Bishop Percy Coffin believes that being in the church in the 21st Century is a challenge.
“It’s interesting times to be in the church, it’s challenging times,” said Coffin, bishop of the Anglican Church Diocese of Western Newfoundland.
“Critical moments can go left or right, so there’s always opportunity to go in a new direction, which is hopefully in keeping with divine will,” Coffin said.
Coffin is about to embark on a new direction in his career with the church when he takes over as metropolitan of the ecclesiastical Province of Canada and becomes archbishop of western Newfoundland.
Coffin will assume the role when the current metropolitan, Archbishop Claude Miller of Fredericton, N.B. retires at the end of this month and will be officially installed in Fredericton on Sept. 18. While the position generally goes to the next senior bishop in the province it is still an elected one voted on by members of the provincial synod.
In terms of the challenges the church faces, Coffin said a diminished population is certainly high on the list.
“A significant amount, probably two-thirds of our people have disappeared since the moratorium came into effect and even in the years before that,” said Coffin of the largely rural diocese.
And while the church is left with fewer people, it still has the same number of parishes.
“So, we’ll have to adjust and share in resources,” said Coffin of a process that’s already begun.
He said it’s the same situation that has been seen in policing, the school system and nursing and medical care.
“It’s an amalgamation, sharing what we have to cover fewer people, but we still have the same large area, the geography doesn’t change,” the bishop said.
But Coffin does see a bright spot.
“We’ve been blessed in Newfoundland because we’ve always had a history of capable lay people to take on various local ministries,” he said.
“That will help us I think as we move into probably a parish priest having a larger geographical area.”
Coffin said the idea would be to look to lay leadership or relying on vocational diaconates, people who minister locally and who are locally raised in their own parish and congregation and work there.
Coffin said the challenges faced in Newfoundland are no different than those in Quebec.
“The church is generational,” he said. “It’s always one generation from extinction. And no one knows what the next one is going to look like.
“We have our ways of doing things, we’ve inherited some things and we’ve invented some things.”
Coffin will hold the position of metropolitan until he decides to retire.
He will maintain his duties in the diocese and will take on few new ones, including chairing the provincial synod, which meets every three years; and the provincial council, which meets between synods and he will chair meetings of the provincial house of bishops.
He will also have oversight over the seven dioceses that make up the province — Montreal, Fredericton, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, western Newfoundland, central Newfoundland and eastern Newfoundland.