“Papa, I thought you had retired. Why are you still working?” My eldest granddaughter asked recently. The quick answer is that I love what I do, I still have energy and some gifts to offer, and I have more choice now to say “No, thank you” to requests that are not really in my skill set. And there is time flexibility—I retired from a position not from ministry.
So, I was delighted to accept Bishop Susan Bell’s invitation, confirmed by Synod Council, to serve as Assistant Bishop of Niagara. What does this appointment as Assistant Bishop mean? Well, in 25 hours per month, I will be bringing my experience to assist Bishop Susan in her episcopal ministry in this great diocese—consulting on emerging issues, mentoring newly appointed clergy in their transition, filling in on an emergency basis, and supporting congregations as needed.
We are at a critical time of recalibration as a Church—not only in parishes but in the way we engage as Christian witnesses. In a time of great stress, seemingly intractable problems, polarized factions, despair about the future, and insecurity about our capacity to make a difference, let’s remember that the Church has incredibly Good News to offer—hope founded on God’s continued love and presence in the world through the birth, death, resurrection of Jesus, and His abiding gift of the Spirit. God in Christ continues to make all things new. Jesus continues to invite us to share in his mission of healing and reconciling the world to God’s purposes. Our baptismal promises (see pp. 158-9, Book of Alternative Services) offer a compelling framework for ministry.
I function under the license of the Bishop, as all clergy do, with a letter of appointment, accountable to her and under her direction. A part-time assistant bishop does not participate in the House of Bishops, or governance at the provincial and national levels that is required of elected bishops by virtue of their ordination. This ministry will evolve as all ministries do, as time, opportunity, and circumstances dictate.
And what is the experience I bring?
I was born and raised in Wellington County but not as an Anglican. My family were members of Mt. Forest United Church, where I was baptized and confirmed, attended Sunday school, and sang in the choir. My only connection to the Anglican Church at that time was through the parish priest, Fr. David Blackwood, who was my Cub Master and later Scouter. My real introduction to Anglicanism came during first year at Western University when I was taken by a friend to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Enticed by the music and liturgy I returned the next week, and never looked back. Soon after my confirmation there, exactly 50 years ago, I felt a strong vocation to priesthood, completed my undergraduate degree in math and economics, and was sponsored by the Bishop of Huron to study divinity at Trinity College, Toronto. I was ordained 45 years ago in Toronto where I served in full-time ministry as parish priest in rural, urban, and suburban congregations, regional dean, diocesan administrator and archdeacon, suffragan bishop, and diocesan bishop. As Bishop of Toronto from 2004, later titled Archbishop after being elected as Metropolitan of the Province in 2009, I worked with a team of Area Bishops in one of the most populous dioceses in North America. And for the last five years before retirement, I was concurrently Bishop of the provincial mission diocese of Moosonee, a geographically vast area of small, scattered communities, with majority Indigenous membership, as different from Toronto (and Niagara) as you could imagine.
Before retirement, I made a list of projects to keep me busy; most are still on the list undone! Weeks after my farewell at the end of 2018, I filled in for the Bishop of Ontario as he dealt with his wife’s final illness and death. I teach on the faculty and coach new bishops with The Episcopal Church’s College of Bishops. I am a very active honorary assistant at St James Cathedral, just metres from my home in downtown Toronto.
It was an unexpected joy that in retirement I would still participate in the Anglican Bishops in Dialogue group that I had a hand in forming. It brought together concerned bishops from Canada, US, England, and eight Anglican Provinces in Africa to build bridges across the sometimes-acrimonious divisions within the Anglican Communion. It has been a life-changing experience personally and had a significant impact on the life of the Communion. Bishop Michael Bird was a central figure in those gatherings.
In retirement, I have led clergy retreats, authored a report on Cathedral Place, led Lenten studies, facilitated a conference on ministry, was in charge of a parish during a complex transition, and continue to teach with the Niagara School for Missional Leadership. For four months I served as the interim Bishop of Huron after Archbishop Linda Nicholls’ election as Primate of Canada. I facilitated the Parochial Selection Committees of two large congregations in Ontario and Niagara Dioceses.
That looks busy, and it has been—certainly not boring! But it’s not all church work. Until COVID-19 restricted us, my wife and I travelled extensively, binge-watched TV series and movies I’d missed, read a pile of books, and attended Later Life Learning lectures. We took ballroom dance classes. And most important of all, we get to spend more time with our three granddaughters (and their parents)! As one former Assistant Bishop said, “Isn’t retirement wonderful!”
It is my joy and privilege to work with you for a time as Assistant Bishop. I now look forward to getting to know you, and pray with, and for, you as we engage in God’s mission to be God’s Church for God’s World.