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Archbishop Finlay’s funeral a celebration

Archbishop Terence Finlay volunteering at All Saints, Sherbourne Street in Toronto in 2008. Photo by Michael Hudson

By Stuart Mann

As he was planning his funeral, Archbishop Terence Finlay told his close friend and colleague Archbishop Fred Hiltz that he wanted to make sure everything was taken care of “so that I could just lie there and enjoy it all.”

He surely wouldn’t have been disappointed. About 800 people, many of them shedding tears, including Archbishop Hiltz, packed St. James Cathedral on March 25 for the funeral of the man they simply and affectionately called Terry.

At the end of the nearly two-hour service, as his coffin was being carried down the aisle to the open doors, there was a collective sense that the church had lost a great leader and friend. Singing an Easter Psalm to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” many were overcome with emotion.

“It was a great celebration of Terry ‘s life and of our faith,” said Archbishop Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. “At times we were weeping as we let him go but for the most part we were celebrating who he was as a person, as a Christian and as an Anglican.”

Archbishop Finlay, who served as the 10th Bishop of Toronto from 1989 to 2004, died at his home in Toronto on March 20 at the age of 79. He had cancer.

His funeral started with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom,” played on the piano by the Rev. Canon Tim Elliott, a former incumbent of Christ Church, Deer Park in Toronto. That was followed by native drumming and singing as the Rev. Canon Andrew Wesley smudged the coffin, walking around it and using a feather to bathe it in scented smoke.

The piano prelude and smudging ceremony set the tone for the service, which reflected the archbishop’s warmth, faith and passion for social justice. The first hymn, sung to the tune “Thaxted” (also the tune for “I Vow to Thee My Country”) began with the verses:

Let streams of living justice flow down upon the earth;
Give freedom’s light to captives, let all the poor have worth.
The hungry’s hands are pleading, the workers claim their rights,
The mourners long for laughter, the blinded seek for sight.
Make liberty a beacon, strike down the iron power;
Abolish ancient vengeance; proclaim your people’s hour.

The first and second readings (Micah 6: 6-8 and 1 Corinthians 1: 26-31) were read by Archbishop Finlay’s daughters, Sara-Jane Finlay and Rebecca Finlay. Archbishop Hiltz gave the homily, based on the the Gospel reading John 20: 1-9.

“As Terry embraced and enjoyed life to the fullest, so he embraced death – with courage and confidence,” he said. “He knew the teaching of the apostles – whether we live we live unto the Lord, or whether we die we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord’s.

“When he called me to ask if I would offer a homily, there was in his voice a hope, a real hope that the funeral would be a celebration of our faith in the promises of Christ. ‘I want everything in place’, he said, ‘so that I could just lie there and enjoy it all.’”

Archbishop Finlay speaking at an interfaith celebration at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto in 2000. Photo by Michael Hudson

Laughter rippled through the congregation, soon followed by silence as Archbishop Hiltz was overcome with emotion remembering the conversation. “When I hung up the phone after our conversation, I thought to myself, what a lovely final wish – that he be surrounded by family and friends listening to the word of God, praising God and singing to God with all our hearts and souls. What a lovely final wish.”

He spoke about how Archbishop Finlay touched people’s lives as a parish priest, archdeacon, bishop and archbishop. “Some would know him as the bishop who baptized and confirmed them, some as the archbishop who ordained them, some would know him as the liaison bishop to the Missions to Seafarers across Canada, some would know him as the bishop who created opportunities for dialogue across deep differences of theological perspectives, particularly over matters of human sexuality – not only in our own church but across the Communion. Some knew him as the bishop who was humble enough to be able to say I’m sorry that I have offended you – can you embrace my hope that we be reconciled?”

He spoke about Archbishop Finlay’s role as the Primate’s Envoy to the Residential Schools and as the co-chair of the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice. He said he ably represented the church and advocated on behalf of the poor in places of power such as governments.

“No matter the work to which Terry was called, no matter the office he held or the title he wore, the absolutely distinguishing mark of his character was friendship. He had a wonderful way of befriending people in the name of Christ. He was kind and gracious. It seems that etched on his very soul were those immortal words of the prophet Micah: What does the Lord require of us but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our Lord.”

He continued: “Terry loved this church. He loved the whole ecumenical church. And he served it faithfully for 56 years. He happily gathered us for worship, fellowship and dialogue. Terry stood tall for all the church could be –  a light that shines in the midst of the world’s darkness, a bread that feeds the hungry, a building sheltering those in need.”

Alice Jean Finlay, Archbishop Finlay and a friend greet each other at the annual levee at St. James Cathedral in 2003. Photo by Michael Hudson

Following the homily, the Rev. Canon Douglas Graydon, the diocese’s coordinator of Chaplaincy Services, led the Prayers of the People. Afterwards, those in attendance shared the Peace and then took communion. Archbishop Colin Johnson, the current Bishop of Toronto, concluded the service with the blessing and dismissal.

Among the honorary pall bearers were Premier Kathleen Wynne, former senator the Hon. Hugh Segal and the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson, a former governor-general. Also in attendance was the Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the lieutenant-governor of Ontario.

In an interview after the service, Archbishop Johnson described Archbishop Finlay as warm and generous. “He really lived that sense of warm embrace of everyone, which is what Jesus did. He was modelling the life that he saw in Jesus, who was always inquisitive about people, always welcoming people, drawing them out and calling them to fuller life. That’s exactly who Terry was and why so many people were touched by him.”

Ordained deacon in 1961 and priest in 1962, Archbishop Finlay came to the Diocese of Toronto from the Diocese of Huron in 1982 and served as the incumbent of St. Clement, Eglinton. In 1986, he was elected a suffragan bishop in the diocese and served in the episcopal area of Trent-Durham. He was elected coadjutor bishop in 1987 and installed as the 10th Bishop of Toronto in 1989. He was elected and installed as metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario in 2000.

After his retirement in 2004, he served as chaplain to the national House of Bishops, episcopal visitor to the Missions to Seafarers Canada, and was the Primate’s Envoy to the Residential Schools. He continued to serve as interim priest-in-charge for several parishes in the diocese, most recently retiring this past Christmas from All Saints, Kingsway.

Throughout his ministry he was supported by his wife, Canon Alice Jean (AJ) Finlay, who has served in many international organizations, including the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.