Tribute to a trailblazer and a ‘beginning moment’ for Mark MacDonald

By Brian Sarjeant

Native groups from across Canada came to Winnipeg Friday to present gifts and pay their respects to the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald as he was installed as the first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The new bishop received a standing ovation following the ceremony during the Anglican Church’s General Synod.

The Primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison described how the appointment came out of a proposal of the 2005 Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle and was quickly supported by all the bishops in the circle. It was a turning point in a long road that had begun 39 years before.

And “the Lord had someone ready for us in Mark MacDonald, Bishop of Alaska and of Navajoland,” said the Primate.

Bishop MacDonald said the appointment was a tremendous honor and that he saw it as a very important “beginning moment.”

Iinfluenced by his grandmother, who was Canadian, and by the elders, he said one role model was Suffragan Bishop  Charles J. Arthurson of Saskatechewan, who 20 years ago became the first indigenous bishop in the Canadian church and a trailblazer.

One of the worst things that can happen to a person, Bishop MacDonald said, is to be an alien in his or her own country. “It’s so hard to endure that experience.” The results are very clear among natives — the deaths of young people, despair and hopelessness.

It is his hope to travel across Canada to native groups to listen and learn. “We are at a moment of great challenge and great opportunity.”

Earlier tributes were paid to Bishop Arthurson, who is retiring as he approaches the age of 70 early next month.

Bishop Anthony Burton of Saskatchewan said Charles was a pioneer of aboriginal ministry in Canada on becoming the first native bishop “on aboriginal terms.”

Archbishop John R. Clarke, Metropolitan of Rupert’s Land, said Charles earned his spurs in Rupert’s Land and in the House of Bishops. There was no doubt about his opinions, he added.

Bishop Arthurson said he has served his diocese for 48 years, being ordained a priest 24 hours after becoming a deacon because there was a shortage of priests at that time.

As someone who “thinks in Cree and thinks in English,” he said his becoming a bishop was a new venture 20 years ago, opening the way to more indigenous bishops.

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