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A Letter to the Canadian Church from George Sumner

(Photo: Sue Careless)

GREETINGS IN CHRIST! Upon the occasion of my departure from Wycliffe College as principal after 16 years, I was asked to answer some questions about myself, the college, and the state of the Church it serves.  I have to the best of my ability assimilated the question, and this is my summative answer.  I was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas in May, and have just received ‘consent,’ which means the approval of a majority of the sitting bishops and standing committees of the dioceses.  Meanwhile Wycliffe begins its year with the ablest of interims, Bishop Peter Mason, formerly of Wycliffe and the Diocese of Ontario.  The college has commenced a search for its next principal – the successful candidate must by bylaw be an Anglican priest, in addition to which he or she will need to be an evangelical, a diplomat in the Church, a scholar with his or her fellow academics, and an administrator and fundraiser.  Such is the ‘cross-training’ nature of the job these days.

I am sometimes asked why I was open to the possibility of the episcopate. Though I have worked in the Church in one capacity or another for 40 years, I am sure there is a great deal I have yet to learn about what the job really entails from the inside. But there are features for which Wycliffe prepared me well: raising money, working with ordinands and finding people who can help parishes think about evangelism.  Dallas stands in a remarkable moment, with strong growth in its suburbs and diversity throughout, in part due to the arrival of refugees. My own background as a missionary and teacher of mission makes this challenge particularly appealing, though I need the help of those who know the local trends and culture better than I. The energy and hospitality of the place are remarkable, and are not unrelated to the spread of the Gospel.

Obviously in Anglican Churches on both sides of the border more traditional believers committed to remaining in the Church need to find a way to understand their ongoing vocation. I believe we are to be a reminder of the tradition, a call to patience amidst the pressure for rapid change, a sign of solidarity with the larger communion, a minority who make good our claim to be a comprehensive tradition.  To be disadvantaged is to be reminded of our utter dependence on God’s grace, which is a good thing.

Let me say a word about Wycliffe College and its place in the Canadian Church.  It was obvious to me as soon as I arrived that its status as, in essence, a mission society within the Church, was of great benefit.  Loyal but independent, pastoral but missionary, evangelical and churchly, with academics and students of various denominations: the College has a unique vantage point. The development program embodies a ‘holistic’ view of mission, its stream of new Anglicans on the ‘Canterbury Road’ is a great opportunity.  We have a key role to play in Indigenous theological education.  Obviously great change has come, and is coming in theological education in Canada, and the place of a complete residential college committed to engaging the new realities, whether online or local, is of the utmost importance.   

On a more personal note, Stephanie and I love our adoptive country of Canada and will miss it (not to mention Wycliffe). I am sure my son Samuel will visit Dallas but, being 19 and having immigrated at 3, he is a thorough Canadian. Our daughter Marta is a citizen of the world.  Civility and finding a way to hang together are gifts Canada offers to the world. We will stay in touch, and a student or two may find their way from the Lone Star state to the GTA! 

Peace GRS

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