Going with grace: Edmonton’s groundbreaking Anglican bishop retiring from the pulpit

After 13 years leading the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, Bishop Jane Alexander is looking forward to a future when she can stand elbow-to-elbow with fellow faithful, all lifting their voices to praise the Lord.

Part of that future relies on turning the tide on the COVID-19 pandemic, but the other part requires Alexander to step down from the pulpit.

Saturday is her final day as bishop.

“Oh, it’s just awful. I alternate between thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve done this!’ and just crying a lot,” Alexander cheerfully told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM about her decision to retire. 

“I just feel that God is calling me to something else — but I don’t know what that is, which is terrifying — but also that it’s time for somebody else to come now and lead the Diocese of Edmonton.

“And so for that to happen, I have to go.”

‘Take care of people in the world’

Bishop Jane, as she is known to her followers, is the second woman elected as bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, leading 53 Anglican churches in central Alberta.

Her path to the pulpit was a circuitous one. 

Religion wasn’t part of her upbringing in England, where she earned a music degree and taught children with special needs. In 1990, she came to Edmonton with her husband and young family.

She got her masters and PhD degrees in education psychology at the University of Alberta, then went on to study theology at Newman Theological College.

In 2001, she was ordained. In 2008, she succeeded Victoria Matthews as bishop of the Edmonton diocese. And today, she looks back on 13 years of building a more inclusive and caring community.

“Trying to get the church to look outwards,” Alexander said, neatly summing up the most important thread of her legacy.

“To be less concerned about what we do for each other in the community and way more concerned about how we take care of people in the world,” she said.

“I can’t imagine that turning around because I think a church that only looks to itself, well, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s a church.” 

Alexander worked with End Poverty Edmonton, including being its first co-chair. She was closely involved with Truth and Reconciliation, paying particular heed to its calls to action. And she became an ardent advocate for LGBTQ+ clergy and parishioners. 

In 2019, Alexander advocated to get the Anglican Church of Canada to bless same-sex marriage as an official policy. It did not pass, losing by two votes, but she is optimistic that will change.

“There was a long time in the church’s history, where it was kind of like, ‘Oh, we love you, but,'” she said.

“We’ve got people who are very faithful people doing the best they can, who are LGBTQ2. … The idea of saying, ‘Well, if you could not be that, then we will bless you’ — I just can’t do that. I can’t.”

More family time

Alexander delivered her final regular sermon on Easter Sunday.

After her official retirement this weekend, the process to elect a new bishop will begin. Candidate selection will be complete by the end of May, the vote will happen at the end of June and the new bishop will start work in September.

Alexander doesn’t have a fully formed plan of what will come next, but she is pretty certain it will involve volunteering with community agencies, and she is definite it will mean more time with her family and six grandchildren.

“And I hope at some point the pandemic ends and I can sit in the pew and worship with a whole bunch of people and sing — in a terribly creaky voice — a whole bunch of hymns out loud. Because that’s been a long time.”

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