Magazine article Anglican Journal

`New' Bishop (Ralph Spence) Puts His Stamp on Niagara: Diocese Launches Campaign for Education, Training

Magazine article Anglican Journal

`New' Bishop (Ralph Spence) Puts His Stamp on Niagara: Diocese Launches Campaign for Education, Training

Article excerpt

HE'S BEEN bishop of the Diocese of Niagara for two years and he's visited 97 per cent of its parishes, but Ralph Spence, 58, says he's just getting over that "new kid on the block" feeling.

"I don't know when I'll stop being the new bishop," he said in an interview at the synod office next to Christ's Church Cathedral, Hamilton, Ont. "It's a big adjustment, being the bishop. There are wonderful moments in the job and then there are -- other moments."

A large man, amiable yet intense, Bishop Spence works out of a high-ceilinged office that displays the usual photographs, mementoes and gifts that bishops invariably collect, but also the fruits of his avocation: designing, collecting and researching flags and coats of arms.

His feeling of newness is somewhat ironic, since Bishop Spence grew up in Hamilton and has spent much of his career in the diocese, but he has said it takes a year to figure out the job and another year to figure out what to do. He's now putting his stamp on the diocese in two important areas: coping with its grave financial problems and building for the future with a fundraising campaign called Survive and Thrive.

One of the older dioceses in Canada, Niagara was trimmed off the diocese of Toronto and founded in 1875. However, the first stirrings of its birth can be glimpsed in 1827, when Bishop Charles James Stewart of Quebec wrote in his journal that "a village seven miles from Ancaster named Hamilton is asking for the services of a clergyman." Churches had been built on the Niagara peninsula since the late 18th century. Rev. Robert Addison, who arrived as the first resident missionary in Niagara in 1792, was put under house arrest by the invading Americans in the War of 1812 and saw his church, St. Mark's, burned to the ground.

The first church built on the present-day site of Christ's Church Cathedral was consecrated in 1842. After renovations and expansions, the cathedral was opened in 1876, with the city's first Anglican minister, John Gamble Geddes, as dean. Dean Geddes had arrived in Hamilton in 183,5 to find part of his congregation meeting in the town's log courthouse and others holding pews in the First Methodist church. The cathedral's stone baptismal font was installed in 1890, to commemorate Dean Geddes' 55 years of ministry during which, it is estimated, he baptized nearly 5,200 persons. It was said that when the first church was being built, people began to call it "Geddes' Church." He maintained that it was not "Geddes' Church," but "Christ's Church," which led to the present name of the cathedral. He died in 1891, age 81.

The 20th century has seen great shifts in the diocese's demographics, providing both challenge and opportunity for the church, Bishop Spence noted. Where church buildings were once hacked out of the wilderness, now the diocese is "profoundly urban," with real rural areas only in its northern reaches, he said. Residential and commercial development is exploding in the areas north of Oakville and west of Mississauga as population growth moves outward from Toronto. Total current population in the diocese is about 1.5 million, with concentrations in the industrial cities of Hamilton, St. Catharines and Burlington.

Attracting newcomers -- who may or may not be Anglican -- is much on Bishop Spence's mind. …

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