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A tribute to Archbishop Finlay from the Social Justice and Advocacy Committee

The Social Justice and Advocacy Committee (SJAC) of the Diocese of Toronto would like to express our sorrow at the death of the Most Reverend Terence Finlay, and to pay tribute to him as one who lived out, deeply and consistently, a commitment to social justice as an imperative of his faith.

In many ways, SJAC owes its existence to Archbishop Finlay. In 2003, under his guidance, the Community Ministries Board, as it then existed, was refocused away from the operation of ministries, and towards the development of strategies and initiatives supporting parish outreach – and, crucially, social justice advocacy. The Social Justice and Advocacy Board (later reorganized as the Social Justice and Advocacy Committee) was asked to develop priorities for advocacy for the Bishop and others as they interacted with government officials, and others in positions of power and influence over public policy. The priorities identified then continue to guide our work today, particularly our ongoing work on homelessness and affordable housing, and on poverty reduction.

Archbishop Finlay at All Saints, Sherbourne Street. Photo by Michael Hudson.

It is hard to overstate the importance of these developments, which made advocacy on social justice issues – or, as it was expressed in the diocesan strategy, “[b]eing … a courageous and persuasive voice for the homeless, the poor and the marginalized” – an explicit part of the work of our church, alongside, and complementing, the work of direct service to those in greatest need. The Archbishop himself met with government ministers on a number of occasions, setting the pattern, which has been followed by our current Archbishop, of speaking truth to power intelligently, clearly, and persistently, as a fundamental part of our church’s collective vocation.

Many have already, and rightly, spoken and written about the important work undertaken by Archbishop Finlay in retirement, especially as the Primate’s Envoy on Residential Schools at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But he also continued his active engagement with issues of poverty and homelessness in the diocese. In the winter of 2015, after the deaths of several homeless men in Toronto, Archbishop Finlay made a deputation to the City asking for an expansion of the warming centre program and action on the shelter crisis. In advance of this deputation, he wrote to me, in my capacity as the chair of SJAC, to say, “As you know in the ‘request to speak’ they ask if I represent any organization. Is it legit for me to put down ‘ Anglican Diocese of Toronto’?” Both his immediate willingness to take on the necessary tasks, and the careful and cheerful humility represented by this question, are entirely characteristic of Terry Finlay as we knew him.

Nearly every month, our Poverty Reduction Subcommittee meets beneath a photograph of Archbishop Finlay at the drop-in at All Saints, Sherbourne Street, informally dressed in a purple fleece sweater, among the vulnerable and marginalized. It is in this way, rather than by any formal portrait, that he is most accurately and faithfully remembered. But even more, we will remember him by continuing the work of advocating for the well-being of the whole body of Christ.

The Rev. Maggie Helwig
Chair, Social Justice and Advocacy Committee