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Monday November 09, 2015

 

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Written by Deborah Rankin for VMO
Sunday October 11th, 2015

Amid much pomp and ceremony the Very Reverend Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson was installed as the twelfth bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal at a consecration ceremony at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral last Tuesday evening, September 29 to become the first woman bishop of Montreal. Prior to taking up her role as bishop-elect in early September Irwin-Gibson was rector and dean of Saint George's Cathedral in Kingston, Ontario from 2009 after serving in parishes in and around Montreal for 28 years (1981-2009).  Irwin Gibson, 59, was elected bishop on a fourth ballot by the electoral synod of the Anglican Church of Montreal on June 6, defeating another woman candidate, the Rev. Karen L. Egan, 57. She succeeds the Very Reverend Barry Clarke, 62, who retired in late August.

Acknowledging that some people may not be comfortable with the idea of women priests, "Bishop Mary", as she prefers to be known said, "I definitely feel called by the Holy Spirit to this ministry in Montreal," adding that, "what that will look like is not entirely clear to me."  And in an interview with CBC Montreal Daybreak she said, "I'm just going to be me, and they can figure it out. I think that's what happened with the early women priests was people just figured out that the call is God's hand on people. It just takes some time for people to get around that spot and it's best not to push."        

The downtown cathedral was booked to full capacity for this historic event with the overflow crowd watching the bilingual ceremony - interweaving rituals of native spirituality with traditional Anglican liturgy - on a screen in adjacent Fulford Hall. The significance of the election and installation of the first woman bishop in 165 years in the Anglican Church of Montreal can't be overstated as there are very few women bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Moreover, the very idea of female ordination still meets with strong resistance around the globe.

Not all Anglicans are in agreement with the Anglican Church's decision to ordain women as priests. In recent years a number of Anglicans have asked to become Roman Catholic while maintaining elements of the Anglican liturgical tradition. To that end Pope Benedict XVI created in 2009 a new structure for them called “personal ordinariates.” The decision by the Anglican Communion to ordain women (whether as bishops or as priests) have certainly made discussions on Christian unity more difficult. But according to Bishop Thomas Dowd, the Auxiliary Bishop for English-speaking Catholics in the Archdiocese of Montreal, when Anglican churches began ordaining women it did not stop Catholics and Anglicans from maintaining friendly relations.

But while there is still opposition to women priests in various quarters, women's groups may have heightened expectations for the first female bishop of Montreal and expect her to take a stand on issues affecting women. This may prove to be problematic in today's charged multicultural context as notions of female empowerment and cultural autonomy often come into conflict: for example, on the issue of the niqab, a flashpoint for hostilities between many francophone Quebecers and minority Muslim groups. 

Bishop Mary's mere presence in Montreal will likely be significant for a great many Catholics and other Christians, as well as people of faith in general. As a new religious leader presiding on the territory of Montreal she will almost certainly be called upon both from within the Anglican community and outside it to defend the interests of religious groups and cultural minorities, coming at a time when the Quebec Government is proposing controversial anti-hate and state religious neutrality laws - laws which in theory should protect religious and minority groups - but that are leaving many individuals feeling even more vulnerable because these are the very groups that have been excluded from legislative hearings.

In her mission statement to the Anglican Diocese of Montreal Bishop Mary outlines her vision for her episcopal ministry, stating her desire to work with members of the Anglican Church of Montreal, "to build our fellowship ties with other Christian denominations, our partners in mission" and to promote cooperation "within the greater interfaith community." And she is confident that this can be done because, "God has given us the gifts we need for accomplishing the mission that we are called to in this time and place." 

  

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