Angli­cans elect In­dige­nous Bishop for Saska­toon dio­cese

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - DAR­LENE POLACHIC

Rev­erend Chris Harper is com­ing home to Saskatchewan, but in a new role. Harper has been elected bishop of the Angli­can Dio­cese of Saska­toon. His ap­point­ment is ground­break­ing be­cause Harper is the first Treaty Six mem­ber to be­come an Angli­can dioce­san bishop.

Harper was born in Par­adise Hill and spent half his younger life on the Onion Lake First Na­tion, the other half liv­ing off re­serve in a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in Al­berta and Saskatchewan.

A hard work ethic has al­ways been part of his life, and dur­ing the nearly two decades he worked as an EMT/ EMT-A, he was also in­volved in lay min­istry in his church.

“At one point, our parish was with­out a priest,” Harper says, “and the bishop of Saskatchewan ap­proached me about con­duct­ing lay min­istry ser­vices. I wanted to do it right, and I be­lieved that re­quired some ed­u­ca­tion.”

To that end, Harper en­rolled in James Set­tee Col­lege, which pro­vides the­o­log­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion for In­dige­nous clergy and laity.

Af­ter much prayer and con­sul­ta­tion with his wife Tracy and their two chil­dren, and with en­cour­age­ment from the bishop, Harper gave up all du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and set off for the Univer­sity of Toronto and the Toronto School of The­ol­ogy, where he earned a Mas­ter of Di­vin­ity de­gree through Wy­cliffe Col­lege.

“My min­istry has al­ways been in­clu­sive in try­ing to bridge the two worlds of my iden­tify and faith. In­clu­sive also means to wel­come all, and to jour­ney to­gether for heal­ing and peace in the love of God our Cre­ator.”

Harper’s min­istry took him to re­serves and parishes in the Dio­cese of Saskatchewan and Al­goma, and even­tu­ally to the role of In­dige­nous Na­tive Priest for the Dio­cese of Toronto.

“That is a role that wel­comes ev­ery­one,” Harper says. “I was blessed to travel to many parishes in south­ern On­tario, and was able to shape my min­istry in re­sponse to the needs of the var­i­ous churches and com­mu­ni­ties.

“The In­dige­nous Church will take a stronger role in min­istry to its own peo­ple. The Gospel has to be un­der­stood in a way that the per­son hear­ing it can iden­tify them­selves within it. The per­son has to be able to say, ‘I un­der­stand this, I can call this place my home.’ I be­lieve I helped pre­pare churches to un­der­stand who their In­dige­nous neigh­bours are.”

When the Angli­can Dio­cese of Saska­toon went look­ing for new bishop fol­low­ing Bishop David Irv­ing’s re­tire­ment, Harper’s name was one of those put for­ward.

Af­ter prayer­ful con­sul­ta­tion with his fam­ily, he agreed to let it stand. He was elected on the fourth bal­lot. Harper will be con­se­crated as bishop of the Dio­cese of Saska­toon at a ser­vice on Nov. 17, at St. John’s Cathe­dral.

“I’m hon­oured, ex­cited and happy to be com­ing home,” he says.

Harper says his first order of busi­ness will be to sit down and thank ev­ery­one who of­fered him their sup­port and good wishes.

“I’ve been ask­ing ev­ery­body for prayer. I know I can’t and won’t do this job alone. I walk with a great, won­der­ful and strong lead­er­ship.”

Fol­low­ing that, Harper says he will be look­ing to en­gage, bol­ster and up­lift the min­istry that is al­ready in place in the dio­cese.

“The great strug­gle is al­ways try­ing to do some­thing new. My chal­lenge to parishes is this: Do what you’re al­ready do­ing, but strive to do it bet­ter. I see churches in this dio­cese be­ing won­der­fully blessed in how they en­gage the com­mu­nity, in how they’re in­volved in their com­mu­ni­ties. I want to be in those com­mu­ni­ties, too. I want them to know that their bishop sup­ports them and walks along­side them. I want to share in faith and min­istry with all.

“My other goal is to build bridges of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween com­mu­ni­ties, re­serves and churches, and try to be that bridge of heal­ing so we can all walk to­gether in a new peace. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is not an out­reach pro­gram. It is a new, on­go­ing way of liv­ing.”

Harper says the church right now has a de­sire to go di­rectly into rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, with a time­line.

“‘Let’s do this and we’ll be all rec­on­ciled within the next two years.’ Be­fore that can hap­pen there must first be knowl­edge, then un­der­stand­ing, ac­cep­tance and ac­knowl­edg­ment. There must be hear­ing of the sto­ries be­fore you can go into rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. In­dige­nous peo­ple are still at the stage of want­ing to tell their story, their his­tory, their pain, their heal­ing. And they need some­one to lis­ten.

“If ev­ery­body’s al­ready left the ta­ble to go and work on rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, half the ta­ble is miss­ing. I am ask­ing churches and the peo­ple of Saskatchewan to come to the ta­ble and lis­ten, and let us all jour­ney to­gether in faith and min­istry.”


Rev. Chris Harper has been elected the Angli­can bishop for the Saska­toon dio­cese. His con­se­cra­tion as bishop will be held at St. John’s Cathe­dral on Novem­ber 17.

Rev. Chris Harper

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