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From Our Bishops

Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew

Dear Friends,

February is a short month to begin with, and with vestry meetings, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday upon us, it seems very full and busy. And yet as this month draws to a close, I am aware that February also marks Black History Month, and I have been thinking a lot about it.

Black History Month gives us a dedicated time to reflect on, and celebrate, the contributions of the Black community in our country, our province, our municipalities and our Church. I am conscious that the UN’s International Decade for the People of African Descent (2015-2024) is approaching its final year. This decade calls us to recognize “that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected.” Our Diocesan Council unanimously endorsed that UN recognition at its February 2021 meeting, and I hope that over the past two years, every parish has found a way to keep Black History Month, to honour and celebrate Black lives in their community, and to invite Black voices to share their stories and experiences to enrich our common life.

This past week on Shrove Tuesday, the clergy of the Diocese were invited to gather, either in person or online, for our annual Clergy Pre-Lenten Day – a retreat day at the cathedral for the clergy to quietly prepare for Lent through worship, fellowship and a series of excellent lectures. A deeply moving moment for me was during the opening Eucharist, hearing the extraordinary voice of Ineza Mugisha singing old spirituals, those musical prayers that sustained the Black community through some of the darkest days of slavery, abuse and violence. Her voice reverberated with the voices of generations of Black people, who not only survived oppression in the past but continue to fight today against exploitation or exclusion with strength, resilience and deep faithfulness in our loving, life-giving and liberating God.

I was also reminded of the same when I had the opportunity to preside at the Eucharist during the Episcopal Church Executive Council in San Francisco. On Feb. 12 we commemorated the life and ministry of the Rev. Absolom Jones. He was the first African American to be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, and he founded the first black Episcopal congregation, in 1794. We are blessed by the Black membership of our Church, and we need to remember and honour the gifts of the ministry they bring and listen to their voices today.

Although this year’s annual Black Anglicans of Canada service will take place at Holy Trinity Church in Winnipeg, Man. (and I encourage you to tune in to it online on March 19), I am pleased to share that this coming Sunday at our own St. James Cathedral, we will be welcoming Irene Moore Davis, the Interim Chair of Black Anglicans of Canada, as the preacher. Irene is an educator, historian, writer, podcaster and community advocate who speaks and writes frequently about equity, diversity, inclusion and African Canadian history. She is a member of All Saints’ in Windsor, Ont., and serves the wider Church on the Dismantling Racism Task Force, as well as on the Strategic Planning Working Group of the Anglican Church of Canada. Her theme and this year’s theme for Black History Month is “Ours to Tell.” You can watch the service on Sunday morning, or later on in the week, on the cathedral’s livestream.

Let us listen well to Black voices this February, and throughout the year, and in this Decade for the People of African Descent. And let us not just listen but hear.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto