It has been an honour to serve

Archbishop Colin Johnson raises a hand to acknowledge applause.
Archbishop Colin Johnson acknowledges applause from Synod members after his reflection.
 on January 1, 2019
Michael Hudson

Instead of a Charge to Synod, Archbishop Johnson chose to reflect on some of the important changes in the diocese since his ordination more than 40 years ago.

“I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5)

Forty-one years ago, I attended my first Synod in the Diocese of Toronto as a young deacon. I’ve tried to remember how many Synods I’ve been to. I can’t remember, but it’s at least 75 to 80. I’ve only missed one Synod in the Diocese of Toronto, and that’s because I was on sabbatical.

But naturally, as a young cleric 41 years ago, you know everything, and you have an opinion – of course, the correct opinion – about every subject. So another newly minted deacon – a certain Philip Poole – and I decided that a motion on the floor of Synod to amend the canon about candidates for ordination had not taken into account our perspective as new ordinands, and so we brashly moved an amendment. Anyway, who were these people who had moved and seconded the original motion? I had no idea who Archdeacon Arthur Brown or Canon Duncan Abraham were. Well, our amendment was soundly defeated, and Philip and I were invited to the office of one Canon Douglas Blackwell, executive assistant to Bishop Lewis Garnsworthy, for a wee chat. And it turned out to be a life-changing experience, because Douglas became a mentor and a friend, as did a subsequent executive assistant to the bishop, Michael Bedford-Jones. And almost 15 years later, I succeeded both of them as the executive assistant to the bishop. I have been in the Bishop’s Office, therefore, since 1992.

This marks my last Synod as your bishop, and I want to thank you for the privilege and honour it has been to serve this remarkable diocese. Now in my 42nd year of ordination, my 16th year in episcopal ministry and my 15th year as your diocesan bishop, tonight I’m not going to give a Charge to Synod. That will be up to Bishop Andrew to set the direction. Rather, I will give you a few hopefully brief reflections on some of the significant changes that are the foundations on which we will continue to build.

From Lewis Garnsworthy and Allan Read until Andrew Asil, I have worked under the leadership or beside 22 bishops in this diocese – 17 since I joined the Synod Office as executive assistant to Terry Finlay in 1992. Each was different. Each brought specific gifts. Each served with great faithfulness, and each provided the Church with the needed gifts at the time. I’m just going to touch on a few of the more significant changes I’ve seen in some of that period of ministry.

The increased place of laity, rooted in a renewed understanding of baptism, that began in the 1970s or took form in the 1970s. And then, more especially, the place of women in the official leadership of the Church. I was ordained deacon on the very same day that Marge Pesach was ordained as the first female priest in the Diocese of Toronto. It was 25 years ago – I was executive assistant to the bishop – that Victoria Matthews was elected as the first woman to be a bishop in the Canadian Church, on the same day that Michael Bedford-Jones was first elected. So they are celebrating their jubilees this year.

It has led to the development of a corps of highly trained, highly skilled laity to work across the diocese in congregational development, stewardship coaching facilitation and training, building on the Cursillo movement of the ’70s and then the Logos programming of the ’80s, and now part of our diocesan ministry strategy. The Order of the Diocese of Toronto has been established to honour the significant contributions of exemplary lay people doing their ordinary ministries within their communities. Over 250 have been awarded this distinction so far. That sounds like a lot until you realize that it’s half of one per cent of the people of this diocese.

The Our Faith-Our Hope: Reimagine Church campaign raised $40 million, increasing our capacity to support ministry in parishes in the diocese and across our country. The Ministry Allocation Fund provides a transparent policy for making grants that has funded new church development, innovative forms of ministry and parish support. The establishment of FaithWorks has meant that as Anglicans in this diocese, we have a focused program that has contributed over $24 million to assist tens of thousands of vulnerable people in our society. Our social justice and advocacy has given voice to the need to change laws and policies and provide opportunities for the poor and the marginalized in our wider society that reflect Jesus’ call to serve the least. The development and implementation of a robust sexual misconduct policy and Screening in Faith have enabled us to respond clearly, effectively and proactively to abuse and for the protection of children and vulnerable adults in our Church. Our policies have informed those of jurisdictions right across North America.

The rehabilitation of the ministry of healing and the training of lay anointers have allowed this ministry to become a regular part of liturgical and pastoral care in most parishes. The restoration of the diaconate as a distinct and essential ministry in its own right, and not merely as a transitional waystation on the road to the “real ministry” of priesthood.

When I arrived at the Synod Office in 1992, there were computers and typewriters and Dictaphones and one answering machine – and, yes, some quill pens. The invention of the internet, electronic communication and social media have revolutionized and will continue to change incredibly how we communicate, relate to one another, gather information, create communities and make decisions. It’s changing how we do church and has the possibility of creating conditions that will be as disruptive and creative as the printing press and the Reformation were 500 years ago.

Greater access, however, to information has not led to better understanding of truth. We are the best educated and most informed society that has ever existed, and yet never before has public discourse been so fact-free and truth-alternative. That used to be called lying. Our diocese has a continuing obligation and opportunity to speak truth to power.

We’re in the midst of rapid demographic and cultural transformation. Did you know that up until 1980, there were a total of about half a million immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area, which includes about two-thirds of the Diocese of Toronto? Of that half million, more than 50 per cent were European. In the last five years alone, there are over 360,000 immigrants to the GTA, almost 260,000 from Asia. We are now home to about a quarter of a million people from the Caribbean in total. In the last five years alone, that same number of people, a quarter of a million, have arrived in Toronto from just five countries: India, China, the Philippines, Iran and Pakistan. I bet you didn’t consider Iran in that list.

Today we have Anglican services in Toronto in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Tamil, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Bengali, Malayalam, Tagalog, Urdu, Swahili, Sudanese languages, Ghanaian languages, Cree and Oji-Cree, and others that I have missed. And that’s just languages. That does not mention our accommodation of differing cultural or spiritual or theological differences.

We are a microcosm of the Anglican Communion in this diocese. That is unique in any part of the world, and it presents both incredible opportunities and special challenges of diversity and inclusion in a way that would have been unfathomable to Bishop John Strachan, our first bishop, or even to Bishop George Snell or Lewis Garnsworthy. Globalization is not simply a virtual reality in a networked world. Globalization is our daily physical and practical lived experience, and in this globalized world the capacity of our diocese to engage internationally is unique in Canada, and in fact probably unique in the world. Our work in bringing together the Anglican bishops in dialogue, participating in funding the Indaba processes that have created opportunities for deep listening and growing understanding across the whole Communion. The number of Diocese of Toronto Anglicans who serve on international commissions and bodies in the Communion is unmatched by any diocese in the world.

In a world that seems to be increasingly polarized, we have striven in this diocese, and largely succeeded, in holding not only the centre but even some of the fraying edges, by creating a big tent where many can find a secure place, where differences can be argued and expressed and lived out without breaking the relationships. We have a number of challenges, and these too are not new. We have fewer parishes, fewer parishioners, fewer clergy than we had a decade ago or two decades ago or four decades ago. Contrary to popular rhetoric, it’s not a recent phenomenon; it began in the 1950s. In fact, the longest-serving Bishop of Toronto fretted about declining numbers in his address to Synod in 1901.

Twenty-five per cent of our parishes are actually growing. The others are static or declining. That is actually better than most institutions today, but we should not let that comfort us too much. We have much to learn, and we need each other. All of us need all of us to faithfully discern where God is calling us to be and to do.

For me, the most fundamental change in the past 15 years has been the focus on missional work. Not mission over the sea and far away, but mission here at home, in our neighborhood, on our street. In spite of the differences that might separate us at some levels, especially in matters of sexuality and marriage, we have found common ground in the call to be missional. Not as a program, not to put bums in pews, not to maintain our own historic roles and privileges, but missional as a way of life, a way of understanding and of participating in God’s purposes for God’s world. Turning outward toward the world for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the world, for the sake of the kingdom of God.

This has been driving our strategy, our decisions, our investment of resources, our prayer. Even if we’re not doing it perfectly, it is the direction we are turned. Our commitment to Jesus Christ in his way, his truth and his life is what binds us together in a way that is hopeful and compelling and joyful, and there is so much encouragement in this. This is our mission, this is our vision: We are a Church that proclaims and embodies Jesus Christ through compassionate service, intelligent faith and Godly worship. We work to build healthy, missional Anglican communities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It has been my incredible joy to have been part of this journey with you. There are so many people that I could thank. It would take me the next day or two to even begin to do that, so instead of risking forgetting someone, I just want to mention five people and let them be signs of a whole lot of other things.

The first is my wife of 42 years, Ellen. It would not have been possible without my arch support and my arch critic and my bubble-pricker, and the one who keeps blowing up the bubble to make it fresh and whole again. Mary Conliffe, who for 17 years has been one of my closest confidants. And my chancellor, Clare Burns, who is number one on my speed dial – well, actually number two. Ellen is one. And then two people who, in the terms of the Salvation Army, have been promoted to glory: Bob Falby and Terry Finlay.

And there’s one more: you, each one of you. You have made a difference. You continue to make a difference. You will make a difference. I leave with confidence and hope. I’ve never been one to look back and hanker for the good old days. I see, rather, those good old days as signs of God’s abiding faithfulness and look forward to the next thing that God wants me and us to do.

In the words of St. Paul from a different letter: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you were being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”


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