Protests in Toronto
Bishop Colin Johnson applauds for newly consecrated bishops Jennifer Andison, Kevin Robertson,
and Riscylla Shaw
By Sue Careless
The consecration service of three area bishops for the Diocese of Toronto prompted protests because one of the three, the Rev. Canon Kevin Robertson, is a gay priest living in a partnered relationship.
Robertson, the Rev. Riscylla Shaw, and the Rev. Canon Jennifer Andison were consecrated Jan. 7 at St. Paul’s Bloor Street amid pageantry and pain, delight and dismay.
The Most Rev. Colin Johnson, Bishop of Toronto and Metropolitan of Ontario, was the chief consecrator and the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, was a co-consecrator. Before the rite began Johnson acknowledged there had been serious objections raised. Standing on the chancel steps, he read from a prepared statement.
“I want to acknowledge that I have received a formal letter of objection to these consecrations from some clergy and lay people of the diocese,” he said. “It contains arguments against the canonical and ecclesial validity of these consecrations. I have read and considered their arguments. I am grateful that they have chosen to make their objections known to me in this way with great dignity. I thank them that many of them have made the difficult decision to be here today — despite their serious reservations — because of the love and desire they bear for the unity and faithful witness of the Church to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While it is our intention to proceed today, I also want all of you and the whole diocese to know that I am engaged in a serious and mutually committed consultation with those objecting, to find effective ways that our ministries might flourish together in the highest degree of communion possible.”
He added: “There are those present who come with joy, hope, and celebration of this moment and those who are anxious, dismayed, and hurting.”
After the sermon, the three bishops-elect said and signed their declaration of faith. Then stating, in a reference to the letter of objection received, that “not all concur,” Archbishop Johnson asked the congregation whether anyone had any further reason why the service should not proceed. There were no more objections voiced.
The Rev. Catherine Sider Hamilton said she attended because she is a priest of the diocese and because she wanted to be sure the Archbishop registered the formal objection. “If he had not, several of us were prepared to stand up and object verbally.”
She and many other conservative clergy and laity did not assent to the questions, nor did they stand for the consecration or partake of the Eucharist that followed. Sider Hamilton is priest-in-charge at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Riverdale, and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College.
Twenty active and retired bishops joined in laying on hands, including the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, the national Indigenous bishop, and the Rt. Rev. Patrick Yu, who had both voted against same-sex marriage at General Synod only six months earlier.
“I was focused on the ordination of an Indigenous candidate, Riscylla Shaw, and was there to support her,” said Bishop MacDonald, who presented Shaw for consecration. “There was some tension in the air, but not overwhelmingly so. I am praying for us all in these trying times.”
“I voted against the change in the marriage canon,” Bishop Yu told TLC. “You may, however, recall that earlier in the conversation I supported an honored, public, and safe place for committed same-sex couples in the church which is distinct from marriage. Kevin and Mohan have a long, committed relationship, which has been blessed by the church. I have worked closely with him, appointed him as the liturgical officer and later regional dean. I discern episcopal gifts in him and have told him so. Therefore he was a priest in good standing when elected, and I gave concurrence to his consecration. Not to do so would be disingenuous and would give the message that he can work in the church for a bishop, me, but he cannot lead the church as a bishop. I cannot see the logic of that.
“Nevertheless, I understand that the consecration of the Rev. Kevin Robertson causes strains in the church and regretted the timing, so soon after General Synod. Be that as it may, I will support him in his episcopal ministry as my successor as the Area Bishop of York-Scarborough. On the day of consecration, we were all nervous about what might happen. I think the gracious conversation between those who objected before the event and the gracious acknowledgment of the archbishop, twice in the service, testified to the goodwill of working together for the core mission of Jesus to be his witness in our complicated time.”
A number of prominent Anglicans were notable by their absence: Bishop Stephen Andrews, Principal of Wycliffe College; the Rev. Ephraim Radner of Wycliffe College and his wife, the Rev. Annette Brownlee; and the Rev. Dean Mercer, incumbent at St. Paul’s Church, L’Amoreaux.
Most conservative Anglican clergy who attended did not vest or process but sat in the congregation among the laity.
The Rt. Rev. Peter Mason, retired Bishop of Ontario and former principal of Wycliffe, wore only clerical attire, which stood as a visual protest even as he presented Andison. Nor did he join in laying on hands.
The Rev. Barry Parker, rector of St Paul’s, and the other clergy on his staff only wore clerical attire, although their church hosted the consecration and Andison had become rector only a few years earlier.
Traditionally consecrations are held in cathedrals, but St. Paul’s was chosen in part because it could seat more than St. James Cathedral. But while about 800 attended, more had been expected and the huge church was not full. After the laying on of hands many of conservatives left the building.
Two protest letters had been sent to Archbishop Johnson, the first a letter of formal objection on Dec. 21 from canon lawyer Ajit John, as chairman of the Toronto chapter of the Anglican Communion Alliance. This official objection to the consecration documented legal grounds for why the consecration should not proceed.
There was also a letter of concern dated Jan. 4 expressing in more detail the pain the whole sequence of events was causing many in the diocese. It was signed by 150 people, 40 of them diocesan clergy.
The alliance and Archbishop Johnson have agreed to engage in mediation to discuss what structures might be put in place for conservatives, such as alternative episcopal oversight or shared episcopal ministry, as adopted in the Diocese of Montreal in 2011. A mediator has been decided upon but has yet to be announced.
As different from the ordination of a self-acknowledgedly ‘Gay’ clergyman in our own Dunedin Diocese of the Province of New Zealand some years ago; this recent episcopal ordination of a Same-Sex partnered priest in the Anglican Diocese of Toronto proceeded without any unseemly public demonstration of opposition by noisy interventionists at the actual ordination service.
In our own situation,some years ago in ACANZP, several activist clergy and laity from a conservative group in the Anglican diocese of Christchurch, present at a Service of Ordination to the priesthood of a local candidate deemed by the Bishop and diocese of Dunedin to be a fit candidate for ordination; were involved in a noisy objection to the ordination on the grounds of the candidate’s known homosexual orientation. Despite the objection, the Bishop quietly continued with the ordination process, ensuring a dignified conclusion to the process.
This news of the episcopal ordination of three bishops in the Anglican Diocese of Toronto proceeding in a dignified manner – without the embarrassment of a noisily conducted public protest – is a symbol of the dignity with which the protesters in the Diocese of Toronto decided to show their opposition. Public worship must surely not be disturbed by noisy clergy insistent on their supposed ‘right to protest’ against the legally constituted proceedings that the local bishop and diocesan authorities have considered fitting to the occasion being celebrated.
Congratulations to the Bishop and diocesan authorities – and the protesters – on this occasion, for not allowing the legitimate worship and canonical procedures of the Church to be marred by an act of public desecration.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand