There is great delight in the church when we come to celebrate Pentecost, as we look for creative ways to honour the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples. We decorate our churches and vestments in red; we remember the experience of speaking in other tongues by inviting people of other languages to read scripture or litanies; and we delight in the almost giddy joy the disciples experienced of power to proclaim the Gospel. We know the Gospel is for all people and we will hear the stories in Acts of the missionary journeys of the disciples. As I write this article, the Anglican Consultative Council is meeting in Lusaka, Africa, a sign of the worldwide sharing of the Gospel that has taken place over the last 2,000 years. Our Anglican Communion has members on every continent.
During my years of ministry in the Diocese of Toronto, I have encountered Anglicans who have come to our doors from other parts of the world to worship as brothers and sisters in Christ. I have also heard the stories of encounters in some of our parishes that were anything but the welcome the disciples gave on Pentecost – stories of people being ignored, shunned or told they were in the wrong church. Yet when I have travelled around the world, I have been received in churches – Anglican and other – with a warm welcome and delight when I want to worship there, most recently so in Jerusalem at St. George’s Cathedral. I have also discovered that I need to learn from my sisters and brothers in Christ who see the Gospel with different eyes than I do.
We live in the most multicultural city in the world! Our diocese has congregations from every part of the globe – China, Japan, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Central America. French, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and English in all its forms are found in worship across our diocese. Many parishes have people from places all around the globe. Yet, despite our desire to be a welcoming church, our clergy and councils do not fully reflect the diversity of our churches. We have work to do.
One of the most difficult aspects of that work is to tackle racism. None of us think we are racist. Yet I know there are subtle ways in which I make assumptions about other people that are based on the colour of their skin, their accent or their behavior, before I have even been introduced to them and know them as a person. Our communities and our social systems struggle with attitudes that reinforce prejudices, and racism lives in our communities and occasionally surfaces in acts of violence or hatred.
Scripture shows us the disciples dismissing a Canaanite woman based on her origins, and Jesus is challenged to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). Later, they will be shocked that Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at the well. The conversion of St. Paul shows God specifically calling Paul to reach out beyond his own community to take the Good News to the Gentiles. Our prejudices are often rooted in our upbringing and past history and need to be constantly challenged to ensure that we retain the openness of Jesus to anyone who joins us in worship and the ministry of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit we celebrate at Pentecost can help us break through the barriers of our prejudices, our attitudes and systemic roadblocks. The Spirit can help us find that new place of shared communication and joy in the Good News of God in Christ – if we will listen! Come, Holy Spirit, come!
By the time you read this article, I will have started my new ministry as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Huron. I want to share my deep thanksgiving for more than 30 years of ministry that I enjoyed in the Diocese of Toronto. Thank you to the many colleagues with whom I have shared ministry – deacons, priests and bishops. Thank you to the lay people who have taught me much about faithful ministry in daily life and living in community together in conflicts and in joys. I now look forward to learning, growing and sharing ministry in a new part of God’s vineyard in the Diocese of Huron. Please pray for me as I will pray for all of you in our shared call for the sake of God’s world.