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Speakers pay tribute to clergy, Bishop’s Company at dinner

John Fraser talks about the clergy in his life during his speech at the Bishop's Company Dinner. Photos by Michael Hudson
John Fraser talks about the clergy in his life during his speech at the Bishop’s Company Dinner. Photos by Michael Hudson

By Stuart Mann

Terrific speeches were the order of the day at the 53rd annual Bishop’s Company Dinner, held in Toronto on May 20.

Both the Rev. Canon Andrew Asbil, the incumbent of the Church of the Redeemer, and John Fraser, the master of Massey College and a lifelong Anglican, wowed the sold out crowd of 480 with their personal stories. Canon Asbil spoke about how the Bishop’s Company helped him and his brother and sister-in-law in a time of need, and Mr. Fraser spoke about how various Anglican clerics guided him during the ups and downs of his life.

The annual fundraiser began with a reception at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, followed by dinner at the nearby Marriott Downtown Toronto Eaton Centre hotel. The evening raised $95,000, including $10,150 from a silent auction, to help clergy and their families in need and to provide scholarships for theological students. 

Mr. Fraser kept the crowd in stitches through much of his address, especially when he recounted his early life as a chorister at Christ Church, Deer Park, a server at St. Bartholomew, Regent Park, a student at Upper Canada College, and a piano player for a group of down and out men at St. George the Martyr in downtown Toronto.

Delores Lawrence, chair of the dinner committee and MC for the evening, welcomes guests.
Delores Lawrence, chair of the dinner committee and MC for the evening, welcomes guests.

During his teenage years, as his mother dealt with mental illness and his father’s business faced bankruptcy, Mr. Fraser was taken under the wings of kindly Anglican clerics – an experience he never forgot. “I wasn’t really aware that I was being attended to by these unobtrusive Anglican saints, but I was, and they glow in my memory as I try to honour them as I see the needs around me,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion.

Mr. Fraser went on to a distinguished career as a writer with the Globe and Mail and editor of Saturday Night magazine. Wherever he travelled in the world, he said, he sought out an Anglican church and attended its services. “I am as Anglican as anyone can get,” he said. “I rejoice in my denomination and love it to my heart’s core. I love it as much for its foibles and flaws as for its certainties and triumphs.”

A member of St. Clement, Eglinton, for the past four decades, Mr. Fraser recalled with fondness some of its rectors, including the Very Rev. Duncan Abraham, Archbishop Terence Finlay, the Very Rev. Douglas Stoute, the Rev. Canon Cheryl Palmer and the current incumbent, the Rev. Jenny Andison. “To all these rectors, I owe so much in so many different ways as they put up with the loosest cannon in their parish,” he said.

Students enjoy the festivities.
Students enjoy the festivities.

Mr. Fraser spoke about the reconciliation he had with Archbishop Finlay after writing about the archbishop and the church’s struggles with issues of sexuality in a book in 2000. “(We) never abandoned each other, even when the hurt was at its height,” he said. “I believe we didn’t give up on each other because we were both struggling, fallible Christians of the Anglican variety. Right in the marrow of our bones there was a desire to work through to some peaceful solution or at least to just get by it all to a better place of possibilities.

“To me, this is the core of the Anglicanism that I love,” he said. “Through all the centuries of our church, despite every misstep or catastrophe in our church, there have always been Anglicans struggling to reach the light through a prism of fairness and understanding of each other. In the end, the reason why I love the church so much is because it remains an institution capable of absorbing the hurt we can thoughtlessly and sometimes willfully inflict on each other and yet transcend it through a distinctive filter of tolerance.”

The Rev. Canon Andrew Asbil thanks the Bishop's Company.
The Rev. Canon Andrew Asbil thanks the Bishop’s Company.

Canon Asbil spoke about how Archbishop Colin Johnson and the Bishop’s Company helped him after he learned that his sister-in-law had been critically injured during a vacation in Europe. After receiving a frantic call from his brother in Austria, he contacted Archbishop Johnson, who provided him with the time and funds to travel to Austria to support his brother and sister-in-law, who was in an induced coma.  

“Don’t ever underestimate the power of the Bishop’s Company to be a vessel of hope for men and women and children and clergy like me who find themselves in a dangerous position and don’t think they have options,” said Canon Asbil. With the help of a retired bishop, Canon Asbil’s sister-in-law was able to be flown back to Canada and to receive the care of a neurosurgeon here.

Enjoying the reception at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square.
Enjoying the reception at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square.

As in previous years, scholarship recipients were announced at the dinner. Leonard Leader and Antoine Rutherford received the Terence and Alice Jean Finlay Bursary, which is given to two students, one each from Trinity and Wycliffe colleges, who are engaged in studies that celebrate and enhance the understanding of the diversity of the church. Kenneth McClure was awarded the Kirubai Scholarship, given to a Trinity College divinity student who is specializing in liturgy and worship. Irina Dubinski received the William Kay Bursary, which aids students who are engaged in theological education that will lead to ordination. The Rev. Valerie Michaelson and the Rev. Daniel Graves received the George & Eileen Carey Bursary, awarded to Anglicans pursuing post-graduate theological studies.

Learn more about the Bishop’s Company.