Dear Friends in Christ:
“How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?”
It’s an old joke, with a number of different punchlines. But the truth in the humour is almost always the same: we don’t like change. When given a choice, we rarely, if ever, choose it.
Yet COVID-19 has proven – beyond a shadow of doubt – that this Church can change. And quickly, if we have to. The last four months have seen us engage in almost unprecedented innovation, creativity, resiliency and collaboration. We have learned how to do almost everything in a new way. Some of these changes have been revelatory. Some of them, we have learned, we may never give up.
The retirement of Bishop Peter Fenty later this year will bring more change to our Diocese. After seven years of episcopal ministry, following ten years as an Executive Archdeacon and over thirty-five years of parish ministry, his experience, wisdom and good humour will be a huge loss to the Diocese of Toronto, the College of Bishops in particular, and our common life together. He will be especially missed in York-Simcoe.
Rather than make the call for an episcopal election, I have gathered a small group of people to form the Episcopal Leadership Working Group. This working group will examine our College of Bishops’ model in the Diocese of Toronto, a system of episcopal leadership that I believe is unique in the Anglican Communion.
Is our current system – a Diocesan Bishop and several (currently four) Suffragan Bishops, situated geographically as Area Bishops – still, after 40 years, the best way to support mission and ministry in the Diocese of Toronto? Is there a different way to utilise our existing bishops, supporting them in new ways through Archdeacons, Regional Deans, the Dean of Toronto and lay leaders, including paid staff and volunteers?
The Episcopal Leadership Working Group, co-chaired by our Vice-Chancellor, Canon Brian Armstrong, ODT, and Ms. Susan Graham Walker, ODT, has met twice now, and has begun the work of researching and evaluating alternative models of episcopal leadership and pastoral oversight as found in similar dioceses, both within Canada and internationally. The other members of the working group are Canon Mary Conliffe, the Rev. Canon Stephen Fields, Mr. Blake Goldring, ODT, Mr. Ben Harris, the Rev. Roshni Jayawardena, Bishop Kevin Robertson, Ms. Mary Rowe, the Rev. Canon Nicola Skinner and the Rev. Brad Smith. They are committed to reporting to me with their findings and recommendations by Ash Wednesday 2021.
I want to assure the clergy and people of the Area of York-Simcoe that we will continue to care for you upon Bishop Peter’s retirement and going forward. Pastoral coverage and resource support will be re-assigned from among the current and retired bishops, as well as leaders and staff in the Diocese.
We have had these conversations in the Diocese before, but the impetus and appetite for change was low. We are in a different place now, in part due to COVID-19 upsetting our norms and rhythms. It is time to re-examine how and why we do things the way that we do. While we may not have chosen change, now is the time for us to consider it, with openness to where the Spirit of God might be blowing. “Behold, I am doing a new thing… do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto