Keewatin bishop announces surprise resignation

Just weeks after stunning General Synod with an emotional absolution of the Anglican Church of Canada and its leader, Archbishop Michael Peers, aboriginal Bishop Gordon Beardy of Keewatin has announced his resignation.

News of his resignation came via a letter from Archbishop Peers, the primate, to the Canadian bishops and a letter to Keewatin congregations from the diocese’s archdeacons. Bishop Beardy’s resignation takes effect Aug. 15. He is on holidays and could not be reached for comment.

The Keewatin diocesan council will meet later in July to name an administrator and set a date for an electoral synod; in the meantime, executive archdeacon David Ashdown will run the diocesan operations.

Bishop Beardy, an Oji-Cree, lives in Muskrat Dam, a remote First Nations community in northwestern Ontario, where he once also served as a band councillor and chief. Ordained priest in 1992 and elected suffragan (assistant) bishop of Keewatin just a year later in 1993, Bishop Beardy became Canada’s first aboriginal diocesan bishop in 1996. In 1997, he began a 19-month, 6,500-km walk for healing of aboriginal people. The walk was intended to raise awareness about the impact of suicide and abuse in native communities and raise funds for healing and reconciliation.

His diocese is one of Canada’s largest, covering 482,790 square km (300,000 square miles). It comprises part of eastern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, from Rainy River and Fort Frances in the south, to Churchill, Man., and Fort Severn on the coast of Hudson Bay. About half the diocese is aboriginal.

“Bishop Beardy has been a dedicated and faithful servant of the people of Keewatin,” read the archdeacons’ letter. “However, the call to serve the needs of his family and his community has become overwhelming and after much prayer and thought he is leaving his ministry as bishop of the diocese in order to focus more fully on these needs.”

Bishop Beardy, 51, and his wife, Clara, have seven children.

Archbishop Peers, meanwhile, wrote in his letter to bishops that he has discussed with Bishop Beardy his call to serve elsewhere:

“Unlike the European pattern where individuals sense a call to ministry … in the villages of Keewatin it was the other way around. The community chose and the individual then had to discern the appropriateness of the call.

“Gordon’s service to his community, including his time as a chief, was within this same pattern of vocation. His call to priesthood came the same way and his call to the episcopate came (as it has to us all) first from the community and then was accepted personally.

“I know that the same dynamics are at work in the present circumstances. A vocation to serve God in a different way has arrived, and Gordon wishes to accept it as he has all the other calls from God in his life.”

Bishop Beardy’s forgiveness of the church and the Primate came as a surprise to many at the recent meeting of General Synod. The moment came at the end of a healing service when Bishop Beardy, who was to give the dismissal, turned to Archbishop Peers, saying: “I would like to say that I forgive you and I want to forgive your church which has become my church. I forgive your people who have become my people.”

In doing so, the bishop explained, he was accepting the apology which Archbishop Peers made to native people in 1993 for the role which the church played in the residential schools system.

Bishop Beardy, who attended the Presbyterian Church-run Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in Kenora, Ont., for just one year at the age of 11, never returned to school and did not even complete primary school. He told the synod gathering that he was speaking not as a bishop, but as a former student of a residential school.

“My children will hear what I said. My grandchildren will hear,” said Bishop Beardy. “For it is in forgiving that we can find peace and it is in rebuilding that we will become strong again as nations.”



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