Friday, October 9, 2015
Gazette Article Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson (September 2015)
Mary Irwin-Gibson is not only the first woman to become bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal but also the first fluently bilingual MBA.
She will be consecrated as spiritual leader of the 165-year-old diocese in a ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral Tuesday evening.
Her communication skills and business training could come in handy as the church navigates plummeting membership, agonizing decisions over aging heritage buildings and the diverse needs of a diocese that stretches from the Outaouais to the Eastern Townships.
Irwin-Gibson, 59, said there are no easy answers on how to ensure the viability of Anglicanism in Quebec but she is up for the challenge.
With fewer than 11,000 members in the Montreal diocese, down from about 93,000 in 1960, the denomination faces an uncertain future.
“Often we get stuck in the patterns of how we’ve been doing it,” said Irwin-Gibson, who replaces retiring bishop Barry Clarke.
“The big challenge is to get beyond our comfort zone, in terms of looking at who else is near us that we’re not engaging with, and I don’t think that’s easy, but I think it provides a tremendous opportunity. Given the right tools and encouragement, we can rise to those challenges,” she said.
About 34,000 people in Greater Montreal call themselves Anglicans, compared to about 2.4 million Roman Catholics, 221,040 Muslims, 122,110 Orthodox Christians, 83,200 Jews and 47,350 Buddhists, according to Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey.
The United Church has 18,385 adherents.
A 2010 report for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia warned the denomination is declining faster than any other in Canada and could disappear within a generation.
Dwindling membership prompted another candidate for the Montreal bishopric, Dennis Drainville, the Anglican Bishop of Quebec, to propose merging the two dioceses.
Anglicans must “face the fact that we will never have the critical mass of members that we need to ensure our future mission,” Drainville warned.
Irwin-Gibson acknowledged the challenges are daunting but said she is ready to think outside the box to keep the Anglican Church relevant, even if the model of a traditional church and full-time priest in every parish is no longer possible.
“How do we do ministry in a meaningful way without the model of some old guy (who) lives in the house next door?” she asked.
“My goal is to encourage the clergy, to build up their sense of engagement, to … make ministry viable and sustainable for the next generation,” said Irwin-Gibson, whose last posting was Kingston, Ont., where she was the dean of St. George’s Cathedral for six years.
Born in Sarnia, Ont., she moved to Montreal at age three and attended a French evangelical Protestant elementary school in Pointe-aux-Trembles, where her father, a chemical engineer, worked in the oil industry. She switched to English school in fourth grade, when the family moved to Boucherville, but kept up her French while working at part-time jobs like babysitting.
Raised in a religiously observant family, she had a conversion experience at 16 after reading the memoir The Cross and the Switchblade by evangelical pastor David Wilkerson.
“I thought I was going to be a social worker but that didn’t feel nearly as centred,” said Irwin-Gibson, who discovered she had a talent for leading worship while playing the guitar at a prayer group.
She studied theology at McGill University and was ordained in 1981.
While serving as an Anglican priest in Dunham and Frelighsburg, and later in Ste-Agathe — where she ministered for 18 years — she developed a love for the back roads of rural Quebec, but also enjoys Montreal’s ethnic diversity and vibrant cultural scene.
Her new responsibilities include juggling the needs of urban and rural parishes.
“I think the urban ones tend to have larger buildings, so that tends to be a bigger challenge,” she said.
“The rural ones tend to have smaller populations so they’re depopulated,” she said.
“There are some really neat, pretty little churches out there in the Townships. The question is, can we find a way to make those thrive and sustain themselves, or find a new model for how we do ministry?” she said.
“We’re really trying to use our wisdom and imagine which ones need to be kept and which ones just aren’t working,” she added.
Irwin-Gibson, who is married with two grown children, said she leans “more to the liberal end of the spectrum” on theological issues but prefers to focus on the values Anglicans share rather than their differences.
She shies away from taking a stand on same-sex marriage, an issue the Anglican Church of Canada will vote on at its next Synod in 2016.
Irwin-Gibson said she personally doesn’t have a problem with same-sex marriage but “I’m not going to be a militant for it either. I’ve inherited a diocese where we have some partnered gay clergy and where some parishes perform same-sex blessings and others just aren’t ready to do that,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s an important issue to fight about. I think the important issues are about sharing the Gospel and helping people to become disciples of Jesus Christ. And I think the other stuff is somewhat along the roadside, sticking sticks in our spokes,” she said.
“The church is having the conversation. As to how I engage personally, it’s not where I’m going to spend my energy.”
Source: The Montreal Gazette
CBC Radio Interview with Bishop Mary Irwin Gibson (June 2015)
CBC Interview with Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson (September 2015)
Anglican Article: Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson (June 2015)
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