In late March, Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones took part in a panel discussion called “Prayer in Anxious Times,” hosted by St. James Cathedral. During the gathering, which was held on Zoom, he was notified that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Instead of leaving the call, he calmly carried on, taking part in the discussion and leading a meditation on breathing.
Just over three weeks later, on April 18, he died at Oshawa hospital from the effects of COVID-19. He was 78.
“He died with his boots on,” says Archbishop Colin Johnson, one of the panelists at the discussion and longtime friend and colleague. “He was passionate about prayer and he loved the Church. He was a real ambassador for Christ.”
In the days after his death, former parishioners, clergy and bishops posted messages on websites and social media, expressing their love and appreciation for Bishop Bedford-Jones and his wife Bonnie, who was also battling COVID-19 and is expected to recover. “Bishop Bedford-Jones was a wonderful man,” wrote Beverly Jeeves. “When I was a member of St. George’s Church in Newcastle, Ontario, he would often preach. His infectious smile and kind words will remain in my heart.”
Bishop Andrew Asbil, the Bishop of Toronto, described him as “a raconteur like no other. He had the ability to hold the attention of an entire room when he told a story. He loved the Church and the Diocese in particular, knowing something about the history of every parish. A man of great joy, delight and of deep faith.”
Born in Toronto, 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.
Bishop Bedford-Jones 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. He became the incumbent of Epiphany, Scarborough in 1976, serving there until 1983, when he became the incumbent of St. Aidan, Toronto. In 1988, he became the executive assistant to Archbishop Terence Finlay, who was the Bishop of Toronto at the time. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Diocese and often provided Archbishop Finlay with a history of the parish he would be visiting on a Sunday morning.
From 1991 to 1994, Bishop Bedford-Jones served as the incumbent of St. George Cathedral in Kingston, Dean of Ontario and rector of Kingston. St. George’s Cathedral had been devasted by the sexual abuse of several choristers by choirmaster John Gallienne, and Bishop Bedford-Jones sought to bring healing to the congregation. “He found ways to let us express our pain without increasing our divisions,” says John Spragge, who was a parishioner of St. George’s at the time and now attends St. John, West Toronto. “He was profoundly gentle, perceptive and tolerant. He was exactly what we needed at the time. No one could have done better.”
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. The Ven. Elizabeth Hardy, who served under him as the archdeacon of York-Scarborough, said he was always fair and polite, no matter what the situation. “He was a lovely, lovely person,” she recalls. “He was wise and empathetic. He was someone you wanted to be friends with. You knew you could trust him. You could not find two more welcoming and hospitable people than him and Bonnie.”
One of Bishop Bedford-Jones’s passions was education. In 1979 he received a Master of Arts in educational theory from the University of Toronto, and he served as the chair of the Ontario Provincial Commission on Theological Education several years. In 1991, he earned a certificate in spiritual direction from the Toronto School of Theology/Shalom Institute and became a spiritual director and mentor to many clergy. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College in 1991.
Another of his passions was music. He was an accomplished pianist and organist. At the diocese’s Synod and other church functions, he would sometimes play the piano, lightening the mood with a selection of compositions. Recently, he was scheduled to play the organ for St. John, Bowmanville’s online worship services on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter. He played for the Good Friday service, which was videotaped in early March, but had to withdraw from videotaping the Palm Sunday and Easter services due to his illness. “When we thanked him for the gift of his music, he said that it was a gift to himself, and that he felt close to God playing the magnificent hymns on the organ,” recalls the Rev. Lucia Lloyd, priest-in-charge of St. John’s. “He mentioned in an email to me that one of his favourite hymn tunes was Lasst Uns Erfreuen, the tune of ‘Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones’ and ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’ with all those glorious alleluias. We were planning on his playing that at our Easter service. I picture him playing it and singing it along with us from heaven, among the ‘bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones’ and the ‘archangels, angels’ choirs”.
He was an engaging storyteller and enjoyed talking with people at events such as the Bishop’s Company Dinner and Synod. “He connected people, and connected the past to the present,” recalls Archbishop Johnson. “He drew people to him and had real humility.”
He had deep roots in Ontario. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were clergymen, and Laura Secord was a distant relative. His great-great grandfather, the Ven. Dr. Thomas Bedford-Jones, was the rector of St. Alban’s in Ottawa and was a friend of Sir John A. Macdonald, who became an Anglican at a private ceremony at the church, where his wife was already a member.
While in the Diocese of Toronto, Bishop Bedford-Jones was the link bishop to the Community Ministries Board, the Planning and Development Board and the Miriam Dobell Healing Centre. He was on several committees and task forces, providing guidance for such things as diocesan communications, the diocese’s clergy conference, professional development for clergy, the candidates for ordination stream, evangelism, the process of electing bishops and prayer. He was the registrar of Provincial Synod and served on its executive council and on several task forces. At the national level, he was chair of the Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee of General Synod.
Bishop Bedford-Jones 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. Wherever he went in retirement, people recognized him and wanted to chat. Even in hospital, he inspired people. A nurse in the intensive care unit where he was placed recognized him as the bishop who confirmed her, and she took special care of him.