Bishops’ hands-on mission education

Bishops wear many hats—and not just those pointy mitres in processions. In their day-to-day work they are pastors, administrators, preachers, and on occasion, they are even travellers alongside Partners in Mission and Ecojustice (PMEJ) staff when they go overseas.

Bishop Drainville (back right) with members of the St. Francis of Assisi parish, Diocese of the Southern Philippines (ECP)
Bishop Drainville (back right) with members of the St. Francis of Assisi parish, Diocese of the Southern Philippines (ECP)

The latest to wear the travelling bishop hat was Dennis Drainville, the new Coadjutor Bishop of Quebec, who visited the Philippines with Global Relations Coordinator Andrea Mann from Feb. 29 to March 12.

Bishop Drainville’s schedule was full: he attended a roundtable meeting to celebrate the Episcopal Church of the Philippines’ financial autonomy, visited the Independent Church of the Philippines, and travelled south to witness rural ministry. He was impressed by many things, including:

  • lay readers walking long distances to attend Easter retreats
  • rice paddies tilled by water buffalo
  • bishops offering sanctuary to factory workers striking against Nestlé

“The trip gave me an opportunity to see the challenges of the church in a country dealing with major governmental corruption,” he said in a recent interview.

Bishops there to learn

But Bishop Drainville wasn’t in the Philippines for the thrill of travel. And he wasn’t just there as a face of the Canadian Anglican church. He was there to learn.

Ms Mann explained that educating bishops is one of PMEJ’s mission education priorities. She said these trips “inform bishops more about our work, the realities of the global church, the work of Canadian partners, and our local Ecojustice partnership priorities.” Since bishops are in influential positions they can share information and inspiration widely when they return.

So who goes where, and why? When the Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, receives an invitation to an international conference, primatial enthronement, or another event, he consults with PMEJ staff and together they decide who will represent the church. It’s an art deciding which events to attend (priority is given to communion partners), and which bishop is best suited to go. Often new bishops or those with limited international travel experience are chosen.

PMEJ staff travel with other Canadian Anglicans too, including committee members and ecumenical partners, but there are particular skills that bishops bring to trips. “Bishops have an immediate and open access to church leadership,” said Ms Mann. “They’re critical thinkers, they’re used to making decisions, and they’re a quick study, usually.”

Many bishops are already used to travel, particularly if they’re from a large diocese, like Bishop Drainville, who before his Philippines trip took a 10-day snowmobile journey up Quebec’s lower north shore to visit isolated parishes.

To prepare for these international trips, Ms Mann briefs the bishops about the country and the history of Canadian Anglican relations there. A trip could include meeting with church partners, participation in services or celebrations, or “exposure trips” like Bishop Drainville’s visit to the southern Philippines. Often both mission and Ecojustice elements are included.

Passing it on

When the bishops get back to Canada, many choose to share their experiences by speaking at diocesan mission conferences or writing for their diocesan papers, like Bishop Peter Coffin, then-bishop of the diocese of Ottawa, who wrote for Crosstalk after he returned from the Middle East in 2004.

Bishop Coffin, now Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces, is off again soon on another trip. From April 15 to 29 he and Ms Mann will visit Uganda, Sudan, and Tanzania to visit several Volunteers in Mission and attend the consecration of the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul as Archbishop of Sudan.

As for Bishop Drainville, his Canadian ministry has changed:

“Certainly every sermon I’ve preached since then has been marked by the experience. It has to be marked by the experience, to have seen the things that I saw, spoken to people whose lives are threatened, who don’t know where the future lies,” he said.

“A bishop is ultimately a communicator and we communicate the faith, we talk about the faith, how it’s manifest in the world, and in the church, and in the lives of ordinary people. Our job is to in a sense help interpret that. Having had these experiences, I use them as a way of helping people to understand and relate more to Jesus Christ. That’s what I have to do.”

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