By Stuart Mann
In his understated way, Canon Robert Falby succinctly sums up the history of the Anglican Church in the past two decades. “It’s been an exciting time to be an Anglican,” he says.
As chancellor of the Diocese of Toronto for all of those years, he has not only witnessed that history but has had a hand in shaping it.
His contributions to the Anglican Church at the local, diocesan, national and international level have been remarkable. But as he gets set to retire as chancellor on Dec. 31, it is the people he met along the way that he remembers the most.
“I’m sorry to give up the frequent contact with all the church people I’ve dealt with over the years – they’re all good friends,” he says. “When you leave these positions, it’s the people you miss more than the work.”
As chancellor of the diocese since 1992, 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 says, looking back over the past 22 years.
“I think lay people should be prepared to contribute to the church, and hundreds of thousands of them do in different capacities,” he says. “I was lucky enough to have one of the best opportunities to fulfill that element of stewardship.”
Archbishop Colin Johnson announced Canon Falby’s retirement at the December meeting of Diocesan Council. “It is my regret to receive Bob’s resignation, but I do so with great thanksgiving for the real ministry he has given to the church,” he said. “We owe him a great debt of gratitude.”
He said Canon Falby brought compassion and understanding to the decision-making process. “It wasn’t just a strictly legal interpretation he brought but asked how is this going to affect the church? How is this going to affect the person or the parish? That sensitivity of interpretation of the canons has been a hallmark of his chancellorship.”
He announced that Canon Falby would become the Chancellor Emeritus of the diocese, and Council members gave Canon Falby a standing ovation.
Canon Clare Burns, a vice chancellor of the diocese for the past 12 years, will become the new chancellor on Jan. 1. She will be joined by vice chancellors Robyn Ryan Bell and Canon Paul Baston. She will be installed as chancellor during the Archbishop’s Levee at St. James Cathedral on Jan. 1.