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From Our Bishops

Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew

Dear Friends,

On the playing field of the Baker Memorial Girls High School in Kottayam, Kerala is a large open-air tent. Not the kind of tent you might see in a campground. This canopied structure seats at least 3,000 people. Every year, the Diocese of Central Kerala of the Church of South India gathers for an annual convention under the big top. The week-long gathering begins on a Sunday evening. On each subsequent day, ministry areas would assemble to discuss issues of faith, formation and mission – Sunday school teachers, children, youth, outreach ministries, schoolteachers, administrators, clergy, women’s fellowship, choristers and so on each taking the time to be together, to pray and to celebrate ministry.

Each evening was devoted to worship, prayer and listening to a sermon offered by different pastors. Each sermon was an hour in length. My wife Mary and I were invited by Bishop Cherian to join the Diocese for the convention, to deepen our relationship with the Church of South India and for me to preach two one-hour sermons during the week. When you are used to preaching for 15 to 20 minutes on a Sunday morning, an hour is a different challenge, especially with simultaneous translation into Malayalam. The topic of my second sermon was The Feeding of the 5,000. Little did we know just how the story would play out under the big top.

With each passing day the crowds would get larger and larger; 1,000 strong would become 1,500. There were more than 5,000 in attendance at the closing Eucharist. The tent could not contain the number. The overflow throng gathered under trees and in the wings. The singing was electric, the congregation truly present and joy-filled. The sermon was passionate. The distribution of communion took time; it takes time to offer communion to that many people. A paten heaping with wafers would soon be emptied and then replenished. And the people just kept coming. Hands – young and elderly, smooth and wrinkled, weak and strong – would open to receive with grace and patience. It was truly a holy moment.

At the close of the service, the liturgical party recessed through the crowd, and I was moved beyond words by simply walking amongst so many, exchanging eye contact, being greeted by joy-filled smiles, and feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. What I did not know at the time was that with the final note of the closing hymn came the invitation to stay and share in a meal. The Church of South India literally provides a meal for all who are assembled. Many of our congregations will host pancake suppers on Shrove Tuesday. I remember how much work that was. Imagine feeding 5,000 people.

You give them something to eat, Jesus tells his disciples in the story. Five loaves and two fish pass through the crowd and 12 baskets full of leftovers remain. We are summoned always to dwell in the abundant presence of God’s love.

The Diocese of Central Kerala has almost 400 congregations, over 100 missions, over 50 schools, 1,200 schoolteachers and 300 clergy. Mary and I attended almost every session through the week, bringing greetings, prayers and reflections from the Diocese of Toronto. Beyond the tent we had the opportunity to visit a number of the Church-run schools, specialty ministries, restaurants, clothing shops, food banks, embroidery ministry, fabric shop, rubber tree plantations and more. And I count it as an honour to have preached at Holy Trinity Cathedral on the first Sunday and Church of the Ascension on the last Sunday.

The Diocese of Toronto has a long relationship with the Church of South India, and we are blessed to have a CSI congregation in our midst. Kerala is a beautiful place, known to many as “God’s Own Country.” We were moved by the hospitality and welcome, the sheer scope of ministry and the friendships that have deepened and the opportunity to serve together as churches in communion. Bishop Cherian and his wife Jesse will be visiting the Diocese of Toronto in March and April and we look forward to welcoming them in our midst.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto