By Stuart Mann
Guests at the 58th annual Bishop’s Company Dinner enjoyed food, friendship, speeches – and an impressive display of fire eating by Bishop Andrew Asbil.
The diocese’s annual fundraiser, held Oct. 18 at the Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel, was attended by 375 people and raised $135,000. The funds will help clergy and their families in need and provide scholarships for theological students.
Among the guests were the diocese’s suffragan bishops – Peter Fenty, Riscylla Shaw, Kevin Robertson, Jenny Andison – and several retired bishops, including Michael Bedford-Jones, Ann Tottenham, George Elliott and Patrick Yu. The master of ceremonies was Stephen Vail, the rector of St. James Cathedral and Dean of Toronto.
The dinner’s presenting sponsor was Jim Fleck and his family in memory of the Rev. Dr. Margaret Fleck, a priest of the diocese who passed away last January. Mr. Fleck spoke about his life with Margaret and how she touched the lives of many people, as a pastor and friend. Dr. Fleck served at Holy Trinity, Thornhill, St. Peter and St. Simon-the-Apostle, St. Luke, Church of the Annunciation, St. Paul L’Amoreaux and St. Augustine of Canterbury. Guests watched a short video of parishioners at St. Augustine recalling Dr. Fleck’s warmth, compassion and openness.
Bishop Robertson, who first met Dr. Fleck in 1982 when she was a curate at Holy Trinity, Thornhill, described the Flecks as “exceedingly generous” in their philanthropy, supporting the arts and education, health care, and the advancement of religion and public policy. “They gave leadership (in the Church) in often quiet and unassuming ways, not only in their home parish of St. Augustine of Canterbury, but across the diocese and the wider Church,” he said. He thanked Mr. Fleck “for a lifetime of generosity and commitment to the Church in our diocese, and for your example of faithful discipleship in the name of Jesus Christ.”
In his keynote address, Bishop Asbil spoke about his upbringing as a “preacher’s kid” and the role that bishops played in his early life. His father, Walter Asbil, served as a priest in the dioceses of Niagara, Ottawa and Montreal before becoming Bishop of Niagara in the 1990s.
“For the longest time, bishops came in and out of our lives, moving like bishops on a chessboard – diagonally, on a little bit of an angle, coming in and going out,” he said. “I didn’t really understand what a bishop did until my father became one, and then I watched him age 10 years in three, and what it meant to carry the mantle of leadership, and how hard it is to wander and chase after the one lost sheep, or the two lost sheep, or wonder if we’re somehow all lost sheep.”
He expressed gratitude for all the bishops he has known, including the late Archbishop Terence Finlay, Archbishop Colin Johnson, the retired bishops of the Diocese of Toronto and the current suffragan bishops.
He thanked the Bishop’s Company and the generosity of its members, saying that their support over the years has helped the bishops of the diocese in many ways. “It is important for you to know that when a family is in crisis and needs a hand, to be able to offer a tangible gift to support and uphold them is one of the greatest gifts that you have been able to give to us,” he said.
He said he is deeply grateful for the life of the Church, for “the undertone and narrative that weaves bishops, clergy, rectories, chancels, sacraments, hymn book and prayer book together. It is the narrative of love – the love of God – that weaves each one of us together and helps us to breathe together in unison as a people created on this earth.”
He spoke about the “great company of the saints in light” that greet Anglicans in church each Sunday – people such as John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene, Mary, Martha, Ruth, Thomas, Paul, Peter and Elizabeth – “ordinary men and women who have done their very best in their lifetimes to stand in the face of change and uncertainty, knowing they could stand on the shoulders of others in faith and always have courage in uncharted waters that at times are precarious.”
He said Anglicans in this generation, like their ancestors in the faith, are called to stand like the prophet Elijah, “to face the earthquakes and the fire, the wind and the cracking stones, and to be perfectly still, and to know the time for us to move together.”
He closed by “showing, not saying” and then lit two small torches, extinguishing them with his hands and mouth. The astonished and delighted guests gave him a long round of applause.