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Bishops write pastoral letter to vestries

The College of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter to Vestries, 2023
to be read or circulated on the Sunday of the parish’s annual vestry meeting

 

To the clergy, churchwardens and parishioners of the Diocese of Toronto,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:2)

As we come to our Annual Vestry Meetings, it is a good time for us to reflect with thanksgiving on the past and look with a sense of hopefulness to the year ahead.

The past year was significant in many ways in the life of our Diocese. First, we have been returning to some sense of normalcy after two years of Covid lockdowns and restrictions. While we continue to urge parishes to exercise caution, many of our communities have returned to something that resembles our pre-pandemic life together. We thank God that the worst of the pandemic now seems behind us.

Of course, parishes are continuing to grapple with the effects of Covid. Many of our churches continue to experience a decrease in Sunday attendance, fewer volunteers to fill key parish roles, and a diminished number of regular financial givers. Clergy and lay leaders also continue to experience a deep sense of fatigue and anxiety about the future. In that light, we continue to encourage a gentleness with one another and a renewed commitment to self-care as we navigate post-pandemic realities. Over the past year, we have been pleased to offer a mini-sabbatical opportunity for clergy. These 10 days – taken together or broken up – are intended for rest and renewal. We have been delighted to hear that many clergy have already taken a mini-Sabbatical or have made plans to do so in 2023.

The past year also saw the launch of “Cast the Net,” a strategic visioning process for our Diocese. Ably led by the Very Rev. Peter Elliott, Canon Ian Alexander and Dr. Anita Gittens, ODT, the Cast the Net team has surveyed the clergy in the Diocese in various consultations, and is now engaging lay people from every parish across the Diocese. Based on John 21, this biblically grounded initiative is seeking to help us chart of path forward as a Diocese. We eagerly anticipate a full report from the Cast the Net team at our Synod next November.

Our restructuring of episcopal leadership also continued through 2022. The Episcopal Leadership Implementation Team followed up the good work of the Episcopal Leadership Working Group and brought forward a model for raising up and deploying territorial archdeacons and canon administrators to assist the bishops in their work. Interviews took place in November, leading to the appointment of four new archdeacons and one new canon administrator. Many of you were present at the cathedral on January 15 as Archdeacon John Anderson, Archdeacon Theadore Hunt, Archdeacon Steven Mackison, Archdeacon Cheryl Palmer and Canon Laura Walton were collated. They have now begun their work and are already helping to share ministry with the College of Bishops.

After 20 years of service, Canon Clare Burns also retired as our Chancellor and is now Chancellor Emeritus. We are grateful for Clare’s ministry and are also delighted to welcome Marg Creal as our new Chancellor. Those of you who were present at the New Year’s Levee on January 1 will remember the joy of Chancellor Creal’s installation.

Our work in the area of anti-bias and anti-racism (ABAR) also continued in 2022. The workshops for clergy concluded last year and we began to roll out the parish-based program. Clergy and lay facilitators are now trained to visit parishes and lead this important work. The ABAR Pod has also been formed to lead the ongoing work of dismantling bias and racism in our structures. May God continue to bless our efforts and encourage us in this vital work.

As we look ahead to a new year, we do so with a sense of great hope. Our beloved Church has changed dramatically over the past few years and will continue to change. But God is present and faithful, and our proclamation and sharing in the redemptive love of God in Christ continues to be the mission to which we are called.

Be assured of our prayers for each of you as you meet for your Annual Vestry Meeting. We want to express our profound thanks to all who exercise leadership in the Diocese of Toronto. Whether you are stepping down from a particular ministry, or continuing on, or taking up a new role this year, thank you for your commitment and faithfulness. You are a blessing to the Church in our Diocese.

We write this letter on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. As the Church celebrates the beginning of Paul’s evangelistic ministry to the Gentiles, please join us in praying and working for the extension of the Gospel in every place, and for the renewal of the Church in our midst.

Yours faithfully in Christ Jesus,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto

The Rt. Rev. Riscylla Shaw
Suffragan Bishop of Toronto

The Rt. Rev. Kevin Robertson
Suffragan Bishop of Toronto

 

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The College of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter to Vestries, 2022
to be read or circulated on the Sunday of the parish’s annual vestry meeting

 

To the clergy, churchwardens and parishioners of the Diocese of Toronto,

Beloved Siblings in Christ,

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

As you gather today for the annual vestry meeting, we as your bishops wanted to write to you united as a College, to assure you of our prayers, gratitude and love for you in the face of the challenges facing our Church at this time. We want to encourage you and to assure you of our support, as we look back on the past year and anticipate the one that lies before us.

Our life together continues to be shaped by a little virus called COVID-19. Most of us had hoped that we would be back to our pre-pandemic ways by now. Yet we seem to be entering into the third year of this pandemic, and we are in the midst of an incredible fifth wave. We have learned to adapt, shift, change, open, close, move online, Zoom, sing through a mask, and much more. None of us could have imagined that we were capable of doing all of this, for as long as we have, when we closed our church buildings for the first time in March 2020.

To say that we are tired – worn out, fed up – would be an understatement. We wonder: how much longer? Unfortunately, while we may be finished with this pandemic, this pandemic is not quite finished with us.

“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Just as the Lord commissioned Joshua to take on leadership from Moses and to lead the people forward into the land that had been promised, so God commissions us to be faithful even in the midst of this anxiety. As with Joshua, God promises to be with us wherever we go. And God’s faithfulness to Israel on the cusp of new life in a new land, renews our hope for our own deliverance.

In the crucible of this pandemic, there are signs of God’s light and life all around us, and we have been so moved by the ways that strength and courage have been shown by the people of our Diocese this year. The movement to virtual worship, the leaving behind of our buildings for a time, the reliance on community that has been formed and nurtured online – these are all signs of the resilience born of our faith in Jesus Christ. They are reminders that the Lord our God is with us wherever we go – even through this season of deep challenge – and that God has not abandoned us.

God’s accompaniment has been made known in other ways too. In the midst of this pandemic, we as a Church have been coming to terms with issues of systemic racism and bias. The rollout of anti-bias and anti-racism training in 2021 – and the participation of almost all our active clergy – is a sign of God’s transformative work in us as a Church. We still have much to do to combat racism and bias, but these steps bring us closer to the Church we are called to be. The ABAR workshops will be rolled out at the parish level in the coming year, and we strongly encourage your support and participation. The apology to the LGBTQ+ community in June was a further step in the Gospel work of justice, dignity and inclusion. May Christ continue to be with us as we seek to be transformed in His likeness.

The Gospel of Christ has good news and hard news. The good news is that we have hope in Jesus, who is our unchanging rock and our constant salvation in the midst of the storms and tribulations of this life. The hard news is that we are called to serve others in Christ’s name. Service is sacrificial. Service is rewarding. Service is at the heart of our faith. Thank you so very much for your service to the Church and to the glory of God this past year. We are speaking here to all the baptised: our hardworking churchwardens, treasurers, musicians, administrators, Sunday School teachers, ACWs, outreach workers, altar guilds, sextons, our now-indispensable tech volunteers, and so many more. To our beloved clergy, both priests and deacons: you pour your heart and soul into your God-given vocation, and we see you. We are grateful beyond words for the super-human effort you have tirelessly made to build up the People of God during this pandemic.

At such a time as this, when we are deeply unsettled, when we would prefer the comfortable to the challenging, Christ is calling us to look for the opportunities that are being presented anew: how can we partner with a neighbouring church to do more effective and robust ministry? Do we need to have all the answers before we set out on the journey of missional exploring and engagement? What are we afraid of, and how can the good news of Christ allay our fears and embolden our hearts to venture into the unknown? How can we put “the movement of the Spirit” into words, phrases and invitations to which new disciples can respond?

Without a doubt, we are all tired; yet recently, we your bishops are also hearing something new. You are beginning to dream again. And we know that when the Church dreams…things change.

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your children will prophesy, your young will see visions, your elderly will dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28)

May you have a creative, hopeful and inspiring vestry meeting today, as we enter this new year with the strength and courage of the One who accompanies us on our journey. We are praying for you all.

Yours faithfully in Christ Jesus,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto

The Rt. Rev. Riscylla Shaw
Suffragan Bishop of Toronto

The Rt. Rev. Kevin Robertson
Suffragan Bishop of Toronto