At the end of a gloomy week in October due to COVID-19, the Bishop’s Company provided a ray of warmth and hope. Instead of its usual fundraising dinner, it broadcast a cabaret featuring some of the diocese’s most entertaining performers.
The online event, which had about 575 viewers, raised $70,000 through corporate sponsorship and individual giving. The money will support clergy in need and fund scholarships and other important causes.
After COVID-19 restrictions made the traditional in-person dinner impossible, the Bishop’s Company had to come up with another plan, says Peter Misiaszek, the diocese’s director of Stewardship Development.
“People were feeling blue with COVID-19 hanging over them, so we wondered if there was another way we could bring people together and involve the diocese as much as possible,” he says. “That’s when the idea of a cabaret was born.”
After reaching out to the bishops and others, he came up with a list of 12 performers, both clergy and lay, from across the diocese. They prerecorded their acts, and then all the segments were put together to form the cabaret. The set-list included theatre, worship and praise music, jazz, contemporary and classical favourites, and vocal performances.
In addition to the music and entertainment, the evening included remarks by Archbishop Linda Nicholls, who is the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop Andrew Asbil. Dean Stephen Vail of St. James Cathedral was the MC for the night and the Rev. Canon Nicola Skinner of Grace Church, Markham spoke about how the funds raised by the Bishop’s Company helped a clergy family.
After Bishop Asbil and Dean Vail welcomed viewers, the entertainment started off with two songs by the Rev. Ken McClure of St. George, Haliburton, who sang lightheartedly about the Bishops of Toronto down through the ages and the 39 Articles of Religion. He was followed by the musical group Wine Before Breakfast and jazz guitarist Nathan Hiltz.
Before the next trio of performers started, Canon Skinner spoke about how the Bishop’s Company helped to cover the funeral costs of the late Rev. Sheilagh Ashworth, a well-known priest of the diocese who died this past summer from cancer, leaving two young daughters.
“It was an incredible help to her daughters and family in a very, very difficult time,” she said. “It is generous gestures such as these in times of crisis that offer great comfort to family and friends. The decision of the Bishop’s Company to cover Sheilagh’s costs was also a moving and wonderful tribute to the acts of compassion and generosity that Sheilagh extended to so many in her lifetime. She was a light of Christ in the world.”
The next trio of performers included the St. Bede’s Praise Band, the Rev. Kenneth Korsah and the Seraphic Voices and the Rev. Anish Matthew George and his son Aneason of the Church of South India, who played harmonicas.
After their performances, Archbishop Nicholls spoke about her first year as Primate and gave some examples of how Anglicans across Canada have responded positively to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Human beings are creative and resilient and capable of more than we often imagine,” she said. “We will get through this together. Despite the rampant individualism of our time, epitomized unfortunately in the refusal by some to wear a mask or social distance, we have recognized our need of one another and the need to connect virtually, across time and space and physically across a room or garden and acknowledge we share this time together. We have also realized afresh that we are profoundly inter- connected and our very lives depend on those we often acknowledge the least, both in respect and economically.”
She reflected on the early Church and how the disciples responded after the death of Jesus. “I expect the disciples felt the same after the death of Jesus – powerful forces ranged against them and an uncertain future. But once they had experienced the reality of the resurrection, once they had been touched by the power of the Holy Spirit, that small band of disciples found hope at every turn in the face of imprisonment, opposition, beatings, and ridicule and changed the world. The faithfulness of God is the touchstone that defeats even death itself.” (For her full address, see Page 4 of this issue of The Anglican.)
After Archbishop Nicholls’ remarks, the entertainment continued with an organ recital by Rachel Mahon, a former member of Grace Church on-the-Hill in Toronto who is now the music director of Coventry Cathedral in England, singer and musician Sarah Misiaszek of Christ Memorial Church, Oshawa, and the duet of Gareth and Maggie Anderson of St. James, Orillia, who performed a medley of songs.
The final trio included singer Cormac Joy, who is the youth coordinator of Trent-Durham, Nathan Richards, a mainstay of the diocese’s annual Black Heritage Service, who played the flute and sang, and Sandra Campbell of the Toronto Urban Native Ministry, who sang and drummed. Near the end of the evening, the recipients of three scholarships were announced. Matthew Jeffrey Bowman from Trinity College and the Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson from Wycliffe College received The George & Eileen Carey Award, which is awarded to Anglican scholars pursuing post-graduate theological studies. Wilson Akinwale of Wycliffe College and Li Fen Nicola Zhang of Trinity College received The Terence & Alice Jean Finlay Bursary, given to two students who are engaged in studies that celebrate and enhance an understanding of the diversity of the Church. Susan Smandych received the The Kirubai Scholarship, awarded to a Trinity College divinity student with an area of specialization in liturgy and worship.
In his closing remarks, Bishop Asbil thanked the performers and viewers for a wonderful evening. “As you can see, we have much in the way of diversity and musical interest,” he said. “It is my hope that this evening has brought you joy and encouragement. While we are unable to be together in person, we can none the less gather, celebrate, and give to an important diocesan ministry.”
He paid tribute to Bishop Peter Fenty, the area bishop of York- Simcoe, who is retiring at the end of November. “Peter has been a friend, mentor, and coach to many of us. A passionate advocate for minorities and the poor, he is known for his powerful preaching and wise counsel. Peter, we will miss your prophetic wisdom and voice of reason. We will miss your playful humour and delight for mischief. We will miss your pastoral heart, and deeper still we will miss the love, passion, and hope that you live out each day for the sake of the gospel. Thank you, my friend. You will be missed.”
To watch the cabaret, visit the diocese’s You Tube page at https:// www.youtube.com/user/tordio135.