“A treasured and crucial resource”

January 19, 2010 – 12:39 pm

The Anglican Episcopate in Canada
Volume IV, 1976–2008
Michael G. Peers
360 pages, soft cover, $29.95
ISBN 978-1-55126-497-4

Reviewed by Daniel F. Graves

The long-anticipated fourth volume of The Anglican Episcopate in Canada is finally available. This fourth volume, written and compiled by the eleventh primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Michael G. Peers, covers the period from 1976–2008. The volume contains a numerical listing of Canadian bishops in order of succession to the Canadian episcopate and each listing contains several headings including Personal Information, Education, Service, and Ordinations, Elections and Appointments. Also included, are photographs of each bishop. In addition to Archbishop Peers’ introductory essay, which he characterizes rather as his “observations” on the period in question, the volume also features several appendices, including a complete list of Primates, Metropolitans, and the Episcopal succession within each diocese. There are two useful indices as well as material supplementary to the second and third editions, which include corrections and additions.

It is certainly a joy to see this volume finally in print. It goes without saying that it will be an indispensable resource in the years to come. Professional and amateur Church historians, archivists and librarians, ecclesiastical bureaucrats (I was once one of their number) and members of the religious press will all be breathing a collective sigh of relieve that this disparate material is now readily accessible. In addition, we are grateful to Archbishop Peers for the extra labour required in correcting material from the previous volumes. Users of those volumes will find their frustrations suitably assuaged.

As indispensable as the material itself are the observations offered on this period by Peers himself, who exercised episcopal (and later primatial) ministry during most of this period. It is one thing for a historian to offer an historical essay of the period in question, it is quite another for the reader to be privileged with the observations of someone who indeed lived the ministry and now reflects on its significance. Archbishop Peers’ observations cover a variety of topics, including changes in the episcopal ministry, such as how episcopal elections are held, the role of bishops in traditional episcopal rites such as confirmation, and the increasing litigiousness of the age and the role bishops are called to play in lawsuits associated with the church. He also discusses developments such as the full inclusion of women in episcopal orders, the ongoing discussions on church governance and its relationship to episcopal ministry, and the impact of full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Especially helpful are his definitions of various terms as they are currently employed in the life of the Church, such as Primate, Metropolitan, Suffragan, Assistant Bishop, Co-adjutor, and Bishop Ordinary, I can say that in my previous life as manager of the Anglican Book Centre I spent considerable time defining these and many other ecclesiastical terms for seekers and life-long Anglicans alike. Church librarians will be delighted to have such terms so carefully and succinctly defined.

Archbishop Peers has also reflected on the challenges of compiling such a resource and the developments in the church that have required changes in how the information is presented. Amongst these is the declining use of the traditional episcopal signature. In the first volume, each entry concluded with a note on how each bishop signed his name (initial of Christian name followed by diocese), fewer bishops use this convention today or vary it considerably. Peers explains the various conventions and has included them in individual entries in cases where the bishop has a consistent signature. He also reflects on the declining use of conventional forms of address, such as “my lord,” or “your grace.”

Those who have a personal experience of the eleventh primate, or at least have read his collection of Anglican Journal columns, Grace Notes, will know of his love of numbers and keeping statistics. Thus, such a project is well suited for such a man not only because he knows whereof he speaks through personal experience, but he has a passion for getting the details right. Indeed, in as he begins his observations he notes, “of the 296 bishops whose biographies appear in the four volumes, I have known personally 187 and have worked with 142” (p. 9). This is precisely the sort of delightful statistical anecdote for which Archbishop Peers is well known. It surely speaks not only to his attention to detail, but his passion for precision. Undoubtedly, some errors will have crept in, but they will be few.

One criticism has emerged in the blogosphere about the book with respect to the three Canadian bishops who have relinquished the exercise of their episcopal ministry in the Canadian Church under General Synod Canon XIX. The criticism is that Peers should have included their current ministry as bishops (in Canada) under the jurisdiction of the Primate of the Southern Cone. Other bishops who have been translated to a diocese outside of the Canadian church have been included but these have not. And rightly so, those who have been translated have been translated canonically, whereas the three in question relinquished the exercise of ministry under canonical process and are now part of what Peers himself calls, “the intervention of another province of the Anglican Communion into Canada with the clear intention of promoting a schismatic church within our territory (and outside its constitutionally and legally established territory)” (p. 12).

The book, itself, is a handsome paperback edition designed by the talented Jane Thornton of ABC Publishing. If I have any criticism it is only that it would have been nice to see a hardcover edition available. In a similar vein, I do miss the full-sized facing plates featuring episcopal portraits on glossy paper. While the smaller photos are generally fine, I suppose the Victorian in me continues to appreciate the concept of an “official portrait” in all its splendour. Alas, the constraints placed on our Church publishing programme surely prohibited such Victorians extravagancies. I will lament in silence on this point. Nonetheless, it remains a lovely presentation.

Archbishop Peers (and those who assisted him in the collection and sorting of the data) are to be commended for the care and precision given to this fourth volume dedicated to Canadian episcopal ministry. And the Anglican Book Centre is to be thanked for taking on this important project in times of fiscal restraint. This book will be a treasured and crucial resource in the years to come.