Three new suffragan bishops to be elected in diocese of the Arctic

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With consecrations planned for March 31, bishops would be present at General Synod

Image: General Synod Archives

The diocese of the Arctic is expected to have three new suffragan bishops-elect after a series of elections this Thursday, March 28—one to replace outgoing suffragan Darren McCartney and the others to fill two newly re-created positions.

The elections will be held at a diocesan synod in Yellowknife, scheduled for March 28-March 31. The consecration of all three new suffragan, or assistant, bishops will take place on the last day of the synod, says Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, bishop of Calgary and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, to which the diocese of the Arctic belongs.

The diocese, which currently has one diocesan and one suffragan bishop, has decided it wants to revert to a three-suffragan system that was established in the 1990s but lapsed in more recent years, Kerr-Wilson says. The current system, in which diocesan and suffragan bishops each perform episcopal ministry across the diocese—an area encompassing Nunavut, the Northwest Territory and part of northern Quebec—has proven difficult for a number of reasons, he says.

“What they’ve found is that the vast areas that are involved means that [when] the bishops go off for parish visits, they go for weeks at a time,” he says. “Being away from family is a big deal, and also they’re not really local to many of the places—they live in one spot, but it’s a bit of a stint to get to other places. So what they’ve decided to do is go back to a slightly older model.”

The new suffragans, he says, will each be placed in a parish, where they will receive a stipend and support for housing. Each, Kerr-Wilson adds, will perform ministry that includes episcopal visitation, confirmations and pastoral care for clergy.

Consecrating bishops-elect so soon after their election is unusual, he says, but having the election and consecration at the same event will save a considerable amount of money, given the high costs of air travel in the Arctic.

Once bishops are consecrated, they immediately become members of the Order of Bishops at General Synod, says Canon (lay) David Jones, chancellor of General Synod.

The Arctic suffragans, if consecrated, would join a number of new episcopal positions to have been created across the church between the 2016 and 2019 general synods. For those hoping to predict the outcome of key votes at General Synod’s July meeting, these changes within the House of Bishops may complicate matters.

In 2016, a resolution to amend the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage barely made it through its first reading in the House of Bishops. To be approved, the resolution needs to pass by a two-thirds majority in each of General Synod’s three houses—bishops, clergy and laity—for two consecutive sessions of General Synod. In the previous vote, 26 of 38 bishops—68.42%—voted in favour.

Both bishops of the diocese of the Arctic voted against the resolution in 2016. Thus, if the new suffragans in the Arctic also vote against the resolution in 2019, support in the House of Bishops could fall below that two-thirds mark.

Kerr-Wilson says he’s heard people from outside the diocese raise questions about the timing of the episcopal elections in the diocese of the Arctic. But the upcoming session of General Synod has not, he says, been a factor in the diocese’s own discussions about reverting to the earlier system—discussions, he said, which go back about a year.

“I’ve heard nothing of that from anybody in the Arctic at all, and in fact it’s all been about the desperate needs for ministry,” given the challenges of attracting clergy from outside to live in isolated northern communities, and the need to have Indigenous bishops to serve the diocese’s mostly Indigenous communities, he says.

The diocese of the Arctic’s bishop, David Parsons, could not be reached for comment on the elections.

According to the province’s canons, bishops-elect must be approved by all the members of the province’s house of bishops in order to be consecrated, says Karen Webb, chancellor of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land. This, she says, means that the consecrations planned for March 31 will depend on all the bishops of the province giving their approval by that date in order for them to proceed on time.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

1 COMMENT

  1. Probably no one who is not an Anglican Church member in the Diocese of the Arctic can fully appreciate the pastoral needs. Others of us with limited knowledge may suggest that the timing of these appointments is not conducive to the effective discernment process of the whole province, national church, etc.

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