Polynesians and Indigenous Canadians Choose New Archbishops

The Rev. Sione Ulu’ilakepa, left, and the Rt. Rev. Christopher A. Harper | Anglican Taonga and the Anglican Church of Canada

The Rev. Sione Ulu’ilakepa of Fiji and the Rt. Rev. Christopher A. Harper of Saskatoon will soon be consecrated as archbishops.

Ulu’ilakepa — principal of St. John the Baptist Theological College, Suva, Fiji — was elected as Bishop of Polynesia. He will become one of three archbishops and primates in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia. He is scheduled for consecration in March 2023. A priest for 30 years and a liturgist, he will succeed Archbishop Fereimi Cama, who died on July 2, 2021, at age 66.

Harper, Bishop of Saskatoon, has been appointed National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop and Presiding Elder of the Sacred Circle. A consecration date has not yet been chosen for Harper. Harper will succeed Archbishop Mark MacDonald, who resigned in April amid allegations of sexual misconduct. MacDonald, former Bishop of Alaska, had served in the Anglican Church of Canada for 15 years.

Harper will shoulder responsibility for implementing The Sacred Circle: The Covenant and Our Way of Life, a foundational document for the Canadian Anglican Indigenous Church issued in February 2022 that will establish it as “a full, equal but separate, self-governing partner” of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Ulu’ilakepa was confirmed as Bishop-elect of Polynesia by majority assent of General Synod Te Hīnota Whānui, which makes him archbishop-elect of the three-Tikanga Church, Anglican Taonga reported.

“Fr. Sione is a deserving successor to Archbishop Winston Halapua and Archbishop Fereimi Cama, with a decades-long track record of ministry and leadership throughout Polynesia,” said the Most Rev. Don Tamihere, Archbishop of New Zealand. “I have known Fr. Sione for a long time. He is a good person, and he has a shepherd’s heart.”

Archbishop Philip Richardson, Bishop of Waikato and Taranaki, also welcomed the archbishop-elect: “Under Fr. Sione’s oversight and guidance, this will be a great season in the life of this church and his wonderful diocese.”

Ulu’ilakepa has led Tongan and Fijian communities in formation and training, helped develop climate disaster preparedness strategies, nurtured work in youth CIVA training, and offered his backing to the No Pelestiki plastic-free campaign.

In his liturgical work, this year he created “Together in Christ We Move,” a song and dance in Tonga and English. It was included in the opening worship service of the World Council of Churches’ General Assembly in Germany in late August.

“The Church is the voice of our voiceless, our marginalized, and those of us who are vulnerable,” Ulu’ilakepa said on Anglican Taonga. And the Church must listen to the cry of the land and the ocean which is our home … those voices call for a new proclamation of the good news of God.”

Harper’s appointment was announced by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Rev. Canon Dr. Murray Still and Caroline Chum, co-chairs of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP).

“Archbishop-elect Chris Harper brings years of experience in ministry among and with Indigenous Anglicans, urban and on reserve,” Nicholls said. “He has a passion for walking together with respect that will be essential as the Sacred Circle within the Anglican Church of Canada establishes its way forward. I look forward to working with Chris as we learn together how God is calling us to witness to this new relationship.”

Gitchi-Meegwetch [great thanks] to everyone for their prayers and blessings during the selection process for our presiding elder,” Chum said. “We look to you now to continue your support for Indigenous Ministries and our National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop, Chris, as we journey to our Sacred Circle 2023. We are truly blessed. Thanks be to God.”

“We at ACIP were unanimous in our choice of Bishop Chris Harper for the next National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop,” Canon Still said. “I have known him since I first became active in the Sacred Circle in 1993 at Minaki Lodge in Kenora.

“Bishop Chris played a leadership role at that gathering when residential school survivors shared their painful stories. He is a pastoral man with vision and administrative skill. He also preaches well and knows the Christian and traditional spirituality. Walking in two worlds, Bishop Chris can gently bridge the two traditions at a time this is desperately needed.”

Born in Saskatchewan and a member of the Onion Lake Cree Nation, Bishop Harper is a graduate of Wycliffe College, Toronto.

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