In 1985, the Anglican Church of Canada published the Book of Alternative Services. Bound in a distinctive green cover, the book became the primary worship text for many churches in the Diocese of Toronto and across Canada.
At the same time, another green book was in use in the Diocese of Toronto. Known simply as the Green Book, it was a directory of the diocese’s policies and guidelines. While it wasn’t as elegant as the Book of Alternative Services – it was a large green binder – it was considered by many to be no less valuable, helping church leaders and administrators make decisions in an increasingly complex world.
The creator and compiler of the Green Book, Bishop Douglas Blackwell, died in May in Ajax at the age of 83.
“It was extremely helpful,” says Archbishop Colin Johnson, who referred to the Green Book many times when he worked at the Diocesan Centre. “Douglas provided the infrastructure that allowed the diocese to function and flourish.”
Bishop Blackwell was born in Toronto and was a graduate of Wycliffe College. Ordained a deacon in 1963 and a priest a year later, he served in the dioceses of Calgary and Saskatoon before returning to Toronto in 1974 to take up the position of assistant director for adult education at the Aurora Conference Centre. In 1977 he became the executive assistant to the Bishop of Toronto, Lewis Garnsworthy, and took on the additional role of director of Communications. He was made a canon of St. James Cathedral in 1978 and was appointed Archdeacon of York in 1987. He was elected suffragan bishop in 1988 and served as the area bishop of Trent-Durham until his retirement in 2003. In retirement he served as interim priest-in-charge of several parishes and was an honorary assistant of St. Thomas, Brooklin. His funeral was held at St. Thomas’s on June 2.
“He was funny, thoughtful, innovative and conservative,” recalls Archbishop Johnson, who succeeded Bishop Blackwell as area bishop of Trent-Durham before being elected diocesan bishop. “He was an amazing administrator but at the same time a very fine pastor.”
As the executive assistant to the Bishop of Toronto and then a bishop, Bishop Blackwell helped steer the diocese through a time of immense changes in the Church. Issues of the day included the introduction of communion for children, the introduction of new baptismal rites, the publication of the Book of Alternative Services, the development of the Cursillo movement, the ordination of women, the expansion of lay ministry and the creation of the College of Bishops and the episcopal area system.
“Douglas had a hand in all of that and more,” recalls Archbishop Johnson. “The Church he entered was not the Church he left.”
Among his major contributions was the programming that took place at the Aurora Conference Centre, an overnight retreat centre that was owned and operated by the diocese. Working with the Rev. Canon Graham Tucker, he helped to provide innovative programs and training in congregational revitalization, a subject that he was passionate about.
Along with Canon Tucker and Georgi Doyle, Bishop Blackwell wrote the report that led to the creation of the diocese’s College of Bishops and the episcopal area system in the 1980s. As executive assistant to Bishop Garnsworthy, Bishop Blackwell became the secretary of the College and was instrumental to its ongoing progress and carrying out its decisions.
“Lewis really depended on Douglas,” recalls Archbishop Johnson. “Lewis was an ideas person and Douglas put it into practice. He was the implementer.”
As executive assistant, Bishop Blackwell chaired the committee that produced the Bishop’s Papers, a series of educational publications that contained leading-edge ideas. Published in the diocese, the papers were read across Canada and the United States. A paper on volunteer management, written by Suzanne Lawson, ODT, was seminal in the development of lay ministry in the diocese.
Bishop Blackwell played an integral role in the establishment of the diocese’s Logos program, a Christian education course for adults that was initially led by the Very Rev. Peter Elliott and Dr. Walter Deller.
Archdeacon Paul Feheley, who served as a parish priest and regional dean in Trent-Durham when Bishop Blackwell was the area bishop, recalls a strong and compassionate leader. “Douglas allowed people to grow and function within their own ministry,” he says. “If you were a cleric, he would appoint you, you’d be in place, he’d check with you, and then he’d let you be. You knew he was there to support you, but he wasn’t an overseer who had to micro-manage everything. The freedom to be able to do your ministry, knowing you had the bishop’s support, was huge.”
Archdeacon Feheley, who went on to become the principal secretary to the Primate and is now the priest-in-charge of St. Michael and All Angels in Toronto, says Bishop Blackwell believed in the episcopal area system and worked hard to make sure that Trent-Durham functioned to the best of its ability. Regional deans’ meetings with Bishop Blackwell were held all over the area, creating a sense of balance and fairness in the area, he adds.
“He had a wonderful sense of meeting people where they were, which of course was also part of Jesus’ ministry,” he says. “He would often use meals as opportunities for conversation, learning and teaching.”
After his retirement as the area bishop of Trent-Durham, Bishop Blackwell served as an interim priest in several parishes. It was a ministry that he enjoyed and excelled at.
“He went into parishes essentially as a parish priest, often in places that were difficult and challenging, and he not only kept them going but renewed them,” says Archbishop Johnson. “He preached well, he administered faithfully and he was very pastoral.”
In addition to his preaching, Bishop Blackwell was a popular after-dinner speaker, often keeping his audiences in stitches with his dry sense of humour. Archbishop Johnson recalls listening to him at a dinner in 1990. “I was bowled over. It was funny and thought provoking.”
Bishop Blackwell was assisted throughout his ministry by his wife Sandra, who worked for a time at the Diocesan Centre and then became his secretary when he became a bishop. He is survived by Sandra and their three children, Deborah, Kate and Mark, and grandchildren.