One of the historic roles of a bishop is to be a symbol of unity within the worldwide church, a unity which is rooted in Christ. One of the privileges and responsibilities of this role is taking council with other bishops across the Church.
The gathering of Anglican bishops from across the world will be in Lambeth, London, England in 2022 (postponed from 2020). These meetings happen approximately every 10 years. Because of the gift of electronic meetings, we have begun to have monthly Bible studies together in small groups, using a series of Bible Studies on the First Letter of Peter, to prepare for Lambeth. My group had several bishops from Australia and New Zealand, one from the Solomon Islands and a couple from Western Canada. It is great to have reflection on scripture together discussing the similarities and differences of our diocesan contexts. The Australian Bishops were very empathetic as I described our situation this summer of drought, heat waves, smoke and wildfires. They were also eager to discuss the work of the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action in Canada’, as they also wrestle with mistreatment of First Peoples when England colonized Australia and on into the present. When I describe the geography of the Diocese of Kootenay to them, with our small towns spread out between mountain ranges, I hear the laughter of recognition although they minister in very different terrain and climates. These Bible studies have been encouraging and invigorating, as we pray for each other and build friendships.
The last week of September almost all of the Canadian House of Bishops gathered in-person in Niagara, at Mount Carmel, a retreat house near the Niagara Falls. Vaccinations were mandatory, and we were careful with masks and distancing. It was a joy to be together, with these colleagues supporting each other in our ministries. Over half of the bishops across Canada are new within the last 3 years; there is a feeling of fresh energy and a good sense of working together for the strengthening of each Diocese. I appreciate the joyful and energetic leadership of our Primate, Linda Nicholls.
One of our zoom guests was an epidemiologist who is also a priest in the diocese of Ottawa, who lead us through the implications for the Eucharist and for worship as the pandemic moves into an “endemic”. Another guest, Dr. John Gibaut, led us in theological reflection about the meaning of “church” and what we are discovering from the pandemic about God’s call for us to be the Body of Christ.
Another of the sessions which has important implications for the Diocese of Kootenay was an energetic discussion of Models for Formation for Ministry. I reported on WECAN (Western Educational Collaborative Anglican Network), a project begun by Archbishop John Privett to incorporate our Kootenay School of Ministry into a wider network of diocesan initiatives for training for ministry. Several other schools across the country are working together to provide quality theological education through on-line courses with local mentors. This opens up excellent opportunities for preparation for those in Kootenay who are called to the ministry of Locally Trained Priests (LTP) or Licensed Lay Ministers (LLM) as well as Deacons. This conversation at the House of Bishops on training for new models of ministry was very exciting and encouraging for me as I think of the needs of Kootenay. The Church continues to need excellent leaders who are equipped to nurture disciples; if you feel called to leadership as priest, deacon, or a lay leader, please call me! We will help you discern what you are called to in your context and what training you need. If you have felt a nudge to study theology but thought it too expensive or too long, now is your time!
Another exciting conversation was a presentation by Archbishop Mark Macdonald and the seven other Indigenous bishops regarding the Sacred Circle and the Covenant they are developing for Indigenous Anglican Self-Governance. As we in Kootenay at our last synod formed a structures working group to ensure our structures are serving our mission, I think the Indigenous community has much to teach us about our governance models in the Church.
The House of Bishops also discussed the challenges of dismantling systemic racism. How might we share resources and best practices for training facilitators to help us with this hard work in our communities? What might we do ecumenically in this regard? How do we open ourselves to God’s transformation of our hearts and our institutions, our parishes and communities, to truly live into our baptismal calling to respect the dignity of every human being?
One of the dangers of Covid has been for all of us a sense of increased isolation. My time at the House of Bishops recharged me with a sense of hope and strength as we work together on common challenges across the Church. We are not alone!