New Zealand diocese chooses Matthews as bishop

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Victoria Matthews, who was the first woman to be elected a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, has reportedly been chosen bishop of the diocese of Christchurch in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Under the church’s rules, her nomination must still be approved by the province’s house of bishops and members of the General Synod.

Canadian bishop Victoria Matthews has reportedly been chosen bishop of the diocese of Christchurch in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, according to church sources and published reports.

The news was communicated to the Anglican Journal by church sources and also reported in the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain. Bishop Matthews, who served as bishop of the diocese of Edmonton for 10 years until she stepped down last year, declined to confirm news of her selection until the New Zealand church made an official announcement.

Lloyd Ashton, the Auckland-based media officer for the province, also declined to confirm the report. “What has happened is there has been a leak to a U.K. newspaper and it is quite regrettable that confidentiality has been breached. The election is still in process.”

Mr. Ashton explained that the electoral synod convened Feb. 15–17 to select a nominee. Under the process, the name is then forwarded to the house of bishops, which, he added in an interview with the Journal, “is not just a formality, not a rubber stamp. There have been a couple of occasions where the person nominated hasn’t been selected bishop. One of the reasons could be the nominee refuses the appointment.”

If the bishops approve the selection, the candidate’s name then is sent to the members of General Synod by mail ballot. It is a three-step process that can take a month to complete, Mr. Ashton said.

If General Synod confirms the choice, he explained, the province’s primate, or national archbishop, officially invites the nominee to become the bishop of the diocese, he said.

According to Christchurch’s diocesan Web site, an official announcement is expected around mid-March. The new bishop’s installation date is set for June 14.

Bishop Matthews recently relocated to Toronto and took up the post of bishop-in-residence for the 2008 winter term at Wycliffe College. She is also chair of the Primate’s Theological Commission, a group that examined the contentious issue of whether blessing rites for same-sex couples was a matter of Anglican doctrine. The committee’s report said the issue was a matter of doctrine, but not core doctrine.

Last June, she was a candidate for primate, or national archbishop, of the Anglican Church of Canada at the synod that elected Archbishop Fred Hiltz. Bishop Matthews grew up in Toronto and began her ministry there. She was elected suffragan (assistant) bishop of Toronto in 1993, becoming the first female bishop in the Canadian church, and diocesan bishop of Edmonton in 1997. When she announced her resignation last year, she said she believed God was calling her “in a different direction.”

The New Zealand church made history in 1990 when it ordained the first female diocesan bishop in the Anglican Communion, Penny Jamieson of the diocese of Dunedin.

According to the diocesan profile, Christchurch, located in the midsection of the southern island of New Zealand’s two major islands and based in the city of Christchurch, includes 70 parishes and ministry and mission units as well as schools and a variety of chaplaincies and other institutions.

Bishop Matthews, if approved, would succeed Bishop David Coles, who will step down on March 23. The diocese undertook a number of consultations last fall in its search for a new bishop. A total of 388 people took part and among the qualities they wanted to see in their next bishop were: spirituality, leadership in diversity, pastor and supporter, leadership in decision making, theological scholarship, encourager of diverse ministries, orthodoxy.

Ordination of women was mentioned several times in the reports from the consultations. One archdeaconry (section) of the diocese noted that the present reality included “greater role for women.” Another group strongly felt (20 out of 32 responses) that the new bishop “needs to recognize ordination of women.”

However, gender was only one of the issues expressed in the consultations. Recognizing and working within the three-part nature of the New Zealand church, which is a partnership among European-descended and indigenous Maori and Polynesian peoples, was a major point. Participants noted concern over declining numbers and divisions within the diocese, both along theological lines and on social and political issues. While respondents felt the church offers “a message of hope” they also said it was “locked into survival mode,” “an aging church,” and had “stretched financial and human resources” – characteristics that also mark other churches in the developed world.

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

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