Skip To Content
From Our Bishops

Invest in God’s harvest, says Archbishop in his charge to Synod

The following is the Bishop’s Charge delivered to Synod by Archbishop Colin Johnson at the beginning of the 154th Regular Session of Synod on Nov. 25.

Let me begin my charge by painting a couple of pictures for you. Some of you have seen these pictures before, but I want to repaint them for you. Last February, I was preaching at a parish in Harare, Zimbabwe. It was an exciting place to be. It was full of life and energy, there was music and dancing and singing, the word of God was proclaimed and the sacraments faithfully administered. It was an amazing gathering of a thousand people. The only issue was that they were in a tent. There were more people there than here, and they were in a tent and spilling out beyond it, because their parish church had been locked.

A renegade archbishop, Nolbert Kunonga, who has been denounced and deposed by the church of Central Africa, refuses to give up power, and with the support of President Mugabe and his forces, he continues to exercise power and exclude all the clergy and all the people from their church, claiming them as his. I was called to preach to that people as a member of the Anglican Communion, the wider church. I spoke, linking what was happening there with what is happening throughout the world, and I told them, ‘You people here, you face persecution and suffering, but you are not alone. You are part of a world-wide communion and we know about what is happening here and we are holding you in prayer.’ There was stunned silence and then they broke out in ululations because they had thought that they were alone. And then I had to proclaim the Gospel. It was a Gospel that I would not have chosen, except that it was the lectionary Gospel reading for the day, used across the whole church. It was from Matthew 5: “When your enemy strikes you on the cheek, turn the other cheek.”

It was not the Gospel I would have chosen that morning. But it comes immediately after the Beatitudes and is a sort of commentary on the Beatitudes. It’s not a Gospel, as I said to them, that talks about passive lying down in the face of oppression. It’s not about passively receiving continued violence. It is about the active breaking of the cycle of violence, so no more do you continue on this deathly spiral.

It’s about turning to the Beatitudes as a new way of life, a different world, a different way of seeing things, a different way of living. It’s an expression of hope, a hope that the world as it is, is not the way the world will be, because God is active and present in the world, and he’s making all things new.

A couple of weeks later, I was in Dar-es-Salam. Fascinating place, steaming hot, just near Zanzibar, that wonderful, mystic, exotic place, and also the place of slaves. In Dar-es-Salam was a gathering of 19 bishops, mostly from Canada and East Africa, where we were talking about the things that separate us and yet we found that in spite of all the  differences that we have—differences of culture, differences of Scriptural interpretations, differences of theological understanding—yet there is something that binds us together that is even deeper than that, that we’ve been baptized into the life of Jesus Christ, that we’ve been given new life Christ, and we are bound together by the Holy Spirit, that we are linked by word and sacrament, nourished for mission in the world. And we discovered we need each other and we are bound to each other, and that in spite of differences, we can be together.

And then we were together, because the local parish nurse took us to visit a slum area and one of the places we visited was a little hovel, with less space than this dais, and in that hovel there was a man lying on a bed, dying of AIDS. The 19 bishops crowded into the tiny space and one of the bishops took his hand and prayed in Swahili with the man. I felt awful. I felt that I had invaded a dying man’s last vestige of dignity. And I stood there and I could hardly stop from weeping and feeling like a voyeur. And I went out and I talked to the parish nurse and I expressed my feelings about how I had invaded his space and she said: “You are wrong. You have brought him dignity, because the church has come to see him, the church from all over the world, represented by you bishops, has come to this man’s house, to his sick bed, to pray with him. He no longer is a non-person in the community, he has status and dignity, because the church showed up.” It’s an act of hope and compassion. Who is my neighbhour?

For the past 40 days, very clearly at the Cathedral and the diocesan offices, we have had new neighbours in our park. New neighbours with a very diffuse message. It was hard to know what they were representing when you saw a march that said: ‘Free Tibet,’ ‘Marijuana will win the world,’ ‘Down with capitalism’ and ‘We’re the 99 per cent.’

But they touched something real and deep in the psyche of our world today, an anxiety and a disenfranchisement and a sense of huge loss, but what they also touched was really an active hope. That the world as it is, is not the world as it should be. One of the slogans that I saw at one of the tents really struck me. It said: “As you look around the world, does it feel right?” Well, no it doesn’t feel right. I think raising the issue was important, and ultimately decisions were made that the centre of focus was moving from the ideas and issues to who occupies which territory, which was not the point. But I am proud of our Cathedral and of our Dean, the Vicar, the associate priest and the lay people of the Cathedral church, who reached out into that community, to their neighbours, who brought people together, talked with the police and with the occupiers, who talked with the local business community and kept conversations going, who brought together concerns for the vulnerable who came into the camp and protected their concerns.

They began to proclaim the gospel and teach something about the faith to a group of people who had never had faith. These people came to the campsite and they asked if they could use the space and were told yes, but leave some space for people to get into the Cathedral and somebody said: “Something happens here on Sunday?” And they discovered something did, four times a day, every day, the bells of the Cathedral summon people to worship. And the Cathedral was open.

What we need to do now is to help continue our long-standing work of advocacy and direct service regarding poverty, homelessness, breaking cycles of violence, about proclaiming hope that the world as we know it today is not the finished world, is not the end of the world, not God’s ultimate plan, but that God has a new plan for us and that we are called to join business, government, civil society, ordinary people, in building a community of hope and compassion.

That’s what this diocese is about, building communities of hope and compassion, joining in God’s mission to the world, joining in that mission to reconcile and heal God’s wonderful and beloved, but wounded and broken world. We come together at synod, a meeting place, not just to talk but to pray, to listen, to work, to learn, to discern the thread of God’s mission to reconcile and restore his creation, to see the larger context.

Part of that larger context is the environment in which we find ourselves. Our environment is not incidental, it’s not a side-bar, our environment is the very place that God’s saving work is done. We have a long tradition in Anglicanism, theological, liturgical, emotional and practical, about dealing with the world around us, with the creation. We are an incarnational people, shaped largely by a Benedictine spirituality, where place is very important. We have much to learn from our aboriginal brothers and sisters about place, the land. For Anglicans, the three great feasts are Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, but it seems to me Christmas, Easter and Harvest, at least looking at the numbers.

The opening chapter of scripture talks about God’s creation of a universe that he named good. We received our first commission to be stewards of that creation. The last book of the bible, the story of God’s recreation, his new creation, not simply a destruction of the world, but its fulfillment, its healing and its perfection. At the heart of the Gospel is John’s great declaration that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that the world through him might be saved—the world, the cosmos, not just us.

This is not just about recycling or composting, although that might be a good start for some people. Most of us need to learn to live simply, so that others can simply live. The Occupy movement’s slogan, I think, might be more useful: “A few might be guilty, but all of us are responsible.” And so we spend time at this synod considering our environment, our place in it, our responsibility, how it is part of God’s mission.

In your packet, you received the five marks of mission that the Anglican Communion has identified. Those marks stretch our perception of what mission is, the mission of the whole communion, of what God is up to in our neighbourhood, and care of the environment is part of that. It is not an add-on, but an essential aspect of our missional emphasis in this diocese. It may well be a point of connection with people who are passionately concerned about our world but as yet do not know the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even as they are responding, God’s spirit is already active in their own lives.

Missional focus, that is what we are about. We talked about moving towards a mixed-economy church, a healthy inherited church alongside new church plants and fresh expressions, new ways of doing things. It’s about sharing the gospel, it’s about building communities of hope and compassion where all people, not just those who inhabit our church buildings, will have a place. Both are vitally important. Both/and, not either/or.

And we have examples all around the diocese and you will see some of them highlighted in that video. It’s risky, exciting, but it takes work. Not all ventures are going to be rewarded with the success that we wish for, but the seed needs to be scattered. Some will grow, some will thrive, and some will die, but the harvest will be overwhelming. It is God’s harvest, and we need pray about it, we need to work hard about it, we need to invest in it.

And that’s what we are doing with the Our Faith-Our Hope Campaign. It’s missionally directed. Everything we are doing in this diocese at this point is missionally directed, decisions we are making, the strategies we are trying to engage in, the way we are evaluating what we are doing. Our Faith-Our Hope is designed to invest in the mission of the church, in leadership development, in new church planting, in communications which go beyond the quill pens that I inherited. It’s about retrofitting our heritage buildings for mission, about reconfiguring ministries for effective mission and service in their neighbourhoods.

We have already heard that $30 million of our $50 million goal has been achieved. It’s not money put in the bank of a rainy day, but to invest in ministry and mission. Go fishing in deep waters; take the keys to the car and put a little gas in it and go somewhere. And that’s what we are doing with our budget, too. The operating budget has been developed to focus on mission, provision of staffing for church planting, for missional leadership development, for training of leaders, for communication strategy that reaches out to the world.

Did you hear what synod is about? Mission. God’s mission. God’s mission that’s going on whether we want it to go on or not, God’s mission in which God is inviting us as active participants.

I want to close with thanksgiving and some personal notes. I want to thank Ellen, my wife, who happens to be here; she puts up with me and keeps me sane and tells me to stop once in a while. She also tells me to go once in a while. I want to thank the College of Bishops. I want to thank Peter Fenty and Elizabeth Hardy for their work. I want to thank Mary and Jennifer who keep me ordered and sane, and the incredible staff we share in this diocese, who do work above and beyond what you can imagine. They are treasured right across this whole church, across this country, and across the world. You may have no idea of how much expertise and value they give us.

I want to thank the incredible clergy and laypeople of this diocese, who make this church what it is, Jesus uses your hands, your feet, your mouths, your ears, your eyes, to be his in the world and you make a difference.

I want to thank our Chancellor, Vice-chancellor, and Registrar, for keeping us legal. But more than that, for giving us wisdom to deal with issues that would hamstring us if we didn’t pay attention. I wear an episcopal ring. Inside that ring I had carved the motto that I chose when I became bishop of this diocese: Pro Ecclesia Dei—on behalf of the church of God, in favour of, working for the church of God. That’s my motto, that’s what I do, that’s what gets me up every morning.

I was consecrated on the feast of St. Barnabas and I take Barnabas as a model for myself, not that I live up to Barnabas many days. But if you remember, Barnabas starts off by assisting the poor and the vulnerable, freely. He is generous. Barnabas also identifies newcomers and new leadership and brings them into the community and advocates on their behalf. He goes out on mission to others and brings the newcomer along and allows the newcomer actually to take over and become more important than he is.

He is an encourager of the faith; he gets into fights but reconciles, and it is all done for the honour and glory of God and the building up of the church. It seems to me that my role is to be an encourager and a bearer of faith, a bearer of hope, a bearer of compassion. Building communities of hope and compassion is my vision for the diocese. To be an Advent people. To hold up a vision of Jesus Christ who can make all things new.

This summer I was privileged to be in the Holy Land for the very first time, and I got one Sunday morning to preside at a Eucharist on the Mount of Transfiguration. You know how Jesus went up the Mount of Transfiguration with three of his disciples, and was transfigured, and the disciples saw a glimpse of the glory of God.

We spend a lot of time trying to figure things out. Figuring out what’s going on, figuring out how we are going to do things, figuring out who Jesus is, figuring out what our role as church is, figuring out what we are going to do next, figuring out how we are going to get the resources for it, but transfiguring is actually beyond that. Transfiguring means beyond figuring. You move beyond figuring if parishes catch a glimpse of the glory of God. They catch a glimpse of the big picture. They catch a glimpse of what God is calling us to. They catch a glimpse of God’s mission for the world. They catch a glimpse of God’s purposes. And everything else falls into place.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples heard the voice of God. “This is my beloved Son. Follow him. Listen to him.” And that’s what we are trying to do. Listen to him. Follow him. Be his disciples.

The Lutherans have a wonderful prayer at their evensong:

Oh, God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown, give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ Our Lord.