By Martha Holmen
Bishop Andrew Asbil is holding five town hall meetings in early May to hear from lay people in every episcopal area about their hopes, fears and dreams for their parishes and the diocese. With clergy gathering in late May at their Clergy Conference, Bishop Asbil says he wants to have a similar chance to get to know the laity.
“It’s an opportunity for me as the new Diocesan to just be able to say words of encouragement and ask questions of the community of leaders, and for leaders to be able to voice where their hopes and aspirations are, as well as their anxieties,” he says. “Large crowds and small crowds are settings that I find really encouraging and give a lot of energy.”
The dates and locations of the meetings are:
- Wednesday, May 1 at 2 p.m. at St. James Cathedral (Cathedral Centre lecture room)
- Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m. at St. Bride, Clarkson
- Thursday, May 2 at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew, Scarborough
- Saturday, May 4 at 10 a.m. at St. Paul, Newmarket
- Saturday, May 4 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul, Uxbridge
With no formal agenda or concrete objectives, Bishop Asbil says his goal is simply to have an open dialogue. “It’s not a legislative time. It’s not about necessarily setting all the courses and charts of where we’re going exactly. It’s really an opportunity for me just to be able to listen very carefully,” he says.
In that way, he’s framing the town halls as an extension of the conversations he’s been having in parishes across the diocese on Sunday mornings. “What I find really helpful is engaging in conversation with people who are living their faith every single day in their own context, who are able to speak with a sense of passion of where their hopes and dreams are. When I leave a parish hall, I’m taking their voices with me,” he says. “I get to dwell with that, and they get to dwell with what I have to say, as well. So there’s kind of this mutual conversation that we’re having.”
Bishop Asbil says he wants to hear from a wide range of people and is encouraging “anybody and everybody” to attend, whether they’re new to the Anglican Church or have been in parish ministry for decades. “Folks who just want to come and listen themselves, people who want to be able to voice their own opinions and insights. Everybody,” he says.
The town halls will also give lay people the opportunity to receive encouragement and insights from Anglicans in other parishes. “I hope that they walk away with a sense of, ‘I’ve been heard. I have been hearing. I understand that I’m not alone in this, that my parish may be in a very similar place as a lot of other parishes,’” says Bishop Asbil. “I’m living with questions about the future, but I’m also encouraged about it.”
As he navigates his first year as diocesan bishop, he says these meetings will begin the conversation about where Anglicans believe God is calling the diocese to go. “It’s not, for me, about solving all the issues. It’s not about diagnosing all the problems,” he says. “My intent is really about saying, how do we actually fill the space with all sorts of opportunities and words that are going to help us move forward?”
Those planning to attend the town hall meetings are asked to register online.