It’s fascinating how packing up and moving house compels you to visit places in your home you haven’t visited in years. The packing process has a way of slowing down when you come upon an old photo album (from pre-digital days) or an old diary tucked away in a safe place – so safe it never surfaced! Moving has a surprising way of inviting you into your past, to take a look in the rear view mirror before driving off on your next adventure.
This next adventure is particularly significant because as you read this column, our move to the home of our retirement will be complete, and within a few days, after nearly 40 years of employment and service in the Diocese of Toronto, I will wake up on Oct. 1 no longer employed!
Memories can be a splendid gift from God. While packing up house (and, to a degree, a career) the memories came flooding back – some happy, some sad, some funny, some devastating, all summed up in the bishop’s charge to me at my ordination “to love and serve the people among who you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor,” all part of the reality of the human condition.
Memories: spending times with a wonderfully articulate transient man, his face covered in eczema, as he told me of his experiences of sleeping in burned-out garages, always on the move, never treated well by what he called “suits,” mostly striking unintended fear in the eyes of those who saw him and walked by on the other side of the road; hearing the panicked words of a seven-year-old junior bridesmaid who had consumed a super-sized Coke just before the wedding began and now, as the vows of marriage were being heard, cried out in a loud voice, “I have to pee, its coming out, now!”; standing before two caskets at the funeral of an adult friend and his mother, both killed in a tragic car accident; struggling to find words to say at the funeral of a teenage suicide victim in a church filled with confused high school students; celebrating with two congregations – one in Stouffville, the other in Aurora – their massive accomplishments of opening a church to the Glory of God; trying to suppress laughter as a funeral director slipped into the hole at a grave-side committal; sitting, praying and singing with many people in the holy moment they drew their last breath; advocating in the public square for those whose voices were not being heard.
Memories: of so many gifted students, assistant curates and associate priests with whom I worked who had said “yes” to God’s call to ordained ministry; sitting with my wonderful secretary, our two desks facing each other in a cramped office which doubled as the sacristy, as she answered the phone with a “let me get Father Phil for you”, covering the mouth piece of the land-line phone and passing it across the desks to me; sharing Bible study and prayer group time with some remarkably faithful servants of Jesus Christ; directing a number of youth choirs and, with my colleague in a neighbouring parish, offering music camps at the former Camp Artaban and introducing young people to the glories of church music; offering the sacraments to those precious people in hospitals and nursing homes; proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and marvelling in the wonder of a new-found faith; ordinations as a deacon at my home church on the hottest May day of that year, under the even hotter glare of cable TV lights, and priested a year later at our beloved cathedral church and made a bishop in the same place; meeting and knowing people from around our diocese and our Anglican Communion, people of faith simply trying to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
On a very personal note, my marriage to my marvellous wife, the births of my extraordinary boys, their marriages and the births of two adorable granddaughters are profound memories. I acknowledge with deep gratitude the debt I owe them for allowing me to spend so much time away from them serving the Lord and the church I love.
Memories can be a splendid gift from God, but I have learned that they are not where life is lived. Dwelling in the past is ultimately unhelpful and unproductive. Life is lived in the now, in the present, as we move confidently toward God’s future. Time marches on.
On Sept. 17, our Synod will radically alter the lives of three individuals and offer them the unique opportunity to serve as holy bishops in the Church of God. You have a gifted group from which to choose, and led by the Holy Spirit, I am certain you will do your work well. In every generation, God faithfully raises up men and women for leadership in the church. I pray when they come to the point of retirement they might look back with humility, gratitude and amazement at the joy and wonder of God’s great gift of life lived as an ordained person. May they know the love, prayers and support of our diocese in the manner you have offered to me over these many years.
I am grateful for the past and for memories. I am very excited to live the next chapter of life that God has in store for me as I continue my visit to God’s creation as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The episcopal ring given to me by family at my consecration as bishop is inscribed with the words “Soli Deo Gloria.” May God bless our diocese as we seek to be faithful witnesses to the Good News. Remember the words of Archbishop Despond Tutu: “You hold the reputation of Jesus in your hands.”