By Stuart Mann
Canon Dr. Robert Falby, chancellor emeritus of the Diocese of Toronto and former prolocutor of General Synod, died peacefully at his home in Toronto on June 8.
A parishioner of St. James Cathedral, Canon Falby served as chancellor of the diocese for 22 years. A private funeral will be held this week for family, and a public memorial service will be held at St. James Cathedral on July 8 at 11 a.m.
“I learned so much from Bob Falby,” said Archbishop Colin Johnson on June 9. “Not only was he a wise confidant to me as chancellor but his quiet, perceptive contributions to the diocese, province, national and international levels of the church made a substantial difference in the life of the Anglican Church — everything from negotiation of the residential schools settlement to identifying the principles that structure canon law in the Communion to building personal relationships across the difficult barriers of differences in order to keep people in dialogue with one another. He truly had ‘an enquiring and discerning mind.’ All of this was undergirded by an active Christian faith and refreshing spiritual life and a profound humility.”
As chancellor of the diocese from 1992 to 2014, Canon Falby advised two diocesan bishops – Archbishop Terence Finlay and Archbishop Colin Johnson – on matters of canon law. But his contributions to the church went far beyond that.
He played a pivotal role in negotiations with the federal government that resulted in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The settlement committed the Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches to contribute to a fund to compensate the victims of abuse at the schools. A portion of the funds helped to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Canon Falby also spoke the sentence that helped galvanize the church’s response to the tragedy of abuse at the schools. At a meeting of General Synod, a Synod member questioned the wisdom of Primate Michael Peers’ apology to indigenous people, made in 1993. The Synod member asked if the apology had created a dangerous legal liability.
Canon Falby calmly replied that he didn’t think it did, then added, “But whether it did or not, it was the right thing to do.” Synod sat in silence for a moment and then rose as one in sustained applause. His comment helped turn the debate and became one of the defining messages of the church as it sought to address the legacy of the schools.
In 2005, Canon Falby was again called upon to serve the Canadian church at a difficult time. Due to issues involving same-sex blessings, the Primates of the Anglican Communion had demanded that Canada voluntarily withdraw its members from the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). Canon Falby was chosen as one of three people to present the Canadian case to the ACC, even though he was not a delegate to it.
At the international level, he was one of eight chancellors from around the world who were invited to produce ground-breaking work on identifying and codifying the general principles of the canons and canonical structures of the Anglican Communion’s provinces and dioceses.
In recognition of his contributions, he was made a lay canon of St. James Cathedral, Toronto, in 2002, and was given the Anglican Award of Merit in 2004, the highest lay honour of the church. From 2007 to 2010, he served the Anglican Church of Canada as deputy prolocutor and then prolocutor, the senior lay officer of General Synod. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Trinity College, Toronto, in 2013.
“It’s been an enormous opportunity and I’ve really enjoyed it, not just from a legal perspective but for the opportunity to meet new people and get to know all the ins and outs of the ministry of the Anglican Church,” he said at his retirement last December. “I think lay people should be prepared to contribute to the church, and hundreds of thousands of them do in different capacities. I was lucky enough to have one of the best opportunities to fulfill that element of stewardship.”
Those who wish to remember Canon Falby with a financial thanksgiving offering can donate to the Robert Falby Endowment for Aboriginal Ministry.