First National Indigenous Anglican Bishop on the job

Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, is on the job and full of energy. After much delay, including leg surgery and moving his family from Alaska to Toronto, the 53-year-old bishop is finally at his desk at 80 Hayden Street, typing away on his laptop and planning out the fall.

Bishop MacDonald (l) at Kingfisher Lake First Nation with Grand Chief Stan Beardy of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (r) and Isaac Sainnawap. CHIEF MATT WINTER, KINGFISHER LAKE FIRST NATION
Bishop MacDonald (l) at Kingfisher Lake First Nation with Grand Chief Stan Beardy of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (r) and Isaac Sainnawap. CHIEF MATT WINTER, KINGFISHER LAKE FIRST NATION

“You know, we’re just in the first portion in what will be a long and large arc,” said Bishop MacDonald in a recent interview.

It’s an arc that began in the 1960s when the Anglican Church of Canada started to analyze its relationship with aboriginals. Over the next few decades, aboriginal Anglican groups developed a vision for a National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, and in 2005 the Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle decided to ask then-Primate Archbishop Andrew Hutchison to appoint someone to the position. Last January, the Primate announced the appointment of Bishop MacDonald, who was then Bishop of Alaska and Navajoland with the U.S. Episcopal Church.

In some ways, his job description is clear: the bishop will represent Canadian aboriginals in the larger church, and help interpret and navigate church systems to and for them. Yet this job is an unprecedented historical step.

“I don’t think that anybody really has a good handle on what it is exactly, in any kind of organizational way,” said Bishop MacDonald. “But I think over the long term it’s going to be extraordinary.”

To discern his direction, Bishop MacDonald will spend time talking to aboriginal Anglicans over the next few months. “Simply imposing somebody’s great idea will probably be destructive and oppressive,” he said. “I’m sure that a combination of my ideas and a few thousand people I’ll be talking to over the next few years will be where the ideas come from.”

In July, Bishop MacDonald visited Kingfisher Lake First Nation, north of Kenora, Ont., in the diocese of Keewatin, where he taught at a summer ministry school, performed his first confirmations as bishop, and played guitar at a gospel jamboree. Moosonee and Rupert’s Land are the dioceses he will visit next, and a Council of the North meeting in Edmonton is up for the end of September.

But a full day planner is not what gets Bishop MacDonald excited. It’s aboriginal Anglicans.

He calls aboriginals an “extraordinary gift” to Anglicanism, and he has seen how both traditions can enhance each other. “It’s exciting for people like me, who have been deeply enriched by native communities, traditions, and ways of living, to see the essences of those things merge with the essence of the gospel,” he said. “It’s a powerful and wonderful thing and makes life worthwhile.”

Bishop MacDonald is also excited about how a National Indigenous Anglican Bishop could represent a more ecological worldview, and he recently wrote an article on the topic. He said it’s an “extraordinary thought, a bishop who would speak for that living relationship between people and earth.”

So where are the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop and aboriginal Anglicans headed? “We want to go where the gospel takes us,” Bishop MacDonald said, “to be a gospel-centered, gospel-based, gospel-motivated, and gospel-carried people.”

He also offers this vision: “What we’re really talking about is the living, loving, powerful, beautiful love of God that gives beauty to the earth and coherence to it, becoming more manifestly, visibly real in native communities, in such a way that the hungry are fed and the oppressed are set free, in such a way that we have an impact on the horrendous statistics that keep coming out of First Nations communities. Our vision, I think, is nothing less than the reality of God becoming more visible and tangible and people’s lives being changed and touched.”

Bishop Mark MacDonald has ministered in many congregations, including ones in Mississauga, Ont., Duluth, Minn., and Portland, Ore. He has served on many boards, written numerous books and articles, and is a third order Franciscan. He and his wife Virginia Sha Lynn have three children.

Read a longer biography of Bishop MacDonald here

Read his reflections on General Synod 2007 and the position of National Indigenous Anglican Bishop

Find out more about the unique position of National Indigenous Anglican Bishop

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