Unable to find priests in Canada to minister in his region, Bishop Chris Williams of the Anglican Diocese of the Arctic has advertised in England for clergy to fill nine vacancies in the Anglican Communion's largest diocesan territory. In a telephone interview from his office in Yellowknife, in Canada's Northwest Territories, Bishop Williams told Ecumenical News International (ENI) he had advertised in the Anglican Church of Canada's national newspaper, the Anglican Journal, but to no avail. The weather and isolation seemed to discourage Canadian candidates who appeared to prefer urban ministry in the south of Canada, the bishop said. "Our communities are isolated from each other. [For] the majority of them, the only way in or out is by air. So for a large part of the time they are working in isolation."

However he added that the isolation was not as severe as it once was. When Williams first came to the Arctic 40 years ago as a newly ordained priest, a supply ship arrived with mail only once a year. Now, he said, parishes were serviced two or three times a week. A more serious challenge to ministry in the Arctic is a range of serious social problems, such as teenage suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse. Bishop Williams told the Anglican Journal: "There are different strains and stress on clergy. The stress is probably greater these days."

"A former clergyman of this diocese, who is retired in Britain, suggested we put an advert in the British papers," the bishop told ENI. "Sixteen people responded, expressing an interest and requesting further information. At the present time two have applied to work here."

The advertisements appeared in various publications and resulted in unexpected interest by the British media. "I have done a number of interviews with the BBC," Bishop Williams explained. "I have spoken to a number of newspapers, and some are anxious to do a follow-up story when someone is chosen."

A film company has even expressed an interest in making a documentary.

Bishop Williams added: "The Arctic is the largest Anglican diocese in the world in terms of area—give or take four million square kilometers, one third of the land area of Canada. The diocese consists of what is now the Northwest Territories, plus the new [Inuit] territory of Nunavut and what is known as Nunavik—the Inuit part of Northern Quebec."

The diocese stretches from the border with Labrador in the east to the Northwest Territories/Yukon border in the west—from the 60th parallel to the North Pole, virtually," he said. "There are 51 congregations in the diocese, with 30 of them traditionally having full-time clergy. The rest of them have been ministered to by a priest resident in a nearby community. But all of the congregations have very strong lay leadership."

There are nine vacancies for clergy in the diocese.

After the candidates' references had been checked, Bishop Williams said, "we will arrange some kind of interview process for them, possibly in early February."

The bishop has two "commissaries"—clergy who look after the diocese's interests in Britain. If everything checked out, he said, "we will make them a definite offer … I would hope that we would see these people coming out some time this summer."

Williams grew up in Manchester, in England, but has spent his entire 40-year ministry in Canada's northern region.

"I came out from England, newly ordained in 1960," he told ENI. "I came out single, and I met my wife who was from Scotland. She was working as a nurse in one of the communities. We married, and our two children have grown up in the north."

"The diocese over the years has had a number of clergy who came out from Britain," Bishop Williams added. "In fact, I am the fourth diocesan bishop and all my predecessors were from Britain. It used to be the custom by the bishops of the Arctic to go over to Britain from time to time on a recruiting trip. I haven't done that as much because I was interested in building up indigenous ministry.

"I think we have done that quite successfully. There are 16 Aboriginal leaders in the diocese at present—either paid or non-paid ordained positions. Of that number, two are bishops. We have four bishops in this diocese—I am diocesan bishop and there are three area bishops."

There are three Aboriginal students at the diocese's training school in Pangnirtung.

"Their three-year course will be finished at the end of this year," the bishop said. After six months internship they would take on parishes of their own.

Bishop Williams expects to retire in 2002 when his present term of office ends. "We are looking to stay here in Yellowknife. I am a Canadian citizen now. Canada is our home, and our children consider themselves Canadian."Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere

Though the Anglican Journal article referenced above is apparently not available on the newspaper's Web site, an earlier article on the diocese, " Change on Arctic Horizon," is.