By Stuart Mann
The Very Rev. Andrew Asbil, rector of St. James Cathedral and dean of Toronto, has been elected coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Toronto. He will become the 12th Bishop of Toronto when Archbishop Colin Johnson, who currently holds the position, retires at the end of the year.
“I am overwhelmed,” he said to about 600 Synod members after his election at the cathedral today. “And I am humbled. To my core. Never in a million years would I have imagined this moment. But I am deeply grateful for it.”
Bishop-elect Asbil, 57, was elected on the third ballot, ahead of Bishop Victoria Matthews, the former diocesan bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand and a former suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Toronto.
The other nominees in the election were Bishop Jennifer Andison, the area bishop of York-Credit Valley; the Rev. Canon David Harrison, the incumbent of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto; Bishop Kevin Robertson, the area bishop of York-Scarborough; and Bishop Riscylla Shaw, the area bishop of Trent-Durham. They withdrew after the second ballot.
Bishop-elect Asbil received 167 votes from the clergy and 198 votes from the laity on the third ballot. Bishop Matthews received 120 votes from the clergy and 106 votes from the laity. They required 145 votes from the clergy and 153 votes from the laity to be elected. Afterwards, Synod passed a motion to declare the election unanimous.
The election needs to be confirmed by the bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. Archbishop Johnson said he will be notifying them today of the results and asking for their response. If the election is confirmed, a consecration service for Bishop-elect Asbil will be held at the end of September, likely Sept. 29, at the cathedral. His installation service as Bishop of Toronto will take place in January. He will automatically become Bishop of Toronto on Jan. 1, 2019 after Archbishop Johnson retires on Dec. 31, 2018.
As the Bishop of Toronto, Bishop-elect Asbil will be the chief pastor of the diocese, which is the most populous in the Canadian church with 54,000 Anglicans on its rolls and 230 congregations and ministries in 183 parishes.
After the election, Bishop-elect Asbil praised and thanked his fellow nominees and said he was looking forward to working with them. He then addressed Synod:
“A word to the clergy of this diocese: I am overwhelmed at how gifted a group you are – how talented and faithful, serving at a time when it is very difficult to be a shepherd of the faith when faith seemingly is not talked about much in the market square. I pledge to walk with you if you will walk with me, to pray for you if you will pray for me, that we will move together and bring faith deeply into the world and the market place.
“To our laity: I have always learned the most important lessons of ministry from lay leaders, who are deeply honest and know what it means to be disciples of Christ, especially in these tumultuous times. I will pray for you if you will pray for me.”
He thanked the congregation of St. James Cathedral, where he has served since 2016. “We were just getting warmed up,” he said. “As I move across the way (to the Diocesan Centre), know that our relationship will continue in a new way and we will always walk together.” He thanked his wife Mary and their five children.
Finally, he said, “This world needs the Church – desperately. This world that so often settles for second best with cynicism and putting others down needs to hear from us what it means to be a community of love and compassion, of being transformed by the gospel of Christ. In a province that has just changed politically, when the winds of change happen and the most vulnerable so often fall into the cracks, it is for the Church to look into those cracks and to help lift up the broken-hearted so that they have hope and are not forgotten.”
He added: “I may be a little frightened right now. In fact, I may be really frightened. But I know that if you walk with me and I walk with you, we will be one always in Christ. And may God give us that glory and hope.”
In an interview afterwards, he said he is looking forward to working with and learning from Archbishop Johnson in the coming months. “I’ve long admired his leadership and the way he’s been able to create space for the entire diocese. It’s an ethos that I share with him. It’s one thing to admire that from a distance, but now suddenly I have to imagine slipping into his shoes and taking on the leadership and that’s somewhat overwhelming and intimidating and yet exciting. This is an opportunity for me to enter into a time of deep listening and building trust with the diocese and for the diocese to build trust with me.”
Archbishop Johnson said he was delighted with Bishop-elect Asbil’s election. “He is very capable, with a lot of depth in the life of the Church. He will bring a huge number of gifts to the ministry of bishop.”
He said Bishop-elect Asbil will join him full-time at the Diocesan Centre by the end of September. “I will spend time working with him, to help him learn some of the ropes and see some of the parameters of the job. I will ask also ask him to spend some time going to the parishes in the diocese and getting to know them.”
Before the election started, Chancellor Clare Burns announced that Synod had received a formal protest with regards to two of the nominees. She said the Nominations Committee was satisfied that all the nominees were clergy in good standing and that the Synod could proceed. Bishop John Chapman of the Diocese of Ottawa, who presided, ruled that the Synod could and should proceed.
Bishop-elect Asbil is a graduate of Huron College in London, Ont. He served as a parish priest in the Diocese of Niagara before becoming the incumbent of the Church of the Redeemer, Bloor St., in Toronto in 2001. In 2016 he became the rector of St. James Cathedral and the dean of Toronto. He is the chair of the diocese’s Remuneration and Compensation working group and has served on Diocesan Council, the diocese’s Executive Board and many other committees and boards. His father, Walter Asbil, was the Bishop of Niagara in the 1990s. “My father and I have always shared the same kind of visions for ministry, and to find myself now in the same office is a deep joy – beyond words,” he said.