By Stuart Mann
Two well known leaders in the Anglican Communion made surprise appearances at the 57th annual Bishop’s Company Dinner in Toronto on Oct. 19.
Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church (United States) and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, appeared in short videos to thank Archbishop Colin Johnson for his ministry and to wish him well as he prepares to retire at the end of the year.
Bishop Curry, who shared the gospel with millions of people on TV when he preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last May, said it has been a privilege to work with Archbishop Johnson over the years and to learn from him.
“You’ve been an inspiration,” he said. “You’ve been a voice for those who often do not have a voice. You’ve been a voice of reconciliation, bringing together people of different persuasions and perspectives, bringing us together as a people of God. You have been, and you are, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, and it is a privilege and a blessing to bring you these congratulations and to assure you of these prayers of thanksgiving from your brother just south of the border in The Episcopal Church.”
Archbishop Makgoba, who is the archbishop of Cape Town, said Archbishop Johnson has served the Diocese of Toronto and the wider Church with distinction, “bringing your administrative vocation and your pastoral heart together. God bless you, and I thank God for our friendship.”
Their comments drew cheers and applause from the 535 people at the sold-out event, held each year to raise funds to help clergy and their families in need and to provide scholarships for theological students.
Billed as a farewell gala for Archbishop Johnson, the evening included storytelling and speeches from some of Archbishop Johnson’s oldest friends and colleagues. Bishop Philip Poole, a retired suffragan bishop of the diocese and a long-time friend of the archbishop, was the Master of Ceremonies and provided many humourous anecdotes. Archbishop Johnson and his wife Ellen were joined by their family and friends, including many active and retired bishops.
The centrepiece of the evening was a conversation between Archbishop Johnson and Judy Maddren, the former host of World Report on CBC Radio News who now records personal audio memoirs for Soundportraits. In a wide-ranging discussion, Archbishop Johnson talked about his upbringing in Mount Forest, Ont., his involvement in the local United Church as a youth, his journey from the United Church to the Anglican Church, his call to ordained ministry, Ellen’s influence on his life, his love of cooking and music, his mentors, being a grandparent, and his ministry as Bishop of Toronto.
When asked to name one thing he was looking forward to upon his retirement, Archbishop Johnson named two: sleeping in and taking ballroom dancing lessons with Ellen, whom he described as “the love of my life.” The couple have been married for 42 years and have three grown children and two grandchildren.
In his remarks, Bishop Poole described Archbishop Johnson as a skilled liturgist who loves to worship God, a teacher of the faith, a mentor to both clergy and laity, and a workshop leader in the areas of prayer, conflict management and evangelism. “In all of this, Colin has sought to teach the faith in an intelligent, articulate way following the Anglican tradition that people are not called to hang up their brain with their hat when they come to church,” he said.
He described Archbishop Johnson as a “reconciler” and spoke about his work in starting the Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, which brings together North American and African bishops for conversation. “Without a doubt, those discussions have helped increase the understanding of the similarities and differences that the bishops face,” he said. “It has helped to improve the level of trust in the Anglican Communion.”
He said Archbishop Johnson is a “lover of God’s people” and has been a strong advocate in the areas of affordable and accessible housing, child poverty and HIV/AIDS. “Colin cares for the poor and the disenfranchised and is not shy about speaking truth to power. He cares for the weak, the lost and the lonely, and recognizes and respects the dignity of each life. He has lived out our Lord’s command to us in Matthew 25.”
The evening included a land acknowledgement by Bishop Riscylla Shaw and a talk by Michael Cassabon on The John Strachan Trust, which funds the office of the bishop. Bishop Poole thanked the evening’s presenting sponsor, AGF, and its chairman, Blake Goldring, ODT.
At the end of the evening, Archbishop Johnson thanked those in attendance. “I’ve been entirely honoured this evening,” he said. “It’s been my privilege to serve in the Diocese of Toronto for all of my ministry and to serve (as the Bishop of Toronto) since 2004. We stand on the shoulders of many people. This hasn’t been created recently. This body is over 2,000 years old. There is no other organization in the Western world that has done that.”
In an interview afterwards, he said he was surprised, delighted and humbled by the tributes extended to him at the dinner. “Bishop Phil was a wonderful MC and I was honoured by the remarks of a friend and colleague for over 40 years. Judy Maddren is such a warm and thoughtful interviewer that you trust yourself to be led by her. It was almost as if we were having a private conversation that 500 people eavesdropped on!
“Retiring from ministry in a diocese that I have served for over 40 years, and almost 27 years in senior diocesan office, is made so much easier knowing that it is in faithful, competent hands,” he said. “We could not be better served under the strong leadership of Bishop Andrew Asbil, a wonderful and gifted College of Bishops, and the generosity of so many talented and committed staff and laity. It is Christ’s Church and I have every confidence that it is in good hands.”