A broad inviting smile, firm handshake and the word “welcome” are the memories we have when Angela and I first met Terence Finlay, Bishop of Toronto, in the summer of 1997. I was beginning my ministry as the incumbent of St. Joseph of Nazareth, Bramalea.
When we entered his office, there was a warmth and genuineness experienced by both of us in our first meeting with Bishop Finlay. He was very interested in getting to know us and our young family. We shared the stories of our Christian journeys and family life. It was a pleasure to engage with him and, in that first encounter, have a sense of the pastoral care and support he offered clergy and their families. I had no idea that six years later I would be working closely with him as his executive assistant and Archdeacon of York.
I got to know Terry, as he was affectionately called, when I became a member of the Postulancy Committee and a regional dean. He gave wise counsel and offered good insight into challenging matters facing the church. His was a calming voice and a non-anxious presence. He offered strong episcopal leadership in the diocese, both pastorally and morally. He was a model of deep faith and prayerful thoughtfulness, and was genuinely concerned about the well-being of the clergy and laity under his episcopal leadership.
In the spring of 2003 I received a call from the Archbishop’s office inviting me to meet with him. I thought I was going to be invited to sit on another committee of the diocese. He quickly got to the purpose of our meeting and asked if I was willing to be considered as a candidate for executive assistant and archdeacon. The position had become vacant when Archdeacon Colin Johnson was elected suffragan bishop. I was surprised when he met with me just before the clergy conference that year and offered me the position.
It was a privilege and distinct honour to serve as his executive assistant and archdeacon. I got to know Terry even better and learned much from him. I witnessed the depth of his faith and his concern for every parish in the diocese. He showed compassion, particularly for the marginalized and minorities in the Church and in the wider community.
Archbishop Finlay was very disciplined in his work. He worked long hours and paid attention to detail, thoroughly reading documents, letters or any material needed for meetings. It was also evident that he cared deeply for the wider Church and appreciated the importance of ecumenical relationships.
One of the qualities I admired about Terry was his willingness to make time for people. He made himself available to clergy and laity who needed to meet with him. I was often asked to join him in meetings with others, and it was evident that he always listened intently. He was very attentive to those with whom he was speaking. Terry was a pastor, mentor, friend and confidante.
Another quality I admired in him was his humility. He engaged with people in all stations of life. He was as comfortable talking and engaging with persons on the street corner or drop-in centre as he was with persons serving in public office.
One of the challenges he faced was the Church’s position on human sexuality. While in office he upheld the doctrine and discipline of the Church as diocesan bishop and metropolitan. On leaving office, he officiated in a same-gender marriage, for which he had to be disciplined by his diocesan bishop, who was once his archdeacon, executive assistant and suffragan bishop. In receiving the admonition, he told his successor in office that he expected nothing less from him and that he was exercising his episcopal ministry responsibly.
I believe that Archbishop Terence was leading the diocese in the direction of being more welcoming to those who were vulnerable, marginalized, voiceless and in the minority. He made a very significant difference in the life of the Diocese of Toronto. It is not surprising, therefore, to hear and read the very complimentary reflections that many have shared about their experiences of him. He exercised a servant ministry throughout his ordained life, and for that we give thanks to God for his example. I was privileged and honoured to have had the opportunity to know him as my bishop, mentor and friend. The Church has been blessed to have had him as a faithful bishop. He will be missed and leaves a legacy of exemplary leadership, humility, compassion and profound faith. We are grateful to his family for having shared him with the Church and assure them of our prayerful support. We give Archbishop Terence Finlay back to his Creator God with the same graciousness we experienced of him. May he rest in peace and rise with Christ in glory.