New Montreal bishop brings wealth of experience

The Anglican Diocese of Montreal has elected the Very Rev. Mary Irwin-Gibson as its new bishop.

Currently the dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, Ont., Irwin-Gibson will be the first female bishop in the 165-year history of the diocese. She was elected in the fourth ballot at the June 6 diocesan synod, beating out three other candidates—the Ven. Bill Gray, the Rev. Karen Egan, and the Rt. Rev. Dennis Drainville.

“I was quite surprised [to be elected],” Irwin-Gibson said. “Obviously I’m honoured and feel that I’ve been called to do this work by the Holy Spirit and the church.”

The bishop-elect brings an impressive résumé to the role and has long had a close relationship with the diocese.

After moving to Montreal as a young child, Irwin-Gibson grew up in the area and was ordained there in 1981.

For the next three years, she served as an assistant curate in the Parish of Vaudreuil, then served for seven years as rector of the Parish of Dunham-Frelighsburg in Quebec until 1991.

Thereafter, she spent 18 years as rector of Holy Trinity Church in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., earning a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) along the way from the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM). In 2009, she became the rector at St. George’s Cathedral.

Describing herself as a “cradle Anglican” (her grandfather was an Anglican priest), Irwin-Gibson is fully bilingual, an ability that will come in handy as Montreal bishop.

“One of our missionary fronts is ministry in French,” she said, pointing to the lack of growth among the anglophone population and comparative increase of blended communities speaking both English and French.

“It’s important to speak to people in their mother tongue,” she added.

While noting her personal fondness for Montreal, Irwin-Gibson described her decision to become a candidate for bishop as the result of a spiritual calling.

“I felt the Holy Spirit asking me to let my name stand,” she said. “I was willing to go if I was elected and willing to stay here if I wasn’t elected, because something I’ve learned [in Kingston] from the military here about deployment is that when the boss calls you to go, you go, and if the boss says stay, you stay. And the Holy Spirit’s the boss.”

The Very Rev. Paul Kennington, dean of Montreal and rector of Christ Church Cathedral, and the Rev. Chris Barrigar, pastor and rector of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Montreal, nominated Irwin-Gibson as bishop.

Kennington, who first encountered Irwin-Gibson at the 2011 Conference of North American Deans, was impressed from the outset by her faith, warm personality, and extensive rural, urban, and cathedral experience.

“Even then, I thought, four years ago, ‘You know, I think [she’d] be a good candidate when the time comes for the next bishop,’ he recalled.

Her familiarity with Quebec culture, fluency in French, and MBA from UQAM were all solid factors recommending Irwin-Gibson for the role, Kennington said.

“If you’re going to be a bishop, I think you also need to have some kind of management understanding…and she’s got that, too.”

Irwin-Gibson, who is expected to take on the role of bishop in September, said she will take a collaborative approach.

“I’m going to…consult and learn as time goes by,” she said. “I think there are a lot of gifted people in this Diocese of Montreal, and I’m going to be working in partnership with them.”

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