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Diocese of Toronto plans year of spiritual renewal

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By Stuart Mann

The Diocese of Toronto is planning to hold a year of spiritual renewal in 2024 to help Anglicans re-energize their faith.

“I am really excited by it,” says Bishop Andrew Asbil. “We’ve been hearing over and over again in Cast the Net’s consultations with clergy and laity a deep need to steep ourselves in prayer and discipleship and a renewed sense of our life in Christ. My hope is that the year will lead us to a deep and profound joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ and a sense of communities large and small feeling a part of a rekindling of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Toronto.”

Cast the Net, the Diocese’s vision and strategy process, has consulted with about 1,000 clergy and laity since last fall. Its steering committee hopes to bring recommendations to Synod in November that will help set a course for the Diocese for the next several years.

One of the major themes emerging from the discussions is a desire for spiritual renewal – for people to re-connect with their faith, to deepen their own discipleship and to be more articulate about their life in Christ. The theme is so strong and widespread that the steering committee decided to act on it now rather than waiting for the final report that goes to Synod.

The steering committee proposed the year of spiritual renewal to Synod Council on May 25. The proposal calls for the year to unfold in four phases:

From Epiphany to Lent, clergy will be oriented to the project with easy-to-use educational and promotional materials. Every parish will be asked to participate in a three-session program of bible study and reflection on mission, co-led by teams of clergy and laity, online or in person. There will be additional resources for young adults, youth and children, to engage them in what it means to be committed to a life in Christ. Materials will be available in a variety of languages, reflecting the cultural diversity of the Diocese.

During the Easter season, Bishop Asbil and others will travel throughout the diocese, conducting and preaching at special services with a focus on strengthening the people of the Diocese in their work and of being the Church. Services will include inspiring music, testimonies, scripture and sermons, as well as time for anointing and prayer for those who seek it. The services will be held in easily accessible venues and will also be available virtually for those who cannot attend in person.

During Pentecost, the bishops and others will preside and preach at liturgies in large locations. Baptism, confirmation and reaffirmation will be offered. These will be lively, diverse celebrations of Christian commitment and service.

In autumn, Sunday worship celebrations will include times for lay people to share testimony about how they experience God as active in their lives, or share “Spirit sightings,” where they see the Holy Spirit of God at work in the world. Every parish and congregation will be invited to engage in an examination of mission opportunities within their region. Many of these will be held in regional groupings. Reports from these efforts will be brought back to Synod.

Bishop Asbil believes Anglicans are ready for spiritual renewal. “People are really engaged in and grateful for the Cast the Net conversations. They’re also speaking of a hunger and being able to say, how do I share my faith? How do I equip myself? They’re saying, I know I need to be a part of it to spread the gospel and grow the Church, as we’re called to.”

He says the time is right for spiritual renewal. “I think every parish understands that where we were before the pandemic is not where we are now. On the one hand, we feel the vulnerability of that but on the other hand we feel the possibility of it, too. And there is a real sense of kindling of new ideas and a new sense of God’s spirit working with us.”

The Very Rev. Peter Elliott, one of the Cast the Net’s coordinators, echoes his words. “I think the pandemic – that period of being disbursed and losing the pattern of regular church attendance – has had an impact on people, and it’s a new day, things have changed and we need a renewal of the Spirit to face the challenges that this new day is bringing,” he says. “In some ways, the year of spiritual renewal is casting the net on the other side.”

He says Bishop Asbil has the gifts to lead the year. “In my view, Bishop Andrew is one of the most gifted communicators of the Christian way in the church in Canada and in the whole Communion. So let’s put his gifts to the fore. Rather than sitting in meetings and puzzling over problems, what if the bishop’s time could be used to do one of the things he does the best, and communicate out the faith and the importance of that in daily life and work?”

More information about the year of spiritual renewal will be posted as it becomes available.