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NEW ZEALAND: Canada's Victoria Matthews named bishop of Christchurch

[Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia] A Canadian bishop who is part of a high-level advisory group to the worldwide Anglican Communion has been elected Bishop of Christchurch in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

The Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews is currently bishop-in-residence at Wycliffe College in Toronto. She was Bishop of Edmonton for 10 years from 1997 to late last year, and Suffragan (Assistant) Bishop of Toronto from 1994-97.

She narrowly missed being elected Primate of Canada last year.

Announcing the appointment March 15, the Primate of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Archbishop Brown Turei, said he looked forward to welcoming Matthews into the church. "I'm sure that, with all her experience, she will make a good contribution to our life and witness," he said.

Matthews, 54 and unmarried, is only the second woman to become a diocesan bishop in New Zealand. The first was the Rt. Rev. Penny Jamieson, Bishop of Dunedin from 1989-2004.

Matthews chairs the Canadian Primate's Theological Commission, and has just been appointed to the Windsor Continuation Group, which will look at crucial questions about the shape of Anglican common life around the world.

She is in high demand as a retreat leader and guest lecturer, enjoys leading youth pilgrimages to holy places such as Iona and Taize, and has served as a trustee of Yale University in the USA.

In 2004, Matthews underwent major surgery for breast cancer. She walked the 800 km pilgrimage trail to Santiago De Compostela in northern Spain last year to celebrate a clean bill of health.

In her spare time she enjoys hiking and walking her Anatolian shepherd dog Jethro, swimming, and reading history and theology.

Her installation as the eighth Bishop of Christchurch will take place in Christ Church Cathedral on August 30. The present bishop, the Rt. Rev. David Coles, takes up the position of Vicar of Wakatipu in Queenstown on April 12.

'To visit and to listen'
Matthews is no stranger to Christchurch. She hiked through New Zealand in the 1980s and was smitten. "Your country is so beautiful," she said from her home in Toronto this week.

"I've long admired your (Anglican) prayer book, your commitment to the stewardship of creation, and the leadership of Maori in the church. I'm excited about the move and look forward to forming relationships and making Christchurch my home."

Matthews' personal priorities on arrival here are "to visit and to listen." And then? "My priority for the diocese would be to call the people of God to excellence in all that they do," she says. "I hate mediocrity, and I despair of sloppiness."

She describes herself as "catholic evangelical" and is widely respected for her quiet authority and her ability to sit comfortably with all theological mindsets. However, she worries that in recent years the churches have moved away from "waiting on God," and believes that a call to prayer is "essential at all levels of our church."

She was educated at Bishop Strachan School in Toronto and has a Master of Divinity degree from Yale. She says she is a great fan of church schools, "especially if they are not only for the wealthy. I wish Canada had more of them."

Although only 44 at the time, Matthews was invited on to the communications committee for the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Bishops in England. She is involved again in the planning of the Lambeth Conference this July, and will attend as Christchurch's Bishop-elect.

Despite media speculation, Matthews is careful and moderate on controversial issues such as the blessing of same-sex relationships. Indeed, she is known internationally for her theological orthodoxy and her resolve to maintain unity.

Last year, during the Canadian General Synod, she was reported as saying that same-sex blessings did not conflict with core doctrines of the Canadian church.

Her comment arose from a Canadian study called the St. Michael Report, which identified core doctrines as those relating to the person and work of God. 

"Speaking personally, I think a number of things stand in the way of blessing same-gender marriages or unions," Matthews says.

"First and very importantly, the church needs to decide whether same-gender marriage is a faithful development of the Christian doctrine of marriage. This work is well under way in Canada and, I hope, other provinces of the Anglican Communion.

"Secondly, our church needs to find a way forward whenever the cause of church unity meets the cry of personal and corporate conscience head-on. Who and how will we decide? The Anglican Covenant Design Group is addressing this."

Matthews says it is essential, albeit difficult, for churches of the first world to be patient and to listen carefully to churches of the two-thirds world.

"We (in the first world) have been dominant and bossy and arrogant for far too long and the time is right for patience and humility.

"Secondly, by taking the time to do the theology thoroughly and well, we will ease the acceptance of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. To be impatient is to risk even further hate and violence against those we have ignored for too long."

-- Lloyd Ashton is Media Officer to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

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