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From Our Bishops

Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew

Dear Friends,

St. Mary of the Nativity, Woolnoth sits prominently in the city of London, across the street from Bank Street Underground station. The present building dates back to 1716, but archeological study of the site suggests that worship has been conducted there for more than 2,000 years. On Thursday, conference participants gathered in that church to listen and learn about how the place has been revitalized as a center of worship and evangelism rather than just another pretty place to visit. In the heart of the city, a vibrant worshipping community finds its place once again, building on the traditional liturgical routes and mingling them with modern music, fervent prayer, outreach and programming. The pews were clearly designed for people who were smaller in stature from another time, but somehow the desire to know and to meet God from one generation to the next connects the pilgrim from the past to the present.

Our time at St. Mary’s came to a close by our singing “Amazing Grace.” John Newton, once associated with the slave trade, penned the hymn after his conversion and was the incumbent of St. Mary’s from 1780 to 1807. A couple hundred of us sang the words, a cappella, from memory, home in that place. It was for me a grace-filled moment.

The visit to St. Mary’s was just one stop on a pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) and participating in the Alpha Leadership Conference (LC24). Alpha is an introductory course to Christianity, developed at HTB by the Rev. Nicky Gumbel in 1977. It has grown and developed and been reproduced in 169 countries. Perhaps your congregation has used the Alpha program to engage newcomers to the faith or long-travelling pilgrims. It can be a powerful tool for engagement and study.

The Rev. Canon Tim Haughton, the Rev. Canon Mark Regis and I have been planning this visit together for some time. While I had hoped to be in the UK for the whole conference, which runs through until May 7, joyful obligations back home (like ordinations of transitional deacons at the cathedral on Sunday) summon me back early. Nonetheless, we were hosted well by Alpha Canada director Ryan Moffat, who was able to coordinate meetings with the leadership team at HTB, namely Sarah Jackson, curate and CEO of Revitalize Trust, Katherine Chow, associate priest, Nicky and Pippa Gumbel, Ric Thorpe, the Bishop of Islington, and more.

Church planting, revitalizing congregations and spiritual renewal are at the heart of this gathering. We visited sites that have been transformed and listened to stories of ministry being re-awakened. We met pastors and lay leaders who are drawn to learn more about birthing, re-booting and planting new communities in a season when we are becoming too used to the notion of closing congregations and places of ministry. I came to learn more about how we can do the same in the Diocese of Toronto. I was so impressed by the presentation at Saint Church in east London, which is creating a culture of hope in a community that struggles with poverty, deep social needs and high crime rates.

Each gathering moment was an occasion to be saturated in worship, fervent prayer and honest conversation – all in a spirit of openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Partway through the week, our little group from Toronto was joined by Bishop Jenny Andison and the Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson from St. Paul, Bloor Street. St. Paul’s is planting a new congregation at St. George by the Grange. Later in the week, the Toronto contingent will be joined by a few more, notably the Rev. Dr. Patrick McManus and the Rev. Brian Suggs from All Saints, Kingsway.

All through this visit to the UK, I have been moved by the words of encouragement I’ve heard in the meetings we’ve had, heartened by our fellowship and excited by the possibilities in Toronto. We are a diverse and gifted community. Each congregation and community is unique and set in a place that beckons us to respond with the hope and love of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we begin the Season of Spiritual Renewal, may all that we do be saturated with prayer and openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Followers of Jesus, inspired by the Holy Spirit, serve the world God loves.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto