke about shared camp events and agreed that clergy in any one of the three dioceses could lead worship services in the others. According to a Council of the North news release, published in the Saskatchewan Anglican diocesan newspaper after the meeting, representatives also considered the formal union of two or more dioceses.

In the end, none of the three dioceses supported a merger. Representatives from the diocese of Saskatchewan were not interested in a merger with the Qu’Appelle or Saskatoon dioceses due to what they considered differences in culture and traditions. Those from the dioceses of Qu’Appelle and Saskatoon, meanwhile, felt their dioceses had many commonalities, but that the large area resulting from a merger could not be served by a single bishop and therefore a suffragan bishop would be needed—and having to pay for two bishops would negate much of the rationale for a merger.

Bishop of Qu’Appelle Helen Kennedy says the move towards greater collaboration flows in part from diminishing resources, including less funding, smaller congregations and fewer people to serve those congregations.

Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson— metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, who was present for the discussions—says while bishops in those dioceses had been engaged in conversation about increased work together for several years, the last year has seen more formal discussion.

“I think pooling resources is a key driver … the desire to be able to use the resources they have the most wisely and most effectively for the mission and the ministry of the church, rather than using the resources up for administrative stuff,” Kerr-Wilson says.

Some metropolitans from the Anglican Church of Canada’s other ecclesiastical provinces also report increased collaboration among their dioceses—for similar reasons.

“The pandemic taught us that ‘sticks in a bundle’ (or dioceses) working together are far stronger than individual sticks (or dioceses) going it alone,” says Archbishop Anne Germond, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario. “We have a very strong executive provincial council and have worked together on social justice issues like homelessness and elder care.”

The seven Ontario dioceses are also trying to figure out how they can make work together on items such as payroll more efficient, she adds.

Archbishop Lynne McNaughton, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of B.C. and Yukon and bishop of Kootenay, says the six bishops in her province currently share numerous programs in common, including a safe church training program. Some dioceses have also been sharing payroll information. “We all have diminished personnel, diminished volunteer [and] lay ministry support,” she says of the situation in her province. “We have shortages of clergy. We have vast geographical distances and fewer and fewer people and less money. That’s across the board.”

It all means the moment is ripe for finding ways for dioceses to avoid duplicating their efforts, she says.

“I think that that’s why this moment has some readiness about it that wasn’t there in previous generations or previous administrations … All of the dioceses, even the traditionally more resourced dioceses, are dealing with those kinds of shortages, or they’re dealing with parishes that are having to figure out what we do with less money.”

Another common area of work is the province’s shared eco-justice committee, which includes representatives from each diocese. Refugee sponsorship has also become a major area of shared work, and the province is exploring other kinds of partnerships for it, McNaughton adds, including, potentially, ecumenical or interfaith ones.

Previous years have seen serious discussion about a potential merger between the dioceses of Quebec and Montreal, which were the same diocese before 1850. More than a decade ago, representatives from each diocese formed the Quebec Montreal Partnership Initiative with a mandate to explore if there were ways for the two to work more closely together in mission and ministry. In 2015, then Quebec bishop Dennis Drainville stood as a candidate in the diocese of Montreal’s episcopal election and expressed his support for the two dioceses uniting. And current bishop of Quebec Bruce Myers says the question of cooperation was one of the earliest conversations between himself and current bishop of Montreal Mary Irwin-Gibson—although, he adds, they agreed immediately that exploring ways for the dioceses to work more closely in mission and ministry made more sense than folding them together.

Myers says the size of the Quebec diocese would mean that any potential merger would “create an unmanageably large geographic territory.” He also notes that there is a contextual difference in ministry, between the largely rural diocese of Quebec and the mainly urban diocese of Montreal.

Instead, the two dioceses look for areas where they can collaborate. Both dioceses invite representatives from the other to gatherings such as diocesan synods, clergy retreats and lay reader training events. Myers and Irwin-Gibson have issued joint pastoral letters in situations that affect both the dioceses of Quebec and Montreal, such as after the 2017 mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, and open letters to the premier of Quebec and other lawmakers regarding “pieces of legislation that we have thought for different reasons were problematic,” Myers says.

While it makes sense for dioceses that are all within one civil province to save money on things like administration and advocacy, he adds, the ecclesiastical province of Canada is spread over five different civil provinces, which presents more jurisdictional hurdles. Still, while different ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses might adopt different solutions, he says discussions about ways dioceses can work more closely together are likely to continue.

“I think it’s good to be continually and regularly asking those questions,” Myers says.

As ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses explore opportunities for greater collaboration, the Anglican Church of Canada is also rethinking church structures at the national level.

In 2023, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, announced the formation of a primate’s commission to evaluate current church structures and suggest possible alternatives. Nicholls said she formed the commission in response to questions that arose from the strategic planning process in the 2019-2023 quadrennium, which involved nationwide consultations with Anglicans at all levels.

“We have a national church structure and model of governance created in a different time and context,” Nicholls told Council of General Synod in November. “The question that kept emerging was, if we were to develop a national church today, what would we imagine?”


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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