By Stuart Mann
More than 160 years ago, Bishop John Strachan wrote to the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Toronto, expressing his hope of establishing an endowment that would fully fund the office of the Bishop of Toronto.
The endowment, he wrote, “will lay a sure foundation for the Church of God in Canada for all future time, and also provide for her rapid increase.”
Bishop Strachan, who was the first Bishop of Toronto and the founder of the diocese, did not live to see his dream realized. But a new trust fund may see it come true after all.
The John Strachan Trust, named after the indefatigable bishop who left a lasting mark upon the city and province, had its official kickoff on May 23 at the Eglinton Grand, a former movie theatre and historic landmark in midtown Toronto.
The gala evening, attended by about 100 people, included a short film, comments by Archbishop Colin Johnson – who is the 11th and current Bishop of Toronto – and a cameo appearance by Bishop Strachan, played by actor John Rammell, a member of St. James Cathedral.
The evening began with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, followed by opening remarks by Stephen Rodaway, ODT, chair of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto Foundation’s board of directors. The foundation is the diocese’s key fundraising arm and manages several endowments, including The John Strachan Trust. It also provides support and consultation to parishes for legacy giving and parish endowments.
The centrepiece of the evening was a film that showed Archbishop Johnson carrying out his ministry as the Bishop of Toronto – leading Synod, teaching and preaching, celebrating the Eucharist, advocating on behalf of the poor, instituting clergy into their new parishes, meeting laity and more.
The film was shot over six months by videographer Nicholas Bradford-Ewart with the support of Martha Holmen, the diocese’s Digital Communications Coordinator, and Michael Cassabon, the diocese’s Manager of Major Gifts and Legacy Giving.
“Our goal isn’t just to raise money – it’s to help people understand what the Bishop of Toronto does, and we thought a great way to do that would be to make this video,” says Mr. Cassabon, who works on behalf of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto Foundation. “We wanted to do something really fresh and engaging that captured the diversity of the Bishop of Toronto’s ministry.”
The film opens with an evocative scene of Bishop Strachan, played by Mr. Rammell, writing his letter to the people of the diocese, circa 1854. It then fast-forwards to the present with scenes of Archbishop Johnson, who narrates the video. It ends with a stunning aerial shot of St. James Cathedral and the Toronto skyline.
The film was shown on the theatre’s big screen and watched by the guests from their seats. The art deco theatre, built in 1936, was the ideal venue for the gala. “We wanted it to be fun and whimsical,” says Mr. Cassabon, who organized the event. “We wanted to do something that would perhaps intrigue people and pique their curiosity enough to get them to come out and see what it was all about.”
In his comments following the film, Archbishop Johnson reflected on his final year in office – he is retiring at the end of the year – and the importance of establishing a firm financial footing for those who will follow him in that role. “I am only the 11th Bishop of Toronto since 1839, and I hope there will be 111,” he said. “But it’s not about me – it’s about the office of the bishop. It’s my hope that as I leave office and as another bishop takes office in this long line of continuity, we may be well on our way to realizing John Strachan’s dream of a fully funded endowment for the perpetual sustainability of the work and ministry of the bishop.”
He added: “The world is changing and will continue to change, but the mandate of the Church is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to form disciples, and that will remain because it is the mandate given to the Church by Christ himself. At the end of the day, this campaign is about ensuring there are funds to do the work that Jesus calls us to do as a Church and as a diocese.”
The Bishop of Toronto is the chief pastor of the diocese, providing oversight to some 230 congregations and ministries in 183 parishes. The office of the Bishop of Toronto is currently funded by an endowment and a portion of the diocese’s operating budget. The John Strachan Trust seeks to raise $2.5 million, of which about $800,000 has already been pledged or received. If the trust reaches its goal, the costs of the office of the Bishop of Toronto will be offset in the diocesan operating budget by income from the trust rather than parish assessment.
Mr. Cassabon is confident the trust will reach its target. “As Bishop John Strachan wrote, we can raise the money if we make people ‘fully alive to the importance of the measure,’” he says.