Three priests of the Diocese of Toronto – the Rev. Riscylla Shaw, the Rev. Canon Kevin Robertson and the Rev. Canon Jenny Andison – were consecrated bishops on Jan. 7 at St. Paul, Bloor Street in Toronto. About 800 people attended the two-and-half-hour service, which included the traditional laying-on-of-hands, readings from scripture in Plains Cree and Cantonese, and liturgical dancing.
“It’s a very humbling and deepening experience for me, and it feels like a new day for the church,” said Bishop Shaw afterwards. “I was overwhelmed at many points in the service with the gravity of what we were undertaking and with the love, encouragement and the feeling of the Holy Spirit that was in the church.”
Bishop Robertson shared his thoughts. “It’s a really wonderful day for me and for my family and for the church,” he said. He recalled the moment in the service when 20 bishops, both active and retired, laid their hands on his head for the apostolic succession. “It was a feeling of real weight – the weight of the office and the weight of responsibility, but I also felt incredibly supported.”
Bishop Andison said the experience was overwhelming. “I feel greatly supported by the prayers of people across the diocese and the country and around the world. It’s such a privilege to be part of the Toronto chapter of the worldwide family of Team Jesus, and to be part of that in a leadership capacity. I’m really excited about the future.”
Archbishop Colin Johnson, the Bishop of Toronto and Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, began the service by acknowledging that the church stood on traditional territories of the Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations and the Metis Nation. “We recognize the enduring presence of Indigenous peoples on this land,” he said.
Standing on the chancel steps, Archbishop Johnson then read from a prepared statement. “As we gather in this sacred act to worship God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to confer Holy Orders, and to share in the holy meal, I want to acknowledge that I have received a formal letter of objection to these consecrations from some clergy and lay people of the diocese,” he said. “It contains arguments against the canonical and ecclesial validity of these consecrations. I have read and considered their arguments. I am grateful that they have chosen to make their objections known to me in this way with great dignity. I thank them that many of them have made the difficult decision to be here today – despite their serious reservations – because of the love and desire they bear for the unity and faithful witness of the Church to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While it is our intention to proceed today, I also want all of you and the whole diocese to know that I am engaged in a serious and mutually committed consultation with those objecting, to find effective ways that our ministries might flourish together in the highest degree of communion possible.
“There are those present who come with joy, hope and celebration of this moment and those who are anxious, dismayed and hurting,” he continued. “This is Epiphany, and like the first Epiphany, people from all walks of life – friends and strangers, with differing experiences and competing expectations – have made a challenging journey to gather in this place today. All are welcome here, for we come at our Lord’s invitation as members together of Christ’s body, the Church, and as guests at the banquet that Christ himself hosts for us.”
The Rev. Chris Harper, the diocese’s Indigenous Native Priest, read the first reading (Isaiah 60:1-6) in Plains Cree, and Marilyn Yeung, ODT, of St. George on Yonge, Toronto, read the second reading (Ephesians 3:1-12) in Cantonese.
Bishop Peter Fenty, the area bishop of York-Simcoe, gave a powerful sermon based on Matthew 2:1-12, the arrival of the Magi and the Epiphany. “It’s God’s intention that the Church, the people of God, welcome all. My brothers and sisters, in this Church – the Body of Christ – there is room for every single person, of every race and creed. There is room for every person irrespective of their position in life, whether gay or straight, whether liberal or conservative, whether high church or low church, there is a place in God’s church for everyone. And that’s worth saying thanks be to God.”
After the sermon, the three bishops-elect stood in front of Archbishop Johnson to begin the consecration rite. They said and signed their declarations of faith. Then stating, in a reference to the letter of objection received, that “not all concur,” Archbishop Johnson asked the congregation whether anyone further had any reason why the service should not proceed. There were no further objections.
For many people watching, the highlight of the consecration rite was when the 20 bishops in attendance gathered around each bishop-elect for the apostolic succession. Among them were Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church’s National Indigenous Bishop. Some retired bishops from the Diocese of Toronto also took part, including Archbishop Terence Finlay. All the dioceses in the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario were represented.
Another poignant moment came as the newly consecrated bishops donned their vestments and waited to receive their pectoral cross, episcopal ring and Bible. The church fell silent and remained quiet as Archbishop Johnson placed mitres on their heads and presented them with their pastoral staffs. As they turned to face the congregation, he said, “I present Riscylla, Kevin and Jenny, bishops in the Church of God.” The congregation broke into loud and sustained applause.
The new bishops together then said, “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” and the congregation replied, “And also with you.”
During the offertory hymn that followed, liturgical dancers carrying colourful banners performed at the front of the church. The offertory will support FaithWorks, the diocese’s annual outreach appeal, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
After the service, many stopped to greet the new bishops and have their photos taken with them. There was much laughter and hugging.
“Today was a wonderful, Spirit-filled day,” said Archbishop Johnson in an interview. “There were people here from all parts of the diocese. It was wonderful that people from a whole lot of different traditions and theological positions were able to come and be here, even if for some of them it was a struggle. I really appreciate the fact that we’re continuing to work together to build up the body of Christ.
“I think there was a real spirit of waiting on God in this place,” he said. “It was a very spiritual moment and I’m sure that was true for those who found it painfully difficult as well as for those for whom it was a great celebration. The Spirit is there to both console and to challenge, to comfort and to impel us to move forward – and calls us into one.”
All of the new bishops said they couldn’t wait to get started in their new ministry.
“I want to meet the people and get to know them,” said Bishop Shaw, who is the area bishop of Trent-Durham. “I want to find ways to see Jesus at work in the congregations, to visit the hospitals, chaplaincies, prison chaplaincy, streetwork in Peterborough, the outreach ministries for kids as they return the school – all these things and more. I want to see where Christ is at work in so many different ways in our diocese.”
Bishop Robertson said he is looking forward to visiting the parishes of York-Scarborough, where he is area bishop, and meeting the clergy and churchwardens. “Some of the retired bishops have warned me about pacing myself and making sure I don’t try to be everywhere all at once, and I take that to heart, but I also have a pretty rigorous schedule over the next six months. I’m scheduled to be in a lot of parishes between now and the end of June, so my goal is to really get to know people in the first six months.”
Bishop Andison, who is the area bishop of York-Credit Valley, said, “There are a number of vacancies in York-Credit Valley and I’m looking forward to working with the lay leaders of those parishes to find the right leadership going forward. And obviously I’m looking forward to getting to know the clergy.”