Vancouver Island’s Anglican bishop steps down after nine years

Vancouver Island’s top Anglican priest, Bishop James Cowan, has announced his retirement.

Cowan, 61, who has served as bishop of British Columbia for nine years, said he will retire Aug. 31. He made the announcement to the diocesan council, indicating he had already informed the church hierarchy.

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Cowan, who is married with two grown sons, said he has no firm plans for his retirement. But he joked to church staff his immediate plans are to rest, perhaps even “sleep for four months.”

In an interview, he said that during his church career, he has always known when it was time to step aside and now seemed like the right time.

“I think it’s time to go,” he said. “There is a need for new leadership, different leadership.”

Cowan was consecrated and installed as the 12th bishop of British Columbia on Jan. 25, 2004. The Diocese of B.C. only takes in Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. It includes about 45 parishes with 10,000 members.

Clergy and parish representatives will be assembled at a later date to elect a successor, after the position has been advertised.

In January, Cowan announced the installation of a ceremony under which same-sex couples could have their union blessed.

The issue of blessings for same-sex couples had long been a controversial church issue, even leading to the splitting away of four Vancouver Island parishes.

But when Cowan announced the move to allow the blessing, it was almost incidental and made with little fanfare.

On Thursday, discussing his retirement, he said the move was part of a process in which the whole church discussed, considered and decided.

“Now, it’s almost a non-issue in the life of the church,” he said. “Yes, there are people who don’t like it but, by and large, it’s a non-issue.”

A tougher issue for him, Cowan said, was the restructuring of the diocese in recent years. Eight Island parishes were closed and three “hub parishes” created to take in areas previously served by separate parishes.

“The hard part was working with people whose families had been committed to a particular parish for however many years,” he said.

But he said he believes some newer, bigger parishes, such as The Parish of St. Peter and St. Paul in Esquimalt, have discovered a new energy after the changes.

Cowan also said a high point for him was the diocese’s move into cyberspace with the setting up of an online ministry and the appointment of a priest to oversee it.

Cowan grew up in Saskatchewan and began his ordained church career in the Diocese of Qu’Appelle where he served in three parishes. He joined the Diocese of British Columbia in 1997 as executive officer until he was elected bishop.

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