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From Our Bishops

Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew

Dear Friends,

I invite you therefore, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and almsgiving…. Over the last number of weeks, I have written about four of the five disciplines. And today, the last word is penitence. According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, a penitent is one regretting and wishing to atone for sins.

I still have vivid memories of that moment in Grade 2 when I was introduced to the idea of confession and penitence. In those days, my older brother and I attended a French Catholic school on the West Island of Montreal. We were the only Anglos and non-Catholics attending Ecole Ste. Georges. The Friday before First Communion, the whole Grade 2 class was ushered to the church to prepare for the big occasion by making their first confession. As we walked to the church, I repeated again and again to my teacher, Je suis Anglican. Je suis Anglican. As though somehow that declaration would be enough to receive special dispensation. And it was enough. While my classmates lined up outside the confessional, waiting for the little light to glow green, I sat in a pew with my teacher, absolutely mesmerized by what I was seeing. What on earth goes on in there? I wondered.

Live long enough and you collect more than your fair share of regret, of sin that clings, of failures that sting, of hurts that persist. Like fasting, almsgiving, prayer and self-examination, penitence is a discipline. It takes practice to assume the posture of humility and contrition, to admit the sins you have committed or the hurts that you still harbour. Sunday by Sunday, the General Confession invites us to contemplate how we have fallen short both as individuals and as Church. In the season of Lent, many communities begin Sunday worship with the Penitential Rite on page 214 in the BAS. We begin with a broken and contrite heart. Side by side, we express the words of regret and anticipate a word of forgiveness.

Sometimes the burden of sin needs a little more attention. While the confession box was never a fixture in most Anglican churches, the Reconciliation of a Penitent has long played an important role. It is a ministry available to all who desire it. For many of us, this practice is an annual part of our pilgrimage during Lent and Holy Week. If you are curious, there are two forms in the BAS, beginning on page 167. If this is a ministry you would like to explore, please speak to your priest.

What goes on in there? I wondered long ago. Having been both the one seeking forgiveness and one offering words of absolution, I can say simply, there is a turning, an opening, a relief, a leaving behind, a fresh start, a restoration that is ongoing. We are all works in progress and this sentiment is captured in the closing interchange between the priest and penitent.

Priest: The Lord has put away all your sins.
Penitent: Thanks be to God.
Priest: Go in peace, and pray for me a sinner.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto