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Submitted by Imai Thomas Welch
5th article in a series

Imai (he/him, pronounced "ee-my") is a gay, mixed-race (Black/White/Other) Albertan who currently serves as a Lay Reader in the Diocese of Edmonton. Imai is something of a rara avis: a BIPOC and LGBTQ+ person who was born and raised in Alberta, still lives in Alberta, and is a practicing Christian! He worked closely with Dean Chris when the Dean was Rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton. As part of that work, Imai led the creation of Equally Anglican, a ministry which promoted LGBTQ+ presence and equity in the Anglican Church. This work eventually led to the Diocese of Edmonton declaring itself Affirming at its 2022 Diocesan Synod. 

In his secular life, Imai is an urban planner, who is registered to practice in both Canada and the United States. He currently works as a development planner at the City of Edmonton. Imai has a degree in geography from the University of Lethbridge, a theology diploma from Thorneloe University in Ontario, and has studied in both official languages in Montreal. 

What is “BIPOC”? BIPOC is an acronym for “Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples of Colour”. It’s an umbrella term for all non-White peoples. Even if there are many different communities within the BIPOC umbrella, we share many of the same challenges and concerns about things like racism and diversity. In this series, I’m going to provide some information and trivia about BIPOC peoples. 

Autocephaly (“self-heading”) is an important stage in the life of national or regional churches. Autocephaly means that a group of dioceses or other regional church jurisdictions are allowed to select their own Primate and leaders, without interference. 

Autocephaly is similar but different from Disestablishment (the topic in the last blog post!). Disestablishment means that there is no state control of the church. Autocephaly means that that church can now decide who will govern over them, and on what terms. 

Autocephaly is also important from a racial justice point of view. Until very recently, it was common for Anglican dioceses in the Global South and developing countries (aka, the not-usually-White parts of the world) to be under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA. Even after these parts of the world gained their political and civil independence, the Church of England and ECUSA could and sometimes did interfere in the life of so-called “mission” and “colonial” churches. This interference still happens today, but in more indirect ways which, paradoxically, can also be more easily challenged. 

So, here are a few questions this month about Autocephaly: 

Which Anglican Church outside of Europe and the US gained autocephaly the fastest?

New Zealand. The first Bishop of New Zealand was consecrated in 1841. Autocephaly through the creation of a local General Synod took place 16 years later, in 1857. 

A relatively close second place for gaining autocephaly is, surprisingly, Japan! The first Anglican jurisdiction (officially, an Episcopalian “Missionary District”) for Japan was created in 1866. Autocephaly as Nippon Seikokei occurred 21 years later in 1887. 

Which Anglican Church outside of Europe and the US took the longest to gain autocephaly?

Mexico. The first Anglican jurisdiction (through an Episcopalian “Missionary Bishop”) in Mexico was created in 1879. Autocephaly from ECUSA as the Anglican Church of Mexico occurred 116 years later, in 1995. 

A close second place are the Anglican churches of Spanish-speaking South America (formerly known as the Province of the Southern Cone). Originally put under the jurisdiction of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury starting in 1869, the Anglican Church of South America gained full autocephaly in 1981, 112 years later.