By Stuart Mann
St. James Cathedral began a new chapter in its history on Jan. 31 with the induction and installation of the Very Rev. Andrew Asbil as the rector of the cathedral and Dean of Toronto.
About 700 people filled the downtown cathedral for the two-hour service, which had a strong emphasis on social justice and included several lighthearted and poignant moments.
“I am moved beyond words to accept this wonderful call,” said Dean Asbil, speaking to the congregation near the end of the service.
The service started in dramatic fashion, as native drumming filled the air and Sandra Campbell, a pastoral worker at the Toronto Urban Native Ministry, performed a smudging ceremony at the front of the church. Among those who were ritually cleansed by the healing smoke was Toronto Mayor John Tory, seated in the first pew.
The first and second readings (Isaiah 55: 1-11 and Ephesians 4. 7, 11-16) reflected the themes of social justice and inclusion that were woven throughout the service. The passage from Ephesians was read in in Mandarin.
In a delightful surprise, Dean Asbil’s father, Bishop Walter Asbil, a former bishop of the Diocese of Niagara, gave the sermon. “What I’d like to tell you about Andrew is, he’s able to bring together people who have widely diverse views,” he said.
In a sermon that was by turns insightful and humorous, Bishop Asbil spoke about his son with deep affection and respect. He described his son as a gifted leader who is not troubled by the headwinds buffeting the church.
“I know these are not easy days for the church,” Bishop Asbil said. “There’s an anxiety. But let me tell you what Andrew thinks. He believes God does not call us from the past – rather, God calls us from the future. That is how Andrew sees the church – facing the future square on, with the Holy Spirit of God to help us step out in freedom.”
He asked Dean Asbil and his wife, Mary, to join him on the chancel steps, and, after some words of encouragement, embraced them. It was a moving moment that drew sustained applause from the congregation.
After the sermon, Dean Asbil was formally inducted as rector of the cathedral by Archbishop Colin Johnson, the Bishop of Toronto and Metropolitan (senior bishop) of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. At the same time, he became priest-in-charge of St. Bartholomew, Regent Park.
Dean Asbil was given the ceremonial keys to the cathedral by the churchwardens, Angela Carroll and Larry Enfield, and then was formally installed as the new Dean of Toronto.
“Andrew, as Dean of the Diocese of Toronto, we look to you to share in the leadership of the diocese and to help make this cathedral a centre of diocesan life and worship, and a house of prayer for our people in the City of Toronto” said Archbishop Johnson. “Do you in the presence of this congregation commit yourself to this responsibility?”
“I do, God being my helper,” he replied.
The Archbishop asked the congregation, “People of the Diocese of Toronto, will you support Dean Andrew in this new ministry and work with him in our life together as a diocese?”
“We will,” came the response.
At the end of the installation ceremony, Archbishop Johnson, the diocesan registrar, Canon Paul Baston and the diocesan chancellor, Canon Clare Burns, led Dean Asbil to the dean’s “stall” or chair at the front corner of the chancel. As he sat down, he received a long ovation.
Near the end of the service, which included the Eucharist, Dean Asbil came down from his chair and, standing where his father had stood, spoke about what it meant to be the dean of Canada’s most populous diocese and rector of its mother church.
“I’m glad to take this seat – it’s pretty fancy,” he said, looking over at his chair and drawing laughter from the congregation. But he quickly changed to a more serious tone and the congregation listened with rapt attention.
“But don’t let appearances fool you,” he continued. “I know what taking this seat means. To be seated in this cathedral is to be shaped by the traditions and blessings of what it means to be an Anglican – the good, the bad and the ugly. It also means to be inspired by the Holy Spirit to take us into uncharted waters and to try new things, because the mission field is changing always.
“To be seated in this cathedral means to have the courage to step outside these four walls and to step into a deeper relationship with our neighbours – with residents and merchants, with civic leaders, for our ecumenical partners to pray together, to break down walls that divide so that no one stands alone, that we stand with the poor and disenfranchised so that we might become better – that we might become good.
“To be seated in this cathedral means to offer radical hospitality so that the next person through those front doors feels the deep welcome of Jesus – the sojourner, the migrant, the refugee or just the tired soul who needs a break from the pace of our reality, so that we might just find stillness and silence with the one who made us.”
He said the cathedral is built on sacred First Nations land and Anglicans must walk in peace and reconciliation with indigenous people. “We had a hand in a deep pain; we must have a hand in deep healing.”
He thanked a number of people, including the former dean, the Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, and the cathedral’s congregation, “who put down deep roots and shot for the skies.” He thanked his former parish (the Church of the Redeemer, Bloor Street), his father, his wife and children.
He waited for a moment, letting all his words sink in. Then he added, “Now, that’s enough of that. We have work to do. Let’s get on with it.”