Students of history will know that the Episcopal Church (and other Anglican churches) used to have missionary areas overseen by missionary bishops. In places where the church did not yet exist, the church consecrated men to serve as bishops who had the sacramental authority needed to build the church in that area. Over time, the missionary areas grew into full dioceses capable of supporting themselves.
(For the record, one of the reasons the Anglican Church in North America is so purple-heavy is that they’ve adopted a similar strategy. Todd Hunter’s Accidental Anglican has more on this. Evaluating that decision is for another post.)
A lot of great missionary bishops are in the commemoration calendar of the church, people like Jackson Kemper and Philander Chase. (The latter of Kenyon College fame: “The first of Kenyon’s goodly race / Was that great man Philander Chase; / He climbed the Hill and said a prayer, / And founded Kenyon College there.”) But they are no longer. While some dioceses of the Episcopal Church receive financial support from the central church, they are all self-governing. Missionary areas and bishops are a thing of the past.
Or are they?
News comes from the Anglican Church of Canada that one of its dioceses, the Diocese of Moosonee, will become a mission area of the province of Ontario.
The plan evolved after almost a year of discussions and consultations on the fate of the diocese, which has been burdened by extreme financial difficulties….
Under the plan, the Ontario metropolitan will exercise the authority, jurisdiction and powers presently held by the diocesan bishop. The metropolitan may authorize other bishops to perform episcopal duties including the ordination of deacons and priests, confirmations and consecration of churches, chapels and churchyards.
I happen to know something about the diocese of Moosonee and the part of the country it’s in as it’s where my grandparents lived. (In fact, the current bishop of Moosonee presided at my grandfather’s funeral.) It’s rural. It’s relatively poor. There’s a large native population. It is The North (capital T, capital N), rich in natural resources, plagued by chronic illness, shut out of political power. It is a place dear to my heart, though the years I spent in the northern latitudes were to the west. It’s an area (like every other) that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Moreover, many Christians recognize this. If you drive through some of these hard-up towns in northern Canada, you’ll see quite a few pentecostal-style churches in old malls and storefronts. The spread prosperity gospel churches on First Nation reservations is one of the great unreported trends of North American Christianity. Evangelism is happening here. I just happen to think the Anglican/Episcopal interpretation of the Christian faith has a lot to offer. That, sadly, is not happening.
I was reading about the Moosonee at the same time I was reading about news from the ongoing General Convention of the Episcopal Church. There’s all kinds of talk about how the church needs to change, take risks, be bold, make sacrifices, etc., etc. Love it. It’s great rhetoric. But as more than a few have noted, where’s the action to back up the talk?
There’s no doubt in my mind that there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the church, especially among its younger generation. What would it mean for some of this energy and enthusiasm to be translated into some of the great missionary areas of this continent, places like Moosonee, that so need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? What would it mean to consecrate missionaries—bishops or not—who don’t expect any perks of status or rewards of income but are so fired to share the teachings of the kingdom of God that it doesn’t matter to them? What would it mean to take this great well of energy and enthusiasm that is—let’s face it—concentrated in the urban areas of the country and spread it wider across the land? It’d be risky. It’d be bold. It’d be sacrificial.
I’m not sure what the result would be. But I do know that if we don’t try, we’re going to end up with a few American dioceses going the way of Moosonee.