On a chilly Saturday afternoon in December, Bruce Myers, coadjutor bishop of the diocese of Quebec, welcomes the Anglican Journal into his office at the diocese’s Church House, housed in an old stone building in the same compound as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.
Myers, who has just finished putting the final touches on the next day’s sermon, is dressed casually, and exudes a sense of relaxed engagement. He speaks in the warm, measured tones of a former radio broadcaster (Myers cut his teeth as a journalist in Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal in the 1990s before being ordained a priest in 2004), but becomes easily excited when discussing theology, ecumenism and his plans for the diocese.
“I don’t have a lot of interest in being a CEO or an administrator,” he says, almost ruefully, when asked about his approach to leadership. “I would like to see this office become a place from which resources for mission emanate.”
This approach to the episcopacy is shaped by Myers’ deep familiarity with the history of his diocese, and personal experience with its complex diversity. Though he was serving the national church as co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Anglican Church of Canada in Toronto when he was elected, most of his work has been in the diocese of Quebec. His first posting as a priest was to the remote parish of the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, after which he moved to Quebec City to become archdeacon of Quebec.
In this interview, Myers speaks about his vision for the diocese, the challenges facing Quebec, and what it means to do ministry in one of the most secular places in the Western world.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
What is your vision for the diocese of Quebec?
At one level, my vision is the Kingdom of God, and trying to work with the people of the diocese to find ways to reveal the kingdom-in small, but possibly also in great ways, in each of the communities where we are present.
My role right now is…to visit…the different communities of the diocese, to listen…to see what resources-financial, infrastructure, and human-are already present. To see what the needs are, not just in the congregations, but in the communities in which [they] exist. To hear from our members, to see what visions they may have for trying to be more engaged in the lives of their communities…not just for the sake of perpetuating the church, but for the sake of the world, which is what the church’s mission is fundamentally supposed to be about.
We’re moving into a season where, thanks to a lot of the hard work done by Bishop Dennis [Drainville] and others, we’re…in a position of financial and administrative stability, and structural stability, that we haven’t…had for some time.
As someone who has served in the diocese, what’s your sense of its major concerns?
I’ve been hearing pretty clearly-and this predates my moving into episcopal ministry-a real desire by most to become more engaged in the wider communities in which they find themselves. There has been so much talk of mission, not just in this diocese but in the wider church and the wider Anglican Communion, for years now. And yet a lot of our communities and people struggle to find ways to give that tangible expression in their lives and in their congregations.
When you talk about engaging in mission, do you mean in a more grassroots way, rather than diocese-led?
…We are one of two dioceses that have their entire territory within the province of Quebec, [and] in that way, we are uniquely positioned to have a voice in the public square, in provincial affairs, whatever the question might be. A role for the bishop and the synod might be advocacy around certain issues, whether it is for refugees…religious freedom…[or] the protection of minority rights.
But the more concrete, practical work needs to happen in the small local communities, and the diocese’s role is working with the folks on the ground to make that happen. I think-not just here but in other places–diocese is almost a dirty word. Diocese is associated with this amorphous, distant structure with an office somewhere far away that sends us bills and takes our money, and we don’t seem to get anything…in return…How can the diocese be seen as a positive resource, a helper and an enabler for local communities…?
I’ve been hearing clearly that there is a real hunger among the people of our diocese to learn. They would like to take greater ownership of their faith. They would like to have a faith that seeks understanding, to be informed Christians, to have something more than a Sunday service and a sermon or even a weekly Bible study…so that they can participate as fully as possible in the world as disciples of Christ.
What I could see happening is some dedicated structure work on the diocese’s part in helping create opportunities for the people already in our church to deepen their formation. And maybe opportunities for people who aren’t members of the church to participate…too.
Would this mean a restructuring of the diocese?
Yes…my vision for episcopacy has always been…as a priest who is first among equals.
I’m really hoping that the kind of episcopate I can offer is one that sees the bishop as… primarily a pastor, a teacher, somebody who can work in trying to help equip congregations and individuals in engaging in meaningful mission in the world, and being less focused on administration and the temporal affairs of the diocese and the church.
I see the real danger in a bishop becoming overly burdened with administrative, financial, temporal affairs. And while those can’t be ignored, I’d like to think-perhaps naively-that I might be able to compartmentalize those and allow others who have those strengths and gifts to focus on that, so that I can engage in the more spiritual dimensions of the position…
If I had a dream for how we would conduct ourselves as a diocese moving forward, it would be that we would reflect theologically on everything we do, every decision we make, every dollar we spend, every dollar we invest, every energy we expend, and engage in that critical step each time…Is there something that is going to be qualitatively different in how we conduct ourselves and the decisions we make?
According to a 2013 survey by Pew Forum, only 17 per cent of Quebecers attend a religious service at least once a month. Do you see that as a challenge?
A generation ago it would have been an obstacle. Now I see it as an opportunity…There’s the whole story of the Quiet Revolution, the mid-20th century in Quebec where the francophone majority really took ownership of their destiny in a fundamental way. In addition to…coming into their own as the majority culture, part of that included a fundamental rejection of the Roman Catholic Church, and subsequently, of organized religion in general. And that has lingered for decades. My sense is that the pendulum is beginning to swing back in this province, that as we move into a generation of Quebecois who haven’t even inherited, necessarily, negative stereotypes or caricatures of any church, there is an opportunity there. There’s an inherent spiritual hunger and quest that is basic to every human being, and that has been left unfed for at least a generation in this province.
I think what [people]-especially young people-are looking for is a credibility in a religion and a community of faith. They are looking for authenticity, and for people of faith to have their acts match their words and to have their gestures match their rhetoric… If we can offer, as a witness in 21st-century Quebec,…authentic communities of faith who are engaged in the world around them in helpful, meaningful ways…that’s probably the most attractive kind of witness we can offer.
Do you think the diocese will exist in 30 years?
I don’t know…I’m not sure it’s even important if the diocese of Quebec as a formal structure will exist in 30 years. The church will exist in 30 years, the church will exist in 300 years or 3,000 years, or whenever our Lord returns. I’m not hung up on whether the formal structures of our church continue to exist in their current form or not.
What I think is more important than the formal structures or the shape of things is that the gospel is being proclaimed and the kingdom is being revealed.
One of the best things I’ve done in the last year is reread the diocesan history, which has helped me realize that there has never been a time when the Anglican diocese of Quebec was large and prosperous and wildly successful. We’ve always been a minority church, and we’ve always been a huge territory serving a relatively small number of people…The whole history of Christianity has been ebbs and flows…proportionally, the church is the largest it has ever been, and the church will be just fine.
So I feel, on the one hand, a great weight of responsibility for being a bishop in the church of God, and the person who has been called to oversight and leadership of this particular church in this particular time and place, and I take that responsibility seriously. But I also carry it with the lightness of knowing that it isn’t all my responsibility…that it is Christ who is the head of the church, not me, and not anybody else.
I don’t actually lose very much sleep over it…The thing to lose sleep over is whether the church is being faithful and being the church that we are called to be. That is something worth losing sleep over.