Twenty years ago, Glenda Samuels-Greenidge was a young liturgical dancer at the first diocesan black heritage service, held at St. James Cathedral in Toronto. The crowd was so large that some did not get into the building.
On Feb. 22 of this year, Ms. Samuels-Greenidge was back in the service again, this time carrying the flag of her native Panama and reading the intercessions. “I’m still in shock that so much time has passed,” she said. “It seemed like just yesterday.”
Indeed, some have literally grown up with the service, which celebrates the Anglican Church’s black heritage. For the past 19 years, it has been held at St. Paul, Bloor Street, and has become a major fixture on the diocesan calendar.
Andrea Greenidge started attending when she was 16 and went on to become a member of the choir and a reader. She eventually joined the organizing committee and became its chair. This year, she accompanied the choir on the piano.
“It’s almost like a reunion,” she said of the annual event. “You don’t see many of these people all year and this is the one time you reconnect with them. It’s welcoming and comforting.”
The theme of the 20th anniversary service was “Honouring the Past, Celebrating the Present and Inspiring the Future” and featured a powerful sermon by Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon of the Diocese of Kaduna in Nigeria. Bishop Peter Fenty, the area bishop of York-Simcoe and the first black bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, celebrated.
Evadne Wilkinson, co-chair of this year’s organizing committee along with Constance Kendell, said she never imagined the service would last this long. “I’m really happy to see that we’ve reached 20 years,” she said. “It has done what we wanted it to do – for people to be proud of who they are and their heritage, and to come together to celebrate that within the church.”
The Rev. Canon Stephen Fields, one of the founders of the service, said it is significant that several parish churches in the diocese are now holding their own black heritage service. “Our task was to get it out there into the DNA of the diocese. That was our intention. It’s a good feeling that we’ve spread the Gospel, as we’re called to do.”
In his sermon, Bishop Idowu-Fearon paid tribute to Canon Fields and other members of the diocese’s black community who met in 1995 for a visioning conference. Out of that meeting came the idea for the first black heritage service. “What you owe to these 80 brothers and sisters is a deep appreciation for what they have accomplished,” he said.
Bishop Idowu-Fearon urged the congregation to extend their appreciation even further back in time, to the missionaries, both black and white, who brought the Christian faith to all corners of the African diaspora. “We need to keep that sound biblical teaching,” he said. “We need to be faithful to the heritage that was passed on to us.”
As for the present and future, he told the congregation to rejoice in the Lord. “This is the way of life for the Christian – take courage, rejoice, celebrate! Shake off the shackles! No more lamentations! Don’t worry but be hopeful because you have a God who cares. Make the kingdom of God your top priority and you will be given all the things you need.”
In a letter printed in the order of service, Archbishop Colin Johnson thanked those who have organized the service over the years and praised the contributions of black Anglicans to the life of the diocese.
“Quite apart from the consecration of our beloved Bishop Peter, I was reflecting on the diversity of candidates that I have been privileged to ordain in the diocese over the past decade, and the contributions that they are making in the leadership of the church,” he wrote. “(This year, three of the nine transitional deacons being ordained in May are of African descent.) What a God-given gift! And it is also wonderful to have the increased presence and voice of black Anglicans in lay leadership capacities across the governance of our diocese. We are the richer for it indeed.”