“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NRSV)
In this familiar passage from the Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul speaks of the dissolving of our differences so that we may claim our primary identity in Christ. But that one-ness is understood by remembering that we come from different places and have distinct stories to tell. We are strengthened in our relationships as we pay attention to the different faces, languages and identities which are woven together into the rich tapestry of our life in Christ.
It has been said that Toronto is the most diverse city in the world, and if you look across our diocese, you will see and hear Anglicans from all corners of the Communion, worshipping and ministering in a variety of languages and styles. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being the area bishop for many of these communities, as we have celebrated together in Tamil, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Tagalog and Indigenous languages. And over the past year alone, I have met newcomers to Canada who are now in our pews from many different places, including Nigeria, Ghana, Syria, India, Columbia and Melanesia. When Bishop Susan Bell served as our Canon Missioner, she often described the Diocese of Toronto as “the Anglican Communion in microcosm.” It certainly is!
At times, we have done a good job of recognizing and affirming the diversity among us. Later this month, on Sunday, Feb. 23, Anglicans will gather at St. Paul, Bloor Street for the annual Black History Service. For 25 years, this service has celebrated the Black heritage of our Church with liturgical innovation, creativity and joy. This year’s preacher is the Rev. Canon Stephen Fields. I hope you will plan to be there!
We have also dedicated considerable resources – money, time, prayer, clergy and lay leadership skills – to nurture diverse church communities across the diocese, and many Anglicans from around the globe have been able to find familiar, welcoming and accessible congregations here. We have also made a priority of celebrating the beautiful diversity within the LGBTQ2S+ community as many of us, wearing Anglican garb, march in the Pride Parade every June.
What we have not done very well is to really change the culture of our Church to eradicate all forms of discrimination that dishonour the rich diversity of the whole people of God. At the very core of the Gospel, embedded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the Divine pledge of love for the whole world. When certain people are treated as “other” due to their skin colour, culture, ethnicity, language, gender, sexuality or identity, we betray the Gospel of Christ, and fail to live up to the baptismal covenant in which we promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
So how will we change? I have a few hopes:
- I hope we will put resources in place to make anti-racism training a top priority over the coming year. It is long overdue in our Church.
- I hope we will create an “Officer for Diversity” staff position within the diocese. The one who fills this role should be experienced in this work, and unambiguously committed to the equity and full inclusion of all people within the life of our Church, without exception.
- I hope we will draw on the experience of the many folks in our pews who know what it’s like to be “othered.” We need to hear their pain, as well as their dreams for respect, dignity and inclusion. We have many people in our midst who are leading the way in the dismantling of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other barriers that divide and injure the people of God. They have much to teach us.
Our identity in Christ has at its core the recognition and celebration of our amazing God-given diversity. May our Church move toward this goal with renewed passion in the coming year.