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Bishop's Letters to the Diocese

A Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew (September 4th)

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

From late November until the early spring, we and kids from our neighbourhood would hit the street to play road hockey. Most days after school, two nets would be set up between parked cars and we would play till supper was called. Sometimes there were five or six of us and sometimes as many as a dozen – shooting, passing, scoring and making saves. There were no fans in the stands, like the NHL playoffs during COVID-19, just the odd car passing through our imaginary rink. Their intrusion curried a collective cry of “CAR!” Nets were removed and players stepped to the curb like a commercial break in the big leagues, and then play resumed as they passed by.

 

We wore our heroes’ jerseys. We were Canadiens, Leafs and Bruins. We were numbers 4, 19 and 7. I loved playing goalie, defending the net, keeping the ball out, making saves (still doing that). I wore number 29 in bleu, blanc et rouge. In the early days, my equipment was primitive: a stick, baseball glove, and three extra sweaters for padding. Believe me, it didn’t help much. I had bruises on my shins from sticks attempting to swipe the ball, and every now and again a welt would appear on my face after getting hit with a frozen tennis ball.

 

Under the tree on Christmas day in 1973 were a pair of goalie pads and a mask. My cries of suffering had been heard, relief had come. The pads covered a multitude of wounds. The goalie mask was rudimentary – a plastic form with two eye holes and one for the mouth, all held in place by elastic bands. While you couldn’t see very well through the peep holes and the darn thing didn’t stay still on my face and sweat always built up inside, by golly it was better than nothing. Deeper still, the mask gave me a new-found confidence beyond just ducking.

 

Since late spring, we have all been getting used to wearing masks. Putting them on when stepping into the grocery store, the office, a public place. Taking them off, misplacing them, dropping them, hanging them from one ear, over the rear-view mirror of the car, crumpling them in a pocket. Some of us have one mask, some have many. Some are hand-made, others store-bought, some plain and some decorated. For those of us who spend time in the public square, wearing a mask is becoming a new habit.

 

As we step back into our church buildings, step back into play, we will all be donning masks in worship. It has been my experience so far that leading the liturgy and preaching while wearing a mask isn’t easy. I find it difficult to steady my breathing while striving to project loud enough to be heard. Slowing the pace of speaking helps. And yet sometimes I find the darn mask keeps moving around and I am constantly trying to readjust it. Other times my reading glasses get fogged up or the material becomes too damp. It’s a pain and yet it’s a pain worth enduring.

 

With reopening only ten days away, I urge everyone to practice wearing a mask for church. What will it be like for you to pray, to listen, to read, to speak, to preach or to preside with your face covered and your mouth obscured? How does it work, and how does it feel for you, when your ability to animate and articulate your words are compromised? And, like so much else in this pandemic, how is God teaching us new and sacrificial ways of doing things to serve each other?

 

The mask and the protocols for re-entry provide us with the confidence to gather, to don the vestments of our tradition, to feast on the word that is a salve to our wounds and to break the bread that brings life.

 

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil

Bishop of Toronto

 

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A Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew (July 17th)

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Change.

 

I began my June 26th, 2020 letter to you with the age-old joke: How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb? While the punchlines are many and mostly pretty corny, our laughter is still telling. We know full well that change comes hard for most of us. The circumstances in which we live because of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to stretch our imaginations, patience, and creativity. We grow ever more concerned about what the future might hold for us. It’s in times such as these that those of us who are glass-half-full kind of folks look for the silver lining. Those of us who bend toward a glass-half-empty wring our hands with worry. Like it or not, we are changing.

 

In the midst of this upset and disruption comes the brutal killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Since that heinous crime took place there has been a boiling over, a taking to the streets, a community expression of anger, protest and an enough-is-enough attitude against anti-Black racism. There is an ever-growing circle in society - including in the Church - that is speaking out. 

 

One of the opportunities of learning and teaching that I have appreciated very much in this season of change is the Wednesday evening Roundtable Discussions sponsored by Black Anglicans of Canada. For the past two Wednesdays almost 100 people have participated in these informative and challenging presentations. There are two more events offered in July. On July 22nd, the topic is Anti-Black Racism in Institutions and the speaker is Dr. Carl Everton James. On July 29th, the topic is Bending the Knee and Changing the Hearts: A Toronto Model for a Just Intercultural Church, the speaker is the Rev. Dr. Sonia Hinds. I encourage you to attend. Here is the link. I will be there.

 

Angela Y. Davis, activist, academic, writer and teacher once said, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” The events of the last few weeks are challenging us to see anew and to change what we can no longer accept. It is time to challenge and to question how structures shape our attitudes, beliefs, assumptions and bias. We must understand and confront white privilege, institutional and systemic racism that so many of us have been blind to for too long. And we must not be afraid to become agents of transformation. To dismantle racism in all of its forms takes commitment, community and faith in order to realize progress and change. It means becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. It means taking a very long look in the mirror and understanding the part that we each play. Jesus reminds us, whether half-full or half-empty, we are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world. Change.

 

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil

Bishop of Toronto

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A Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew (June 30th)

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Things are beginning to move again. Some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been lifted in most parts of the province. Yet, an outbreak in Kingston and another in two farming towns in southwestern Ontario remind us of the precarious nature of moving forward. The spate of cases on the farms also calls into question the appalling living conditions of migrant workers that undoubtedly contributed to the spread of the virus. Our prayers and concern rest with those whose lives have been forever changed by this tragedy.

 

In the rest of Ontario, many businesses, restaurant patios, swimming pools and beaches are gradually opening again at a reduced capacity. These important moves give us some hope that a return to a new “normal” may be possible. On the other hand, we are not naïve. While the number of confirmed cases continues to go down across Canada, other countries, including the United States, China and Korea, are experiencing a rise in infections.

 

This is not a time to be complacent in the reopening of our church buildings. It is a time to be prudent, cautious and careful. On June 17, the Provincial House of Bishops issued a document called Loving Our Neighbours: A Template for the Safe Reopening of Our Church BuildingsIn concert with this provincial template, we now issue protocols for reopening in the Diocese of Toronto. This comprehensive checklist for parishes and ministries of the Diocese is the collective effort of the Bishops Office, the Executive Director and the directors of each department, in consultation with provincial guidelines, public health, the Regional Deans and faith communities across the country. In addition, we are grateful to the Rev. Canon Jo Davies and Ms. Angie Hocking for their part in writing portions of the procedures. The protocols checklist was received by the Executive Board and Trusts Committee on June 25, and we offer them to the whole Diocese today.

 

While some denominations and faith communities have elected to open now, the Anglican bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario have chosen to take a more cautious approach and reopen in September. This decision to delay was made in part to ensure that lay leaders and clergy find time for summer holidays. And we recognize that putting the protocols in place will take careful planning. It will take time for each parish to figure out how to ensure social distancing, stringent cleaning measures, office and worship guidelines, and Christian hospitality while restrictions apply. The checklist is comprehensive and it’s tempting to read through seventeen pages of best practices and feel overwhelmed. Remember, we have time to plan. The Diocese is here to help.

 

In the closing chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes…So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. While Paul was not writing to a community facing the ills of a pandemic, he was reminding the Church of its call to support and care for one another in mutual love. To practice what was preached!

 

May we too be inspired to continue to work for the good of all.

 

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil

Bishop of Toronto

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A Letter to the Diocese from Bishop Andrew (June 5th)

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Racism is a sin. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the three evils that plague society: racism, poverty and war. He went on to say, “…And we must face the hard fact that many Americans would like to have a nation which is a democracy for white Americans but simultaneously a dictatorship over black Americans. We must face the fact that we still have much to do in the area of race relations.”

 

What’s going on?

 

Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Motown vocal group the Four Tops, was inspired to write a song after he witnessed the violent attack by police on protesters in the People’s Park in Berkeley, California on May 15, 1969. He tried to convince his bandmates to record it, but they rejected the idea because they thought it was a protest song. Benson said later, "I said no, it's a love song about love and understanding. I'm not protesting. I want to know what's going on.”

 

What’s going on?

 

Benson offered the song to Marvin Gaye, who re-worked the melody line and the lyrics to express his own bewilderment and grief of the social ills touching America. He was particularly perplexed by the war in Vietnam and the Watts Riot of 1965 that raged for five days. It was a revolt fueled by police brutality, poverty and systemic racism. The song was released in February of 1971. What’s Going On is No. 4 on Rolling Stones’ list of Best Songs of All Times. 

 

Mother, mother

There's too many of you crying

Brother, brother, brother

There's far too many of you dying

You know we've got to find a way

To bring some lovin' here today, eh eh…

 

What’s going on?

 

In a week that has been fueled by upset, anger, bewilderment and pain, the song and the question it posed comes to mind for me. The blatant abuse of power and disregard for the sanctity of George Floyd’s life is appalling. How a police officer could hold him down with his knee for an interminable eight minutes and forty seconds while Mr. Floyd lay handcuffed and pleading, I can’t breathe. How can this be? What’s going on?

 

It has been a week marked by protest. Most have been non-violent. We have witnessed moments of tender peace, vulnerability and pleadings from some elected officials, police chiefs and family members to try to find a way. There have been crowds chanting I can’t breathe. And there have been police officers dropping to take a knee in solidarity with protesters expressing dismay and anger. Protests have erupted in hundreds of cities across the United States, from Minneapolis to New York City, from Fresno to Norfolk and all points in between. And the protests have spilled over in countries around the world.

 

What’s going on?

 

Four police officers have been charged, one with second degree murder and three with aiding and abetting second degree murder. It is some consolation. Yet, we all know that this terrible moment exposes once again the racism and discrimination inherent in the attitudes of many, present in institutions and society at all levels, and its grip continues to separate, divide and diminish. This moment reminds us that the long arc of racial reconciliation and healing has a long way to go. But… You know we've got to find a way.

 

What’s going on?

 

A border between Canada and the United States cannot separate us, nor keep us from the reality that racism and discrimination is part of the fabric of our society too, inherent in our institutions, and expressed by all of us to some degree or another. In Ontario, and in particular Toronto over the last three decades, there has been a history of racial controversies that have ignited protests and accusations of racism. The practice of carding was ended because of the public’s lack of trust in the police. An analysis done by the Toronto Star suggests that between 2003 and 2013, Black people with no history of criminal convictions were three times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for possession of small amounts of marijuana than white people with similar backgrounds. In 2018, a report by the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that Black people were “grossly overrepresented’ in cases in which police have used force, including in seven of ten fatal shootings by police between 2012 and 2017.

 

And let’s be honest: racism and discrimination is in the Church, too. Sometimes we don’t see our bias. Sometimes we downplay how our systems and policies treat people differently based on the colour of skin, language and culture. We fail to see how brown and black are treated differently than white. How Indigenous peoples are treated differently. The National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ final report reveals that persistent and deetliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. We are only fooling ourselves if we can’t see it. Yet, when we do see, when our eyes are opened – well, then change can start, reconciliation can begin, healing and peace can come.

 

On Easter Day, Jesus stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you, and he breathed on them. In that moment, their eyes were opened to the way they were being called to go – toward reconciliation, toward peace, toward justice. They were being called to love neighbour and even enemy. They were being called to honour the breath in all humanity, a reality that was punctuated by the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

 

What’s going on?

 

The College of Bishops is committed to walking in the same way. We pledge to continue to wear the mantle of racial reconciliation and healing, to be leaders in this important ministry. We have work to do. While the Anglican Church of Canada approved a Charter for Racial Justice in March 2004, a policy that supports the Charter has yet to be established. In keeping with the Charter, “Our struggle for racial justice requires new attitudes, new understandings and new relationships, and these must be reflected in the policies, structures, and practices of the Church, as well as in the laws and institutions of society.” One small step that our Diocese will take in the work of dismantling racism will be offering anti-racism and bias training for clergy beginning in the fall of this year. We hope and pray that our efforts might help break old patterns and old ways that keep us from being the love God intended in the first place.

 

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil

Bishop of Toronto

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