Dear Friends in Christ,
When I began my episcopal ministry almost exactly two years ago, I imagined that the first few months might be a time of relative stability, an opportunity for me to ease into the work – you know, get my feet wet and find my bearings. And then came the pandemic and with it the swift need to change. As Bob Dylan would say, “For the times, they are a-changin.” And in a time of change, the Church is called to discern, watch and listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit.
This past Sunday, it was announced that after a long and comprehensive search process, the Right Reverend Jenny Andison has been selected to be the next Rector of St. Paul, Bloor Street, starting February 28, 2021. As you know, Bishop Jenny is a Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Toronto and the Area Bishop of York-Credit Valley. With this new appointment, she lays down episcopal jurisdictional authority in the Diocese of Toronto and commences a new ministry, living out her ordination vows as a bishop in a parish setting.
As you also know, Bishop Peter Fenty, Area Bishop of York-Simcoe, has announced his retirement, effective St. Andrew’s Day, November 30, 2020. He takes a well-earned rest from his episcopal duties after a long, multi-faceted ministry as priest, archdeacon and bishop.
Anticipating some of this, around the time of Bishop Peter’s retirement announcement last spring, I created an Episcopal Leadership Working Group (ELWG). The College of Bishops system of episcopal leadership in the Diocese of Toronto has been in place for forty years, and I felt it was time to review whether it makes sense to continue to have four Suffragan Bishops, deployed to regions of the Diocese as Area Bishops, in addition to a Diocesan Bishop. Our system is unique in the Anglican Communion. How do other dioceses, of similar size and complexity, organize themselves? What can we learn from them?
The ELWG, under the able leadership of its chairs, Ms. Susan Graham Walker, ODT, and Vice-Chancellor Canon Brian Armstrong, ODT, has been meeting regularly, working hard at researching other models and considering possible adaptations to our own system. I had given the group a deadline of Ash Wednesday 2021 to make their report, and – despite these recent developments – I do not want to curtail or rush their work. I look forward to hearing from them in February 2021 as planned, at which time I will consider their recommendations and share with the Diocese a way forward.
In the meantime, I want to assure the Diocese, and in particular the Areas of York-Simcoe and York-Credit Valley, that the College of Bishops is committed to caring for every parish. Over the coming weeks, we will develop a plan for adequate episcopal coverage in every Area, ready to implement as transitions occur. We are grateful for the wonderful support of our Area Administrative Assistants, Diocesan staff, Regional Deans and those retired bishops in the Diocese who have expressed a willingness to help. Your prayers for all of us are very welcome and greatly appreciated!
In an already anxious time, when the Church and society at large are already grappling with the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by so much change and upheaval. But our God is a God of renewal and re-creation, always “doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19). We can rest secure in God’s enduring love and care for us as we continue to pull together, rowing our boat in faith and hope, into uncharted waters.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto