Masked clergy, hand sanitizing stations at the altar and a required address to the congregation spoken to empty pews were notable indications that the recent ceremony to welcome a new bishop was held during a pandemic, yet the social distancing couldn’t dampen the grandeur and solemnity of the occasion.
On Saturday, Jan. 30, Anna Greenwood-Lee became the 14th bishop of the Diocese of British Columbia, the first woman to hold that position. Greenwood-Lee, a native of Edmonton, was ordained in Calgary in 2000. In 2006, after serving in Toronto, she returned to Calgary to become incumbent at St. Laurence, where she strengthened the parish and its outreach activities. She was elected on the seventh ballot at a livestreamed episcopal synod in September, 2020. She succeeds Bishop Logan McMenamie, who retired in May 2020.
The consecration and installation ceremony was unlike any other in this diocese due to the major impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Canada’s Anglican primate, Linda Nicholls, was not able to travel from locked-down Toronto to attend, instead sending a video blessing. Greenwood-Lee’s family from Calgary had to stay away as well. The diocese obtained a special variance from provincial public health officials to hold the event. A group of 30 people in total (readers, clergy, musicians and technicians) was needed to produce the livestreamed video, and the ceremony was carefully choreographed to allow only 10 people in the sanctuary at a time. This same space – during Christmases before the pandemic – would have been packed at times with close to 1000 worshippers.
Yet the new ceremony format was successful in many ways. As Ansley Tucker, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, said in her introductory remarks, we are as much a church when we are apart as when we are gathered. More than 1300 people from across Canada and the UK watched the event online as it was held at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria. One viewer in the livestream chat forum expressed her gratitude, saying “Thanks for the great seat!” Indeed, everyone watching had a soaring, choir-loft view of the majestic space as well as important zoomed-in close-ups unobstructed by other audience members. Greenwood-Lee reported that her son, Fin, told her later that he was happy because he got to watch the ceremony and eat lunch at the same time at home in Calgary.
There were only four choir members, but less quantity didn’t mean less quality in the musical program. Mark McDonald, assistant director of music at the cathedral, played both the massive Hellmuth Wolff organ and the smaller chapel organ as well as the grand piano.
In the Anglican Church of Canada, the first female priests were ordained in 1976, with the first female bishop consecrated more than 20 years later, in 1997. Greenwood-Lee is the first female priest to fill the role in this diocese, and the service celebrated women in several ways. The presiding celebrant was Melissa Skelton, archbishop of the Diocese of New Westminster and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of BC and Yukon. The ceremony was one of her last before she retires in February. Cathedral Director of Music Donald Hunt included works by female composers in the program, such as an anthem honouring the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in the UK, written by Victoria composer Sarah MacDonald (now working in the UK). Hunt also chose four female voices since he couldn’t have the whole choir present for the event.
Even the Gospel reading (Luke 2.22-40) was tailor-made for the occasion. It was the story of Simeon and Anna, who were the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah when he was brought to the temple as an infant.
Participants and readers at the service had strong connections to the new bishop: Megumi Matsuo Saunders, minister emerita at First Metropolitan United Church in Victoria, who served with Greenwood-Lee on the board of the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada; and William and Mary Pike, who know her from Christ Church, Calgary, where Greenwood-Lee had her first posting after ordination and William was the rector. Mary Pike acted as the lay presenter at the ceremony.
Leighton Lee, dean of the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer in Calgary, gave the homily via prerecorded video from Alberta, picking up on the theme of the Gospel reading. Simeon has gone down in history for his beautiful statement of faith, but the actual prophet was Anna, he said. “Today it’s appropriate to focus on Anna, the habitué of the temple. Hers is a silent witness which for a long time was the fate of women in the church and still is in many ways.”
Citing church decline and the ravages of a pandemic, Lee suggested a task for the new bishop. “Your most effective witness will be to be a non-anxious presence in the institution which is going through a dark period,” he said. “Waiting and watching is a large part of what you are called to do.”
He offered a warning as well. “You may discover that the adulation and deference and ceremonial pomp are almost too much to resist. But those trappings are also a trap,” he said.
Quoting a 4th-century cleric, Lee said bishops come in two varieties: shepherds and fishers. “Shepherds tend the flock, but fishers push the boat out into the unexplored depths.” He said church leaders have been shepherds for too long, waiting for people outside to come to them and creating an “echo chamber of familiar bromides.”
Lee (no relation to the new bishop) ended with the words of young poet, Amanda Gorman, who read at US President Joe Biden’s inauguration earlier this month. “For there is always light,/if only we’re brave enough to see it,/if only we are brave enough to be it.”
The ceremony traditionally has two parts. The consecration included Greenwood-Lee’s presentation to the archbishop, the examination, whereby she answers a series of questions and pledges her commitment, and finally, the laying on of hands by the archbishop and other clergy. Two visiting bishops participated: Lesley Wheeler-Dame, bishop of Yukon; and Lincoln McKoen, bishop of the Territory of the People. At this point, the new bishop received the symbols of office: a traditional ring, staff and pectoral cross (see page 6 for more details), and new robes such as a rochet and chimere.
The second part of the ceremony was the seating and installation, officially acknowledging the bishop’s jurisdiction with a few ritual theatrics.
Greenwood-Lee left the building with her chaplain, Barry Foster, executive archdeacon of the diocese and her sponsor as a candidate in the episcopal synod. Dressed in her new golden yellow and blue cope and white mitre, she walked around to the front entrance. “Give it a two-hander. Leave your mark on the door,” Foster jokingly urged her as she pounds on the door with the butt end of the staff. “Open for me the gates of righteousness,” she said, and the dean let her in. She is then seated on the cathedra (bishop’s chair) and receives another symbol of office, the bishop’s crozier, from Bishop Logan as a symbol of the transfer of power. He added another new and truly west coast symbol as well: an eagle feather received at the demolition of St. Michael’s residential school in Alert Bay in 2015.
For the next few months, Greenwood-Lee said her intention is to develop relationships with the people of this diocese through Zoom meetings with councils and church groups. She wants to continue to speak out about and get involved in issues that impact the most vulnerable. “For all sorts of reasons, many people these days say that they ‘don’t believe in organized religion.’ The flip side of that, however, is that no one is looking for disorganized religion,” she said. “The reality is that we are living at a juncture in history when the church needs to organize itself to bring more love, more justice, more compassion and more understanding to our communities.”
After the event, she said a phrase from the liturgy referring to the work of the bishop stuck in her mind. “Work – that’s what begins tomorrow,” she said.
On Sunday, February 7, in her first liturgical act as bishop, Bishop Anna will preach at a Service of the Word livestreamed from Christ Church Cathedral at 10:30 am, and invites the entire diocese to join in.