Set alight by the Holy Spirit

 on June 1, 2019

We had seen the trailer a few times and said to ourselves, maybe we should watch that movie sometime. And then, the sometime came. Free Solo is a National Geographic film that won the Oscar for best documentary feature in 2018 as well as the Audience Award at TIFF in the same year. It chronicles the journey of rock climber Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan, a 3,200-foot granite rock face in Yosemite National Park. For the uninitiated, a free solo climb is an ascent without the safety of ropes or a harness. It is a climb that provides no room for error. And a free solo climb of El Capitan has never been done before.

The cinematography is breathtaking. The camera moves with the climber like a single unit. Toe holds and hand grips are barely discernible at moments on the way up. At some points, Mr. Honnold contorts, presses upward to leverage enough movement and twists his torso – all while the lens captures the harrowing height. At times, even the camera operators turn away because they can’t bear to look. The documentary touches the emotional strain, the mental concentration and the determination of one climber’s resolve to do it, in spite of the constant risk of death or injury. The movie is not for the faint of heart, but my, is it worth the journey.

Somebody asked me the other day, how did the town hall meetings go? Free Solo came to mind. The first few months of my episcopacy have been marked by listening, learning and climbing a steep learning curve that resembles a rock face at times rather than a simple rise. In stretches, I feel well harnessed, supported and tethered by those who have made the climb before: staff, clergy and lay leaders. And then the town hall meetings were scheduled, five of them in three days in strategic places around the diocese. I wondered who might come and what might be on your minds and hearts. I wondered if folks might hear what was coming to rest on my heart, keeping me up, inspiring me in these early days of ministry as a bishop. I was delighted by the reception. Thirty to forty people each gathered at St. James Cathedral, St. Bride, Clarkson, St. Andrew, Scarborough, St. Paul, Newmarket and St. Paul, Uxbridge.

Each meeting was scheduled to last for two hours. Each went the distance. I asked folks at a couple of junctures, would you like to take a break? No, keep going, they said. I spoke for about 40 minutes and then the balance of our time was spent in Q and A. This is my favourite part, and the most daunting too, like going free solo – after all you just never know what you might be asked: What will happen after General Synod? What kind of counsel will clergy give with respect to MAID? How will you support rural ministry? How will leadership change to meet the demands of the future? And many more questions.

And what is on my heart? At each gathering I shared four words that, for me, set a tone and direction for our various ministries. They are not the four words, as though they are definitive in nature; rather, more like four pillars upon which ministry might stand for this new season of our Church. In no particular order, they are creation, diversity, discipleship and mission. Over the next number of months, you will be hearing much more about each of these.

I was heartened by how folks engaged at the town hall meetings. I appreciated the candor expressed, the playfulness and imagination shared, the hope articulated and the courage required for an unknown future. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Such was the Church coming to fruition on the day of Pentecost when the disciples were set alight by the Holy Spirit. No ropes, no harness, and toe holds and hand grips barely discernible at times; and even in the face of harm, a deep resolve to keep the faith. My, it has been worth the journey. With the Spirit of God and the testimony of neighbours, look what has happened thus far.


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