The Rev. Canon Jeffrey Metcalfe: Caribou, bees and the Diocese of Quebec

The Rev. Canon Jeffrey Metcalfe received his MDiv from Trinity College in 2013 and is currently working toward his doctorate while serving as the Canon Theologian in the Diocese of Quebec.

Tell us about your journey from Trinity College to the Diocese of Quebec:

Actually, I think my story begins in reverse. I began in the diocese of Quebec, and it was the Diocese that eventually sent me to Trinity College.

Interestingly, I actually had my heart on attending another theological college. What brought me to Trinity was an encounter I had at an Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Canada event hosted by my Diocese in Quebec City. It so happened that I ended up sitting beside David Neelands, at a table with some wonderfully eccentric Diocese of Quebec clergy.

When the topic of my study plans came up, I told David, quite transparently, that I had already decided to go to a different college. “But what do you think,” I asked him with a cocked eyebrow, “sets Trinity apart from the rest?” To his great credit he replied (I never forgot this) by saying “I refuse the premise of your question, which is framing our colleges in terms of a competition. They all have their gifts, and the one you are thinking about attending is a wonderful place, and you should definitely go study there! They have a great faculty and a tight community life. Know that regardless of where you go, I would be happy working with you on your own questions in political theology–drop by my office any time.” With that comment, David overturned my well laid plans.

As St. Paul reminds us, knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. David graciously deflated my puffed up question, and with a loving inclusivity and welcome that caught me off guard. I decided after that encounter to change my plans and attend Trinity, because I knew a greater influence than any knowledge I might acquire at seminary, was the characters of the people under whom I would acquire it. Today, when working with difficult questions or people, I often remember that encounter with David–and the many more I would have at Trinity College–and I give thanks for the witness of his leadership.


Your current title in the Bishop’s Office is “Canon Theologian”.  What exactly does a Canon Theologian do?

A Canon Theologian does a lot of meetings!!! One of my principal responsibilities is to serve as a kind of internal voice of theological and moral critique and encouragement within our structures. It’s always struck me as interesting that every Anglican Diocese has a lawyer and often a legal team on stand-by. Every Anglican Diocese has dedicated staff accountants and business management staff, but very few have designated inhouse theological reflectors. Of course, bishops ought to be that. Sometimes they are. But if everyone else in a room offering advice from the norms of their profession is coming at a question from the perspective of business and law, with only the bishop responsible for theological reflection, that will shape the kind of conversations that we have and the decisions we end up making. So a big part of my job is to help offset that dynamic, by offering some counsel grounded in theological norms. It also involves engaging in critical theology. Simply put: as leaders we make mistakes all the time! So part of my work is to try to be attentive to what kind of mistakes we are making, so as to learn from them, and to make amends where possible.

Alongside my advisory duties, my role also covers guiding congregations in identifying and utilizing their unique gifts for authentic faith expression, involving ethnographic research and discussions for discerning new ministry initiatives. For the last several years this has been embodied in a project to restructure Anglican ministry in the Capitale-Nationale region of Quebec, where we are developing a bioregional ministry–which is a shmancy way of saying that we are trying to cultivate a common sense of Anglican community, identity, and ministry that is more deeply bound to the land where we find ourselves.

Additionally, I engage in theological research and contribute to scholarly publications, linking the Church with the academic world. I participate in theological groups, dialogues, and conferences, connecting our diocese with wider Church and theological discussions.


How has your significant ecumenical work, including with the Canadian Council of Churches, influenced you and your thinking?

To be honest, I’ve never really understood the work I have been doing as ecumenical in any significant way–to me it was just sort of existing. Growing up, my grandparents were identitarian Catholics and Anglicans respectively. My sister was a Mennonite pastor for several years, and my parents have always considered themselves non-denominational evangelical. The family joke was that Christmas dinners might double as ecumenical councils (they were certainly theologically contentious enough!). My mentors have been Mennonites, Quakers, Anglicans, Jesuits, Augustinians, a former sister of Zion and more. Without these myriad perspectives and gifts, my life and work would be much poorer.

Every vantage point has its insights as well as its limitations in its perspectives and practices. I think working for the Canadian Council of Churches gave me the language to better articulate that. My time working with Peter Noteboom (now the General Secretary of the CCC) served as another amazing example to me of how to graciously, kindly, humorously, and truthfully engage with that difference.

Nevertheless, I do worry that naming this kind of mutual gift giving and receiving “ecumenism” makes it somehow optional, as if it is a sub-branch of Christian activity we can choose to specialize in–or not–depending on our personal proclivity. And I suppose, for Churches that still operate with vestiges of power, it might be. Living as an Anglican in Quebec it simply isn’t. We are too small and insignificant to think we can be faithful Christians and citizens on our own.


You recently contributed to the book “Partnership in Mission” (highlighted elsewhere in this newsletter) by writing on the future of Anglicanism in Quebec.  Briefly, what did you say about that?

In my essay “A Field Sketch on the Future of Anglicanism in Quebec: What the Woodland Caribou Might Teach Us about Going Extinct” I parallel the decline of our Church with the plight of the woodland caribou in our region. Both the Church and the caribou are facing existential threats; the Church due to diminishing congregations and the caribou due to habitat loss and ecological disruptions. This juxtaposition serves as a metaphor for the broader (and related) challenges of survival in changing environments, both ecological and societal.

I argue that the future of Anglicanism in Quebec must involve a radical reimagining of our identity and mission, drawing inspiration from the concept of creatureliness as articulated by Willie James Jennings. This approach emphasizes our interconnectedness with all of creation and suggests that our survival and flourishing depend on recognizing and embracing our place within the broader web of life–something we can only rightly learn by apprenticing ourselves to our Indigenous members and neighbours. By acknowledging our past and continuing contributions to colonialism and ecological destruction, we can begin to forge a new path that is rooted in partnership, justice, and a deep respect for the land and all its inhabitants.

That’s the ideal, but of course, the jury is still out on whether that is even possible for us. As I put it at the end of my essay: “our evolution as a Church has been bound up within the political economies of extraction—the colonial project is our natural habitat. While these political economies still define Quebec and Canada, our Church’s prominent role in those projects has definitively ended. The question remains however, as to whether we can adapt ourselves quickly enough to develop new ecclesial niches in our changed environment. And perhaps more provocatively, if we can, will we still be identifiable as Quebec Anglicans, or will we have evolved into something else?”


You continue to be a doctoral student at Trinity, but what memories from your time as an M.Div student stay with you?

There were definitely some student sermons at the chapel that I will never forget. It would be inappropriate to repeat them, but they still make me laugh out loud when I think of them. Suffice to say, it’s good to have some safe spaces for students to practice before they are in congregational settings.

More significantly, devouring the works of St. Augustine and F.D. Maurice in David’s classes turned out to be of continuing importance in my ministry and thinking in general–Augustine’s Enchiridion and F.D. Maurice’s Kingdom of Christ still shapes my moral imagination.

I think just as influential was all the time I spent outside of Trinity taking courses from other faculty and traditions, especially at Regis. True to his initial comments, this was encouraged by David, and definitely helped me to broaden my intellectual horizons while keeping me grounded in my own tradition.


BONUS QUESTION:   Tell us about your bees!

Truth be told, I was always afraid of bees! But when I became the Incumbent on the Magdalen Islands I decided to address that fear by becoming a beekeeper, which eventually evolved into a parish farming project we launched with the Anglican Foundation on Entry Island. One thing I love about beekeeping is the way that it makes you very attentive to the rhythms of the land and to the things that threaten those rhythms. Ironically, at times, that can include honey bees themselves, which are an invasive species in many ways whose husbandry can have a negative effect on indigenous bees and other pollinating insects. Similarly, Climate change, pesticide, and herbicide usage suddenly become more visible when you live in more intentional relations with other-than-human animals.

Now, in Quebec City, I continue to keep a few hives on Île d’Orléans with Bishop Bruce. The last few years have been a bit of a struggle with the wild fluctuations in temperature here. We had our first experience of colony collapse disorder this fall, so you can pray that our remaining hives will survive this winter. You can also give our native pollinators a helping hand by refraining from raking your leaves this spring, and letting your lawn grow and bloom until the flowers where you live are well on their way. It’s one small thing we can all do to live in better relations with the land.

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