Distinguished priest to visit diocese

Headshot of Dean Robert Willis
Dean Robert Willis
 on February 29, 2024

Garden videos brought hope

An English priest whose YouTube videos brought hope and joy to thousands of people around the world during the pandemic is visiting the diocese in March.

When the Church of England suspended public worship due to COVID-19, Dean Robert Willis began to broadcast Morning Prayer from the deanery garden of Canterbury Cathedral. He and his partner, Fletcher Banner, went on to post more than 900 videos, helping people get through the pandemic.

In addition to the videos, Dean Willis, who is now retired, had a distinguished career in the Church. He was the dean of Canterbury Cathedral for 20 years and advised three archbishops of Canterbury. He received numerous honours, including the Cross of St. Augustine, the second highest award within Anglicanism, given to people in recognition of their contributions to the Communion. He and Mr. Banner currently serve as ambassadors for the Church and various worldwide charities.

“He’s one of those true people of God who have been blessed with immense talent and grace,” says Archdeacon Paul Feheley, incumbent of St. Michael and All Angels in Toronto and a longtime friend of Dean Willis.

Dean Willis will lead a Lenten retreat at St. Michael and All Angels on the afternoon of Saturday, March 16. He will give two addresses, and there will be time for questions and answers. The retreat, held from 1-4 p.m., will include quiet time and a chance to meet Dean Willis. The retreat will conclude with Evening Prayer. The church is located at 611 St. Clair Ave. W., and all are invited to attend, either in person or online.

The next day, Sunday, March 17, Dean Willis will preach at St. Michael and All Angels’ morning Eucharist, which begins at 10 a.m. The service will be held in person and online. For details about his visit to St. Michael and All Angels, visit the church’s website,

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 17, Dean Willis will be preaching at Evensong at St. James Cathedral, located at Church and King streets in Toronto. The service begins at 4:30 p.m. After Evensong, the cathedral will be holding a vigil for peace and justice in the world, as part of its observation of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The vigil will be held from 6-8 p.m. Dean Willis will take part, helping people to pray and focus on peace in various parts of the world. Both Evensong and the vigil will be held in person and livestreamed. Visit the cathedral’s website,, for more information.

On Monday, March 18 at 1 p.m., Dean Willis will lead a Lenten reflection hosted by the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer. The webinar will be held on Zoom and all are invited to attend. For details, visit

In addition to public events, Dean Willis will meet with the Ontario House of Bishops on March 18 and will attend a dinner for the Primate, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, on March 19. The dinner will be hosted by the Ontario House of Bishops and Provincial Council, the governing body of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario.

Archdeacon Feheley says he is excited about Dean Willis’s visit. “He’s not a person who boasts about his own accomplishments, although there are many, and he’s very humble,” he says. “He did an extraordinary job of leadership at Canterbury Cathedral. He’s a person who has mixed with world leaders and leaders of Christian denominations, and yet once when I was visiting him, he and Fletcher were busy taking a basket of goods and flowers to a needy parishioner. It’s that kind of a person whose done an extraordinary job of prayer and leadership that I think is going to be really welcomed by people in our diocese.”

He says Dean Willis can help Anglicans share their faith. “The beauty of the Garden Congregation and the prayers he offered is to realize that evangelism in its most honest way is very simple and direct. We so often try to get it all complicated, and what we had in the videos was simply a priest sitting in his garden offering Morning Prayer with some thoughts or comments. He also took into consideration who would be watching and praying with him. That’s the remarkable thing about Dean Willis: how powerful the message can be when it’s done in simplicity and beauty.”


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