The Ven. Lesley Wheeler-Dame has been elected on the first ballot as coadjutor bishop for the diocese of Yukon, making her eventual successor to Bishop Larry Robertson upon his retirement.
The election took place at a May 4 diocesan electoral synod chaired by Robertson. The two candidates included Wheeler-Dame and the Ven. David Oliver.
As coadjutor bishop, Wheeler-Dame will administer the diocese with Robertson until his retirement, likely to take place within the next six months. A date has not yet been set for the new bishop’s consecration.
Robertson describes himself as “quite happy” with the election of Wheeler-Dame as coadjutor bishop, saying that “our synod spoke very strongly with support for her.”
“She will make a good bishop,” Robertson says. “I’ve known her for several years. She’s from this diocese…. I appointed her an archdeacon, and she’s performed very well. She has the confidence of the people and of the clergy, and that’s an important thing. I was gratified in the sense that it was the first ballot.”
Wheeler-Dame is currently serving as incumbent priest for the Parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Fort Nelson, B.C. She put her name forward as a nominee for coadjutor bishop, she says, after a period of prayerful discernment and encouragement from those close to her, who praised her pastoral and community–building skills.
She recalls being moved to tears when the election results were announced.
“I was terrified, I was humbled, I felt blessed,” she says. “All kinds of things went through my mind.”
In taking on the role of bishop, Wheeler-Dame finds inspiration in Matthew 28, which recounts the resurrection of Jesus and the commissioning of the disciples.
“I believe that my role is to assist the people in living out God’s mission…. I believe it’s important to guide and assist, to minister with people, not to people, and to ensure that we are living out our calling as baptized Christians,” she says. “And our parishes need to be equipped to do that…in the sense of providing education, providing example, providing resources to be able to live out our mission.”
Finances will be a major concern for the diocese moving forward.
“Certainly I think our geographical size and our shortage of ordained clergy, especially because of financial constraints, will be a big focus,” Wheeler-Dame says. “However, we have many gifted people who aren’t ordained at present, and perhaps God may be calling them. So I think a lot of my time will be spent enabling and ensuring that we raise up local people who may be called to that role.”
Born in Windsor, Ont., Wheeler-Dame comes from a family with deep roots in ministry. Both her mother and brother were Anglican priests.
Though she long felt called to ministry, her career began in social work. Moving to the Yukon in 1996 to work for the provincial government as a social assistance worker, Wheeler-Dame specialized in issues related to family violence as well as suicide and alcohol prevention and intervention.
Starting in 1997, she began serving as a lay minister–in–charge—a path that would eventually lead her to become a deacon–in–charge, priest and now bishop.
“I went into social work as part of trying to avoid God’s call,” she says of her career path. “And yet by the time I was done [with] my diploma in social work education, I realized that it would be OK if I answered God’s call.”
Earning her bachelor’s degree in theology, Wheeler-Dame began a career in full-time ministry that included a stint as incumbent priest of the Parish of the Northern Lights based in Boyle, Alta. She also served as a regional dean in the diocese of Athabasca and is presently archdeacon of the Liard Region in the Yukon diocese.
The opening for a coadjutor bishop position followed a request from the diocesan executive committee. As Robertson began speaking about retirement, he says, the executive committee “wanted to ensure that before I left that there was somebody to take over.”
From his own perspective, Robertson feels the time is right to step down, having served as bishop for 20 years, a period longer than most bishops.
“I have seen the whole House [of Bishops] change,” he says. “It’s time for me to step back.”
As she prepares to take over as bishop, Wheeler-Dame emphasizes a collective approach to decision-making. She asks Anglicans to pray that she might exhibit wisdom, strength and grace in carrying out her new responsibilities.
“I will listen to the people of the diocese of Yukon, and I will listen to my executive and consider what they are asking of me in how I respond to issues, whether they’re big issues or little issues,” she says. “We operate together as a diocese. I do not operate alone, and that’s the same in all my parish ministry. With any issues, I will be always working with the executive.”
Both Robertson and Wheeler-Dame will be present at General Synod 2019, with the latter having previously been elected as a clergy delegate.