Dear Friends in Christ,
For the first time since the fall of 2019, the Canadian House of Bishops gathered at the Mount Carmel Retreat Center in Niagara Falls this week. Over the last 18 months, the House has convened its meetings like everyone else, online. Since the last in-person meeting, eight new bishops have been elected in dioceses across the land. We were meeting in person for the first time. Some of our fold joined us by Zoom for this first ever hybrid assembly.
I can say without hesitation, it was a very fine gathering, my favourite to date. It was the first time we could be together face to face since the pandemic began. How are you holding up? How are things going in your diocese? How are your clergy faring? What’s been happening in your parishes? Questions of the sort rolled off the tongue as we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner or went for a stroll by the Falls or gathered for our formal sessions. It didn’t take long to become pretty candid and honest with each other. While virtual platforms are really helpful, they cannot mimic the full effect of being in each other’s presence.
Our days were structured around important discussions on matters such as ecumenical dialogues, COVID-19 reopening, vaccination policies and liturgical guidelines, models of formation for ministry and future directions of the national church. Our Indigenous bishops guided our discussion, contemplation and reflections as we marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Grief mingled with sorrow was peppered with words of hope. It was a powerful moment.
I suppose if there was one thing that will linger most from this meeting for me, it was the time we spent in prayer together. Our meetings were infused with Bible study, liturgy and meditation, from the beginning of the day to the close. We had time to intentionally pray for one another, for our personal and ministry needs and for the hopes and worries facing our dioceses. We bishops may not always agree with one another on issues facing the Church. We sometimes argue and wrestle with difference, and not always in a helpful way. The Church does that from time to time. Yet over the last four days, our eyes were turned in the direction we needed the most. Our gaze was fixed on each other, on those who suffer in these difficult times, on our communities of faith dotting every region of this land, on the providence and love of God in Jesus Christ our Saviour, and upon you.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto