Chancellor Clare Burns has travelled around the diocese so much that she could probably write a food guide about it. “I can tell you where you can get the best jerk chicken at a church meeting, where to get the best scones, the best cheese plates. But I’m never going to give the details because I love all my friends and I don’t want to get in trouble with them,” she says wryly.
As she prepares to retire as the diocese’s chancellor on Dec. 31, she looks back on the last 20 years with deep fondness, especially for the bishops, clergy, laity and staff of the diocese. “I have learned so much in this role. It has improved my life in ways I never could have thought of.”
Chancellor Burns, a member of St. Paul, Bloor Street, became a vice-chancellor of the diocese in 2002 and chancellor in 2014. The chancellor is the chief canon lawyer of the diocese and gives advice to the diocesan bishop. Chancellor Burns served under three diocesan bishops – the late Archbishop Terence Finlay, Archbishop Colin Johnson and Bishop Andrew Asbil, all of whom she describes as men of great faith.
Despite giving hundreds of hours a year to the job on a volunteer basis, she says it was “totally worthwhile,” even during the difficult times. “We’ve had some hard times with a pandemic, we’ve had to amalgamate some parishes, and we’ve had problems with buildings. But all of those things have taught me that the strength of the Church is its people. If there is a problem, people with good hearts and a good Christian attitude will get in a room together and figure it out.”
Chancellor Burns served on Synod Council and at Synod. She chaired the Compensation Working Group for the Synod Office, the Risk and Governance Committee, the Constitution and Canons Committee, and the Nominating Committee for episcopal elections.
Her work touched on almost every aspect of the diocese, from parish building projects to episcopal elections. The experiences have left her grateful and humble. “I’ve been rewarded with so many moments that I didn’t see coming, moments that have strengthened my faith. They came at unexpected times like being at Trinity, Streetsville when it was reconsecrated and what a joyful experience that was; but I’ve also sat in meetings with people who are in really hard situations where they’ve shown amazing grace under pressure and you’ve just felt the Spirit in the room, and you don’t get that in a secular volunteer job.”
Canon Brian Armstrong, a vice-chancellor of the diocese who has worked with her over the years, says Chancellor Burns has been “a solid, authoritative and highly respected voice in the councils of the Church. When she spoke, people listened because they knew that her advice reflected both her many years’ experience as vice-chancellor and chancellor and her deep and abiding love for the Church.”
Bishop Asbil says her advice and expertise have been invaluable to him over the past four years of his episcopacy. “One of the great things that Clare has been able to do for me is create a line of continuity of leadership in the diocese from Terry Finlay to Colin to now,” he says. “She brings with her a long narrative of decisions and important matters over time.”
He also spoke of her many qualities, including her sense of humour. “She knows how to contain anxiety, especially when there have been points of conflict and change, and how to use the canons to enhance ministry. She also has brought humour that is disarming, enlivening and permission-giving – for a whole Church to be able to sometimes not take itself too seriously, and at the same time be able to name what’s so important. It’s one of her greatest gifts.”
Chancellor Burns says one of the highlights of her tenure has been meeting and working with lay volunteers across the diocese. “One of my favourite things is the annual Bishop’s Levee and the presentation of the Order of the Diocese of Toronto, because it’s these people, who in quieter ways than many of us, have made an enormous contribution to the Church.”
She has also enjoyed working with the staff at the Synod Office. “Very few people in the diocese understand how hard the staff at 135 Adelaide work and how complicated their jobs are. It’s been a huge pleasure for me to work with everybody there.”
After 20 years in the job, she says it’s time to move on to new opportunities. She is a vice-chancellor of the Anglican Church of Canada and looks forward to devoting more time to that. “The roles of chancellor and vice-chancellor require renewal, and I think 20 years is a good place to renew it. There are different opportunities and different kinds of challenges and rewards, and I think it’s time for someone else to help out in Toronto.”
She will be succeeded by Marg Creal, a member of Church of the Redeemer, Bloor St. and a former crown attorney who is currently the chair of the province’s Consent and Capacity Board.
“Marg is going to be terrific,” says Chancellor Burns. “She knows the Church. The diocese is going to be in good hands.”
Bishop Asbil echoed her words. “I will miss Clare terribly, and we’re excited about Marg coming on as our new chancellor. She brings wonderful gifts, and we have a host of vice-chancellors as well who bring such gifts to the endeavour of being the Church.”