The Council of General Synod (CoGS) has thrown its supportbehind the proposal to create a new indigenous diocese of the northernOntario region.
The proposal, which will require theconcurrence of General Synod when it meets July 3 to 7, has beenapproved at both diocesan and provincial levels.
Representatives of the diocese of Keewatin spoke about the plan at the spring meeting of CoGS March 14 to 17.
Archbishop David Ashdown, diocesan bishop and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, shared a timeline that illustrated how the vision for the new diocese and its ministry would provide “more meaningful and better spiritual services” to First Nations communities, articulated as early as over half a century ago.
The new diocese will cover 16 First Nations communities belonging to Treaty 9 around Kingfisher Lake, north of Sioux Lookout. The northern Ontario area mission currently has a bishop, Lydia Mamakwa, who was elected in 2010, and several local clergy.
Mamakwa told CoGs that the northern Ontario area mission has grown over the years to include training for native clergy and a catechism and Bible camp. She said chiefs have been supportive of their journey toward a self-determining diocese.
Stanley Sainnawap said the region has been self-administered since 2006 and has always produced a balanced financial statement.
Once approved, the diocese of Keewatin will cease to function on Dec. 31, 2014, but will continue as a legal entity until Sept. 30, 2015, at which time Ashdown will end his term as diocesan bishop and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land.
The assets of the diocese will then be liquidated and distributed among its three areas: northern Ontario, northern Manitoba and southern Ontario.
Negotiations are ongoing for the transfer of the southern Ontario region’s 15 congregations to the diocese of Rupert’s Land, and a decision is expected in May.
“While we are wishing the northern Ontario region great success, we feel a bit of a loss because our relationship has been close. We are moving forward with great support, but also with a sense of regret,” said the Very Rev. Jim Dugan, dean of Keewatin.
The northern Manitoba region parishes are in discussions about their own future.
The name for the northern Ontario diocese has not yet been finalized, but Mamakwa said it would be “reflective of who we are as aboriginal people.”
Council members asked questions, including what would happen if General Synod withheld its concurrence. “We’re obviously hoping that [General Synod] would agree,” said Ashdown, adding that the creation of a new diocese was “just another step in a journey that General Synod began in 1969.” He added that changing diocesan boundaries is not unusual and in fact, “has happened many times in the life of the church.”
Chancellor David Jones noted that the creation of a northern Ontario diocese would not add another diocese, since Keewatin would cease to function.