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Bishop-elect Chris Harper preparing for next stage of ministry

By Stuart Mann

The Rev. Chris Harper, the Diocese of Toronto’s Indigenous Native Priest, has been elected the 13th Bishop of Saskatoon. The election took place on Sept. 8 at the cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

“I’m still in shock. It’s only now starting to settle in,” he says. “I’ve been receiving an amazing amount of support and calls of encouragement from bishops across Canada and even internationally.”

Bishop-elect Chris Harper speaks to Diocesan Synod in November 2017. Photo by Michael Hudson.

Bishop-elect Harper will begin his new duties in the Diocese of Saskatoon in October. He will be ordained a bishop on Nov. 17 at St. John’s Cathedral. He will succeed Bishop David Irving, who is retiring.

As diocesan bishop, Bishop-elect Harper will be the chief pastor of the Diocese of Saskatoon, which has 18 parishes and 32 congregations. The diocese spans the central agricultural area of Saskatchewan, from the Manitoba border to Alberta. The largest city is Saskatoon, with a population of 261,000.

Bishop-elect Harper says one of his priorities as bishop will be to carry on much of the work he has been doing in the Diocese of Toronto. “I will continue to be a bridge-builder and at the same time be an invitation to healing, peace, understanding and an acknowledgment of who we all are as children of God. I will continue to try to bring everyone together as we are meant to be.”

As the diocese’s Indigenous Native Priest since 2016, Bishop-elect Harper ministered to the diocese’s Indigenous population and led and supported parishes and clergy working towards healing and reconciliation. He visited 38 parishes and spoke about Indigenous spirituality, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, the Sixties Scoop and other issues. Before coming to Toronto, he was the rector of a parish in Thunder Bay.

He says he will miss the Diocese of Toronto. “Here I have been allowed to be who and what I am. I’ve experienced love and support from the clergy and the congregations I’ve been incredibly blessed to visit. Even though I didn’t have my own parish, I was part of every parish in the diocese. I gained so many friends – I now count them as family.”

Bishop-elect Harper says moving to the Diocese of Saskatoon will be like returning home for him and his wife. “Saskatchewan and Alberta have always been our old stomping grounds and we grew up there. Wherever we’ve placed our pillow is home, but now we’re going to be surrounded by family and people we’ve known for many years.”

As he prepares for the next stage of his life and ministry, he thanks Archbishop Colin Johnson and the area bishops for their leadership and support. “With amazing grace, trust and faith, they allowed me to form and shape what I was doing in my ministry here. They allowed me to reach out and respond to the Church, which means they had faith. To me, that was paramount.”

Archbishop Johnson said he was delighted with the election. “Chris Harper’s election as Bishop of Saskatoon increases the voice of our Indigenous sisters and brothers in the leadership of our Church to historic levels, in itself an effective route to alter the ongoing relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglicans. He has been an articulate and effective advocate for healing and reconciliation during his short ministry in the Diocese of Toronto. He builds bridges of understanding and support. He will be hard to replace!”