The new president of the University of British Columbia is a prominent Anglican lay person who has been involved in his church for decades.

Stephen J. Toope

Stephen Toope, president of UBC since last July, until recently was one of three representatives of the Canadian Church to the Anglican Consultative Council.

This international council is made up of a bishop, a cleric, and a lay person from each of the 38 Church in the Anglican Communion - and has been defined as one of the Communions' "instruments of unity."

Son of a Newfoundland Anglican priest, Toope came to UBC to be its 12th president after serving as dean of McGill University's faculty of law in Montreal. He is an internationally recognized human rights scholar.

Among his specialties is canon or church law, and in that role in 2003 he was among three lawyers who advised Bishop Michael Ingham that it was within his rights as a diocesan bishop to issue a rite of same-sex blessing.

(A group of theologians has since disagreed and issued the St. Michael Report, so the national Church's General Synod will have to decide this June whose advice the Anglican Church of Canada will adopt-the lawyers' or the theologians'.)

Toope said that the same sex blessing issue, while important, should not be something that Anglicans seem to be talking about all the time. "If that's all the church has to talk about it's very unfortunate."

The issue isn't obsessing Toope. He's far too busy in his job as one of Canada's largest-and no doubt he'd say best-educational institutions. "I have found the job absolutely fascinating. The people here at UBC have such passion, such ambition that UBC be a strong institution."

Still, Toope has found time to join a local congregation, Christ Church Cathedral's. While the job he has is "really quite consuming," and he can't get involved again in church governance or strategic planning, he said he might be able to help informally or take on time-limited tasks.

From his time on the Anglican Consultative Council, he feels that the Anglican Communion's governance should involve lay people, not simply be run by the 38 Primates (the chief bishops from each national church).

That isn't the opinion of many in the developing countries, especially in Africa, where there is a great deal of deference to archbishops. Ironically, it is the West that implanted church hierarchy and patriarchy in the developing world. He says the African model of leadership is "the big man reinforced by Nineteenth Century episcopacy."

Toope does have hope that the Anglican Communion can stay together, but it will take a certain acceptance of diversity.

Africans and North Americans, for instance, can read texts and interpret them differently -"After all, that's what lawyers do"-but neither side can't take the position, "I can't discuss your interpretation of the text."

And there is some hope in our history, said Toope, as he drew a parallel between the two organizations he has been involved in for nearly all his life - the Church and the University.

"Over the past thousand years or so there really are two institutions that have remained essentially intact - religious institutions and universities. They have been commited to an understanding of what they do, yet they have allowed change in structure and function."