Canon missioner becomes full-time role

Posted on August 24, 2017

By Stuart Mann

For the past 10 years, the Rev. Canon Susan Bell has been speaking to a school community of 650 young students, staff and faculty three times each week about faith and life. This experience, combined with being the associate priest in her faithful parish of St. Martin in-the-Fields, Toronto, for many years has formed a good grounding for the work of a missioner.

Indeed, as she retires from Havergal College, an independent girls’ school in Toronto, to take up the diocese’s canon missioner position on a full-time basis on Sept. 1, she relishes the opportunity to not only share the Gospel with people, but to empower other Anglicans in the diocese to do so as well.

The Rev. Canon Susan Bell preaches at St. James Cathedral, where she is an honorary assistant. Photo by Michael Hudson.

“We are followers of the Way,” she says. “Sharing the Gospel and sharing our faith with people who don’t yet know the name of Jesus is what we’re about.”

Being the diocese’s canon missioner is to have “a heart and orientation” towards people who do not know Christianity or have left the church, she says. “My work is to help us focus on our mission again, and I’ll do that any way that makes sense. I’m pleased and honored to place any skills that I have at the service of mission in our diocese.”

She plans to continue with the work she has been doing for the past five years as the diocese’s half-time canon missioner, only now she will have more time for it. One of her top priorities is to support the diocese’s Reach Grants initiative – small grants that are given to individuals or churches to try new ways of sharing the faith with the unchurched and dechurched.

Since 2011, the grants have funded 70 short-term missions, at least three of which have been turned into new congregations. “We’ve seen incredible creativity with these,” she says. “It is so heartening. They are mostly lay led, and the ideas are put together enthusiastically by people who really, truly understand their context and the people around them. It’s a lot of thinking and industry and having such a care for those who don’t know Jesus’s name yet.”

Another area she is keen to support is planting new churches. “We’re really at the beginning of this process and we’re learning how to do it and how not to do it. I’m interested in exploring a relational approach to church planting – mother churches planting new parishes and maintaining that relationship, in terms of guidance, prayer and material support. I hope and pray this becomes the model and ambition of every parish possible in the diocese.

“I’m also deeply interested in learning from the work of our talented rebooters – those leadership teams that have nurtured new life in parishes that appeared to have run their course. This is a particular skill, and one that I hope we can harvest and share widely with one another.”

She is also passionate about new forms of theological education. “If we’re training a new generation of leaders, both lay and ordained, there needs to be a pathway of education that takes into account this missional age we live in. We don’t want to lose our heritage of theological education, but we are in a new age and the fact is that we need some new skills – or more accurately, to resurrect some old skills: Christian apologetics that seek to speak Christ into the culture.”

One of her new duties as canon missioner will be to support the work of school chaplains, mainly by meeting with them and raising their profile in the diocese. Seven independent schools in the diocese have Anglican chaplains, whose roles can include leading regular prayer services, teaching religious education classes and providing pastoral support to their school communities.

“The work they do is often hidden in comparison with other forms of ministry, but they live out their Christian lives in largely secular communities,” she says. “Through living witness, they influence many young hearts and minds every day. This is important missional ministry and I look forward to working with my colleagues.”

She praised the work of the Rev. Canon Douglas Graydon, who as the diocese’s Coordinator of Chaplaincy Services for the past 15 years supported the school chaplains. The chaplaincy services department is being restructured and Canon Graydon’s new job title is Coordinator of Health Care Chaplaincy. In that role, he will provide support to hospital chaplains and parish nurses. He will carry out his duties while serving as the new priest-in-charge of St. Andrew-by-the-Lake, Toronto.

“I’d like to thank Douglas for all his work over the years with the school chaplains,” says Canon Bell. “He has in large part been our support and has created community for us. I’ve really appreciated that.”

As she prepares to leave Havergal College (her official retirement date as the school’s chaplain is Sept. 1), she looks back with fondness at the place that has been her second home for the past decade. “I will miss it so much,” she says. “I have grown so much in ministry there – and in fact the ministry itself has grown as well. It’s taught me a huge amount. I have deep relationships that I hope will continue, because I value them a lot. I have nothing but respect for the kind of work my colleagues there do day in and day out. I love the kids; that’s what I’ll miss the most – the energy of those young, intelligent, strong women who are going to be such a force in our world. Which is why the work of school chaplaincy is so important – to be there as a witness, to show the face of not only Christ but the church and being a force for good in our world. It really makes such a difference.”

The school plans to host a farewell celebration for Canon Bell before the end of the year. For more information, visit www.havergal.on.ca.

Archbishop Colin Johnson says he is excited that Canon Bell will be taking on the canon missioner role full-time. “This will allow us to put an extra-special focus on the whole variety of missional opportunities that exist for us today,” he says. “She brings the experience of being a chaplain in a girls’ school related to the church, but which is really front-line missional work.”

While this is the first time the diocese has had a full-time missioner, Archbishop Johnson says this work recalls the diocese’s missional roots and the challenges faced by its first leaders. “In the early days of our diocese, it was a missionary diocese. As the community grew and changed, Bishop Strachan helped to reimagine how the church needed to function in a new context,” he says. “I think this is a critical juncture for us to reclaim our tradition of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.”