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Archbishop holds Town Hall meetings

In the spring and fall of 2012, Archbishop Colin Johnson held a number of town hall meetings with Anglicans, in part to discuss whether the diocese should keep its current configuration of five bishops and four episcopal areas or scale back to four bishops and three episcopal areas. The response was overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the current configuration.

A copy of the Archbishop’s PowerPoint presentation is available.  Download it in pdf format.

Episcopal Ministry and Structures

A Brief History
The Diocese of Toronto has always changed to serve Jesus Christ in this part of Canada. For example, the Diocese has had five major sets of geographical boundaries. When it was created in 1839, it was coterminous with Upper Canada. Over the next 36 years, four dioceses were carved out of it: the Diocese of Huron (1857); the Diocese of Ontario (1861); the Diocese of Algoma (1873); and the Diocese of Niagara (1875). The present-day boundaries of the Diocese of Toronto extend from Mississauga in the west to Brighton in the east, and from Lake Ontario in the south to Haliburton and Midland in the north. (See map.)

Map of the Diocese
A map of the diocese.

As the Diocese of Toronto has changed, so has its episcopal ministry and structures. Beginning with the consecration of Bishop John Strachan in 1839, the Diocese has been served by 11 Diocesan Bishops (the term given to the Bishop of Toronto) and 16 Suffragan Bishops (assistant bishops). Among his or her many duties, the role of a Bishop is to be a chief pastor to the flock, to preach the Gospel, to guard the faith, to bless, confirm and ordain, and to follow the example of the apostles (Catechism, BCP, 1959).

For many years, the Diocesan Bishop exercised sole episcopal oversight of the Diocese, except for those occasions when he asked Synod to elect a Coadjutor Bishop (who succeeded the Diocesan Bishop upon his death or retirement) or a Suffragan Bishop. This began to change in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, as the number of parishes in the Diocese grew and both the Church and society became more complex. Since then, every Diocesan Bishop has been assisted by at least one Suffragan Bishop.

Creation of Episcopal Areas and the College of Bishops
In 1978, Archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy, the 9th Bishop of Toronto, proposed that the Diocese undertake a significant structural change. In his Charge to Synod, he said, “The time has arrived when we must re-examine what we need in this large diocese. We must take seriously some method of creating realistic structures for the future.” Synod passed a resolution that read, in part, “That whereas it is generally agreed that the Diocese is large and unwieldly and that our Bishops are seriously overworked, that a Commission be set up to examine the possibilities of alleviating the situation.”

In 1980, the Commission completed its work. It proposed five Episcopal Areas, each with its own bishop. Synod, held in September of that year, approved the plan. Shortly afterwards, three new Suffragan Bishops were elected. Together with the Diocesan Bishop and Suffragan Bishop, they formed the College of Bishops. The purpose of the College was, and is: to effect team episcopacy; to be a link between the Diocese and the Episcopal Areas; to provide for sharing of information and consultation on mutual areas of responsibility between the bishops; to share in the development of Diocesan priorities; to be a forum for critical reflection on the espicopal ministry of the Diocese; and to provide mutual support and ministry for the bishops of the Diocese.

The four Suffragan Bishops were each given oversight of an Episcopal Area and given the title Area Bishop, a term still used today. The Diocesan Bishop was in charge of the fifth Episcopal Area, in addition to his responsibilities for the Diocese overall.

The role of Area Councils
Each Episcopal Area has an Area Council. The job of the Area Council is to support the Area Bishop in fulfilling God’s mission in his or her Episcopal Area. Each Area Council has a minimum of 10 members, including the Area Bishop, clergy and laity, and meets at least three times a year (Canon 44, Constitution and Canons.) As well, one member from each Area Council sits on Diocesan Council, which acts as the “Synod between Synods.”

One of the Area Council’s main tasks is to oversee the disbursement of funds in the Episcopal Area budget. In 2012, each Episcopal Area has a budget of $107,500. This money comes out of the Diocese’s operating budget. The total for the four Episcopal Areas is $430,000. The same amount is budgeted for 2013. The budgets fund a number of important initiatives, including clergy and lay training, outreach and advocacy, youth ministry, fresh expressions of church and Back to Church Sunday. A significant part of each Episcopal Area budget is earmarked for Ministry Development Grants. These grants, approved by the Area Council, are given to local congregations to enhance their mission and ministry.

From five to four Episcopal Areas
In his first series of Parish Hall meetings in 2005, Bishop Colin Johnson, the 11th Bishop of Toronto, proposed that the Diocese should retain five bishops but have only four Episcopal Areas. “I believe we need to relieve the Diocesan Bishop of a specific Area so that there will be dedicated episcopal leadership of the whole diocese,” he said.

In 2008, Synod voted in favour of the plan, and the number of Episcopal Areas was reduced from five to four: Trent-Durham, York-Credit Valley, York-Scarborough and York Simcoe. They are served by, in order, Bishop Linda Nicholls, Bishop Philip Poole, Bishop Patrick Yu and Bishop George Elliott. Archbishop Johnson is the Diocesan Bishop and also the Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. This is the current structure of episcopal ministry in the Diocese.

Two options to consider
Today, the Diocese is considering two options with regards to its episcopal ministry and structure:

1)      The first option is to keep the structure the way it is now – with four Episcopal Areas, four Area Bishops and a Diocesan Bishop.

2)      The second option is to change it to three Episcopal Areas, three Area Bishops and a Diocesan Bishop.

The reasons why these options are being considered now are threefold:

  • As the number of parishes in the Diocese becomes smaller, through closures and reconfiguration, the question arises: should there also be fewer bishops?
  • Some bishops will be retiring in the next five to seven years. It is a good time to discuss the future now, during a period of stability in the College of Bishops, rather than wait until later. There is time now to weigh up the pros and cons of both options and not be rushed into a decision.
  • The wider church is also reconsidering its structures. A Governance Working Group is functioning at the national level. As well, the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario has given consideration to diocesan boundaries. It is a good time for the Diocese to also be having these conversations.

How might clergy be affected by the proposed changes?
If the Diocese moves to three Area Bishops and three Episcopal Areas, it will mean that there will be more clergy in more parishes under the administration of fewer bishops. Therefore, access to the bishops would change.