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Portrait, anthem among surprises at archbishop’s farewell

By Stuart Mann

On the walls of the Diocesan Centre hang pictures of all the Bishops of Toronto since Bishop John Strachan, the founder of the diocese. Most of them are photographs but one of them is a painting.

Soon to be joining this select group will be a painted portrait of Archbishop Colin Johnson, who is retiring on Dec. 31. It is the first painted portrait of a Bishop of Toronto since Bishop Derwyn Owen in 1947.

From left, artist Gregory Furmanczyk, Chancellor Clare Burns, Archbishop Colin and Ellen Johnson, Alison Knight and Rod Barr stand with the newly unveiled portrait. Photos by Michael Hudson

The portrait was unveiled at a retirement celebration for Archbishop Johnson at St. James Cathedral on Dec. 15. Anglicans from all parts of the diocese joined Toronto Mayor John Tory and other dignitaries at the event to express their thanks and appreciation to him.

Archbishop Johnson said the portrait took him totally by surprise. “It was painted from a photograph, so I had no idea that it was being done,” he said. “It’s a beautiful representation and I am happy the artist generously carved off a few pounds!”

The portrait, showing Archbishop Johnson in a relaxed and approachable pose, was painted by Gregory Furmanczyk, a noted Canadian artist whose works hang on Parliament Hill and in Queen’s Park. It was a gift from Alison Knight and Rod Barr, long-time friends of the diocese and life members of the Bishop’s Company. Ms. Knight was the diocese’s chief administrative officer from 2003 to 2009 and the donation was made in memory of her father, Donald John Knight, a devout churchman who died last year.

The painting will hang in the Diocesan Centre’s boardroom, renamed the Johnson Boardroom in thanksgiving for Archbishop Johnson’s four decades of service to the diocese. It is the largest meeting room at the Diocesan Centre and provides space for many groups.

“I am deeply honoured that Alison Knight and Rod Barr have given this gift in honour of Alison’s father,” said Archbishop Johnson. “That it will hang in the diocesan boardroom, now renamed in my honour, is a double blessing.”

Robert Busiakiewicz conducts the cathedral choir as it sings the anthem for the first time during Evensong.

In addition to the painting, a new anthem was created in recognition of Archbishop Johnson’s love of music. The anthem, composed by Matthew Larkin, is called “Strengthen for Service” and uses the text from Matthew 25:37-40. The anthem was sung for the first time by the cathedral’s choir during Evensong, held after the celebration.

The portrait’s unveiling and the announcement of the new anthem were just two of many surprising and delightful moments at the three-hour celebration, which included a reception line, a cake in the shape of the cathedral and reflections by Mayor Tory, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott and Thomas Cardinal Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Mayor Tory praised Archbishop Johnson for his advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized, saying he had made Toronto a better place to live. “Your advocacy has been exemplary – quiet, respectful and informed,” he said. “You have respected the diversity of this city, focusing on making it inclusive.”

Ms. Elliott echoed his words: “You’ve planted seeds of love and hope in your advocacy to which we can all aspire,” she said. “You’ve performed your service joyfully and faithfully. Your advocacy for the marginalized demonstrates your commitment to helping our most vulnerable.”

Coadjutor Bishop Andrew Asbil reflects on Archbishop Johnson’s portrait.

Bishop Andrew Asbil, who will become the Bishop of Toronto on Jan. 1, reflected on how the portrait showed various sides of Archbishop Johnson. “If you hold it in a particular light, you might just see the patience of a man who has tried to keep the Church together – but deeper still of a shepherd who has created a gracious pasture for a flock to dwell in, so that our differences do not consume us but make us better, deeper and richer. If you hold it in a different light, it speaks of a man with deep faith, leading in a time when it’s hard to find faith. If you hold it in a different light, you can see the whimsy and the humour and the good nature, but also a man who deeply loves this Church.”

He added: “We are so grateful to you. The shoes you have left behind are massive. I will do my very best to try to fill them.”

Archbishop Johnson was joined by his wife Ellen and their three grown children and grandchildren at the celebration and the Evensong that followed. Archbishop Johnson’s brother and his wife also attended, along with many close friends and colleagues. Clergy, lay people and staff also attended.

“It is a privilege and an honour to have served this great diocese for 41 years, and also to have served as the Bishop of Moosonee and Metropolitan of the province,” he said, addressing the gathering. “I’ve said numerous times that had I decided to do something different, I don’t think I would be as happy. After 41 years, I would do this all over again. The joy in ministry is profound and deep, and while there are occasions when I pull my hair out and get frustrated, I remember that initial call of joy and gladness, to be able to serve the people of God in such a huge range of ways.”

A cake in the shape of St. James Cathedral.

He said he was humbled that people had given up their Saturday afternoon, often travelling many miles, to attend the celebration. “I am incredibly honoured by the gifts I’ve received today, but what I’m most deeply grateful for is your presence,” he said.

Many came to express their thanks and appreciation. “I think what Archbishop Johnson has done for the diocese is beyond measure,” said the Rev. Canon Joan Cavanaugh-Clark, the incumbent of the Parish of Minden-Kinmount. “He’s brought a very diverse and multicultural city together, staying graceful and poised as he works among the disadvantaged. He’s always making his clergy and the people around him feel they are the most important people to him. He always remembers your name, who you are and how you are doing. His words of encouragement have always been an inspiration to me.”

Joanne Colbourne, ODT, a parishioner of All Saints, Kingsway who has served on diocesan boards and committees, said he has a “heart of gold” in terms of thinking of others. “He’s a most humble but gracious minister of the faith, and it’s been a privilege to have him as our leader,” she said.

Sarah McDonald, ODT, a member of St. James Cathedral, praised him for his commitment to equality and equity. “From the day I met him, he has always been very conscious and respectful of each person as an individual,” she said.

Archbishop Colin and Ellen Johnson with one of their grandchildren.

Canon Phyllis Creighton, a member of Christ Church, Deer Park and a long-time social justice activist, said, “From my heart, I thank him for encouraging us to take action for social justice. I think he has brought an immense sense of hope. He’s very steady and radiates good cheer and love of people. I’ve watched him since he was very young and he has certainly bloomed where he was planted.”

Canon Paul Baston, a member of St. Peter, Erindale and the diocese’s registrar and a vice-chancellor, said the archbishop has done a “fantastic” job. “He is a person of compassion who seeks to be conciliatory. He’s strong in what he believes but tolerant in terms of other people’s points of view. I’ve very much enjoyed having the opportunity to work with him through the years.”

In an interview after the celebration, Archbishop Johnson said he is leaving the diocese in good hands. “I’m very, very hopeful for the future of the diocese. I think Bishop Asbil will be brilliant as our diocesan bishop. The College of Bishops is strong and the clergy and laity are enormously gifted. God has truly blessed this diocese.”

See more photos.

Listen to Archbishop Johnson’s sermon.