Niagara Falls, Ont.
“It’s not a dream book for a publisher,” said Archbishop Michael Peers, former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, of his latest book, the fourth volume of The Anglican Episcopate in Canada.
Still, he acknowledged that the book, launched at the spring meeting of the House of Bishops, is one that would be extremely valuable to libraries, diocesan offices and researchers interested in hard archival data about Canadian Anglican bishops over the past 33 years.
Published by the Anglican Book Centre (ABC), the book provides details on 105 bishops elected into office between 1976 to 2008 and also includes what Archbishop Peers calls his observations on Episcopal ministry over a 27-year period, or from the time he became a bishop in 1977 up to his retirement as primate in 2004.
“I decided that I’m not qualified to write a theological reflection on Episcopal ministry. I’m not a theologian,” said Archbishop Peers. “I didn’t want to get into the business of too much interpretation of what was going on because 25 years later, long after you’re dead, you’ll be sorry you wrote that. So I call them observations because they are things I have seen over the passage of time.” And, “they are fair,” he added, drawing laughter from the bishops at the launch held at the Mt. Carmel Spiritual Centre.
The changes, which he describes in the book as having arisen “partly from within the church and partly from outside, partly at Episcopal initiative and partly from pressure from others,” have been profound. They include the ordinations of women and aboriginal bishops, the move towards “greater openness” in electing bishops, the greater emphasis on baptisms and lesser on confirmations, which has altered a bishop’s role considerably, and even changes in “episcopal vesture” (e.g. cope and mitre instead of roche and chimere) and titles (“My Lord” is less and less used and heard when speaking to bishops). Archbishop Peers also notes a rise in “litigiousness,” or bishops being summoned in both secular and ecclesiastical courts for various matters, the extent of which was “unknown in previous generations.”
It took Archbishop Peers, a small army of archivists from both the national and diocesan offices, clergy and volunteers from dioceses well over two years to painstakingly gather data for the book. A database for the register of bishops was created and maintained at the General Synod archives, but it wasn’t an easy task. “Things don’t stand still. And so bishops write books and do some study and get another degree. All kinds of things happen,” he said.
Chasing data, especially on bishops who have retired or who have died or were ordained outside Canada, involved some detective work. “So you might want to leave a little note when you retire about where you will be buried,” Archbishop Peers told bishops.
Were there any surprises? “One of the things that surprised me was the number of bishops that I had known, whose educational background I didn’t know – the kinds of things that they studied in university, for instance,” he said. “A lot of that background, which is quite interesting, quite revealing, I didn’t know….The breadth of the education of the bishops individually surprised me because it wasn’t something that people particularly talked about themselves.” He added that “the further back you go, the more you discover how many of them (bishops) come from rural and very small town backgrounds.”
There were also some “interesting” discoveries about some bishops who died and had their ashes scattered in places. “We’ve tried to identify the place where that happened. That, I think, was surprising to me. Provincial legislation varies in Canada – it may be against the law, in fact. I’ve no idea,” he said. “Those are instances where you had to do a lot of research because it’s not listed.”
Each bishop’s entry includes a photograph, some biographical information such as date and place of birth, educational background, ordinations, elections, and in the case of someone who has retired, the date of resignation from office.
Like the first three volumes, the fourth volume of The Anglican Episcopate in Canada, does not say anything about marriage and family life. “You’re talking about their official life and whether they were married or not or whatever…did not impinge on their public life. This is very much about people’s public life,” explained Archbishop Peers.
For the first time, the book also provides a public record of bishops in the Canadian Anglican church who have relinquished the exercise of their ministry during that period. They are the retired bishop of the diocese of Newfoundland and Labrador Donald Harvey, the retired bishop of Algoma, Ronald Ferris, and the retired bishop of Brandon Malcolm Harding, who have left the Anglican Church of Canada because of deep disagreements over the issue of sexuality.
The entry, however, does not state the reason for their departures. “There’s no comment…no recognition of the fact that the primate of the Southern Cone has given them a license because that is not something that the primate of the Southern Cone is allowed to do,” explained Archbishop Peers. “To give official recognition, even though this is not an official publication of the Anglican Church of Canada, but to acknowledge any official status for an action which has no constitutional basis even in their own constitution, is simply not fitting.”
He added that the book notes transfers and elections to other Anglican provinces only in cases where they are “done properly and canonically,” such as Victoria Matthews, who resigned as bishop of the diocese of Edmonton, when she was elected and installed as bishop of Christchurch in the Anglican Church of Aoteaoroa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
In his remarks at the launch, Archbishop Peers paid special tribute to archivists, calling them “an undervalued resource.” He noted the important role that the archives played during the residential schools negotiations.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada thanked Archbishop Peers for writing the book, calling it “a labour of love” and “a gift to our beloved church.”
Archbishop Peers’ first book, Grace Notes: Journeying with the Primate, a compilation of his monthly columns for the Anglican Journal, was published by ABC in 2006.
The publication of The Anglican Episcopate in Canada was also made possible through a grant from the Canadian Church Historical Society and donations from 14 dioceses.