Hymns, readings and prayers were offered at St. James Cathedral on Saturday, November 20, 2021, in celebration of the life of Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones, a priest and suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Toronto for 40 years. Bishop Bedford-Jones died on April 18, 2021, at an Oshawa hospital from the effects of COVID-19 at the age of 78.
Bishop Bedford-Jones was born in Toronto in 1942. It was a year, the Very Rev. Stephen Vail pointed out during his sermon, when people were ready for the war to be over and “they wondered where God was, and they wondered if they were being heard.” It was during this time of wondering and anxiety that Michael Hugh Harold Bedford-Jones was born. As Dean Vail went on to say, for his parents this baby boy would have been “a sign of hope, a sign of promise, a sign of new life” during a tumultuous time, but they also could not have known how many people’s lives their son would touch.
Bishop Bedford-Jones was born on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels and was named accordingly. “[He was] named after the warrior angel,” said Dean Vail. “Very significantly, because Michael fought the good fight with joy and compassion and humility and faithfulness…. These are the ways in which God shaped the life of this remarkable and beautiful human being.”
In his eulogy, Archbishop Colin Johnson spoke of how Bishop Bedford-Jones was “destined for the priesthood in the Church, a vocation to priestly ministry that spanned multiple generations.” Indeed, the service featured Psalm 46 set to music by Archdeacon Thomas Bedford-Jones, Bishop Bedford-Jones’s great-great-grandfather.
Bishop Bedford-Jones attended Trinity College at the University of Toronto, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1965 and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 1968. He and Bonnie, who was also a student at Trinity College, were married in 1967. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Toronto in 1968 and served as the assistant curate, director of Christian education and then vicar of St. James Cathedral until 1975.
Archbishop Johnson spoke of Bishop Bedford-Jones’s passion for education and teaching: he completed a Master of Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Though Bishop Bedford-Jones had expressed regret shortly before his death that he had not had more time to focus on teaching, Archbishop Johnson pointed out that he was a teacher in many ways.
“Both explicitly in the pulpit, in lecture, in study groups, but I think, even more profoundly, in his mentoring of young clergy, in his work to develop theological education policies and programs and expand continuing education opportunities. But above all, by the personal example he set that was quietly observed and copied by those both lay and ordained who saw in him authentic Christian spirituality.”
Bishop Bedford-Jones became the incumbent of Epiphany, Scarborough in 1976, serving there until 1983, when he became the incumbent of St. Aidan, Toronto. In 1988, he was appointed the executive assistant to Archbishop Terence Finlay, who was the Bishop of Toronto at the time.
“It was not for his administrative skills that he was asked,” remarked Archbishop Johnson, “but for his humble wisdom and his immense knowledge of the diocese.” His encyclopedic knowledge of the parishes and their histories and people proved invaluable to Archbishop Finlay, who was relatively new to Toronto, as Bishop Bedford-Jones would often call him up to tell him all about the parish he would be visiting on Sunday morning.
But it was not just his vast knowledge of the diocese that marked Bishop Bedford-Jones out as special. “Michael’s pastoral sensitivity,” said Archbishop Johnson, “his theological acumen, his articulate command of the language, his
gentle diplomacy, and his grounding in prayer made him a vital and valuable contributor to the senior leadership of the diocese that was later recognized and confirmed in his election as Bishop.”
Bishop Bedford-Jones was elected suffragan bishop in the diocese of Toronto in 1994, serving first as the area bishop of York-Scarborough and then as the area bishop of Trent-Durham. He retired in 2008 but remained active in the Church, serving as the interim priest-in-charge at St. Jude, Wexford in 2010 and interim priest-in-charge at St. Peter, Cobourg in 2015.
Beyond the biographical details of his life, Archbishop Johnson and Dean Vail both spoke of Bishop Bedford-Jones’s two expressions: one of joy and another of deeply knitted brows. “He really cared about you!” exclaimed Dean Vail during his sermon. Archbishop Johnson also spoke of the joy inherent in Bishop Bedford-Jones’s life and faith.
“The pictures are there for you to see,” said Archbishop Johnson. “You see that face beaming out with delight and welcome, and just the hint of mischief. There he was telling stories that provoked roars of laughter that would bend him over double; quaffing a pint of local craft brew with friends at the pub; crewing with his sailing buddies in regattas; playing piano for hours on end at clergy conferences as people called out their requests; visiting his beloved summer home; rollicking with his dogs that were bigger than him.”
Archbishop Johnson shared his own personal connection to and experiences with Bishop Bedford-Jones. “I knew and worked with Michael for my whole ministry. He was one of my chosen episcopal presenters when I was consecrated bishop. For a decade and a half, he was my spiritual director and confessor. He was my mentor for much longer than that. And though I used him less than I should, each encounter was a blessing. I am a different person because of Michael. And I expect each of us could say the same because of our connection with Michael Bedford-Jones.”
Bishop Andrew Asbil presided at the service and Bishop Patrick Yu, retired suffragan bishop of the diocese, and the Rev. Canon Greg Physick, honorary assistant at St. Paul, Lindsay, delivered readings from Isaiah 6 and Philippians 4, respectively. The service was attended by close family and friends.