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Diocese of Toronto: Controversial Consecration

More than the usual trepidation at this consecration: Archbishop Colin Johnson congratulates the new area bishops Jennifer Andison, Kevin Robertson and Riscylla Walsh Shaw.

Photo by Michael Hudson for the Diocese of Toronto

By Sue Careless 

JUST AS THERE is always some trepidation at a wedding when the clergy asks if there are any objections to the marriage, so there is some trepidation at the consecration of a bishop when the chief consecrator declares: “…if any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it now be made known” (Book of Alternative Services, p. 635).  

At the consecration of the Rev. Canon Kevin Robertson, an openly gay priest living in a partnered relationship, there was more than the usual trepidation.

His consecration, along with that of the Rev. Riscylla Walsh Shaw, and the Rev. Canon Jennifer Andison, took place on Jan. 7th at St. Paul’s Bloor Street in the Diocese of Toronto amidst much pain and pageantry, delight and “deep dismay.” 

Archbishop Colin Johnson, the Bishop of Toronto and Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, was the chief consecrator while Primate Fred Hiltz 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 continued, “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 further had any reason why the service should not proceed. There were no more objections voiced.

The Rev. Catherine Sider Hamilton said that she attended because she is a priest of the diocese and because she wanted to be sure the Archbishop did in fact register the formal objection as he had promised to do. “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 asked, 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 also assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College.

Twenty active and retired bishops took part in the laying on of hands, including Mark MacDonald, the National Indigenous Bishop, and Bishop Patrick Yu – both of whom had 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,” 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 The Anglican Planet.  “You may, however, recall that earlier in the conversation I supported an honoured, 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 acknowledgement 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.”

Some conservative clergy, such as the Rev. Dean Mercer, incumbent at St Paul’s Church, L’Amoreaux, refused to attend on principle.

Most of the conservative Anglican clergy who did attend did not robe formally nor walk in the procession or recession but wore only their regular clerical attire (clerical collars with street clothes) and sat in the congregation with the laity.

The retired bishop of Ontario and former principal of Wycliffe, Dr. Peter Mason, wore only clerical attire, which stood as a visual protest even as he presented Rev. Andison. Nor did he take part in the laying on of hands on any of the candidates.

Dr Barry Parker, rector of St Paul’s, and all the other clergy on his staff also only wore clerical attire, even though their church was hosting the consecration and Rev. Andison had been a priest on staff with them only a few years earlier. 

Traditionally consecrations are held in cathedrals, but St Paul’s, an evangelical parish, 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 by no means full. After the laying on of hands many of the orthodox left the building.          

“In many ways the service was a mirror of the dynamics of our church in the midst of discernment on a difficult issue,” said The Rt. Rev. Linda Nicholls, Bishop of Huron, who took part fully in the consecration. “It showed the differences we have but also modelled grace in acknowledgment and principled expression of disagreement.”  

She continued, “I have been delighted to observe the grace and friendship shared between the candidates in spite of differences they have.”

 Two protest letters had been sent to Archbishop Johnson, the first a letter of formal objection on Dec. 21st from canon lawyer Dr Ajit John, as interim Chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Anglican Communion Alliance. This official objection to the consecration documented legal grounds as to why the consecration should not proceed.

There was also a letter of concern dated Jan. 4th 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.

Archbishop Johnson has agreed to engage in a mediation process with representative of the conservative clergy to discuss what structures might be put in place for them and their congregations. In the past other dioceses have tried “alternative episcopal oversight” or “shared episcopal ministry.” The latter was the model adopted in the Diocese of Montreal in 2011. A mediator has yet to be  announced.   TAP


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