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Season of Spiritual Renewal seeks to rekindle faith

By Stuart Mann

The Diocese of Toronto is planning to hold a Season of Spiritual Renewal 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 this 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 visioning and strategy process, has consulted with about 1,000 clergy and laity since last fall. 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.

In response to that desire, Cast the Net’s steering committee originally proposed a year of spiritual renewal, to be held in 2024. However, it was felt that a two-year time frame was more realistic to plan and hold activities. Therefore, the Season of Spiritual Renewal will start with Synod this November and run until the fall of 2025.

The steering committee is proposing that the season unfold in four phases:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The College of Bishops requested that $400,000 be set aside from the diocese’s Our Faith-Our Hope funds to support the season, including the hiring of a coordinator and an administrator and coordinator of volunteers. Synod Council approved the request at its June meeting.

Bishop Asbil believes the time is right for the Season of 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 season 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?”