Obections 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 a written objection 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.

‘Only the Beginning of the Protest’

Sue Careless talks with the Rev. Catherine Sider Hamilton about the future in the Diocese of Toronto.

Why did you object to the whole episcopal election, not just the election of Kevin Robertson?

I object to the whole consecration, too. In my view it was entirely invalid. First, theological: the consecration represents our failure as a diocese to understand the meaning of Christian marriage and to keep the faith. Kevin is not doing this on his own. He is a priest of the diocese in good standing, as the archbishop pointed out when I objected at synod. The archbishop appointed him; the electoral committee approved his candidacy; the Ontario College of Bishops concurred in his election. It is the wrong-headedness of the whole diocese that his election represents. I have no wish to make him the fall guy for a failure that belongs to the diocese as a whole and especially to its leaders.

Second, practical: If a candidate is not duly qualified then the slate and the election as a whole are out of order. Further, the outcome would be different if the slate were differently constituted.

Why did the Anglican Communion Alliance decide on only a written letter of objection and not a vocal one?

We thought a formal and detailed letter of objection publicly acknowledged by the archbishop would have more weight and lasting effect. It is important now for the details of the objection to be made known widely. This is in a real sense only the beginning of the protest.

Were you disappointed that the ACA’s letters would only be referenced, not read aloud or even quoted from?

No: that the archbishop recognized publicly that a serious objection had been made on canonical and ecclesial grounds to the consecration over which he presided was very significant. That he recognized publicly that the objection was serious enough that a mediator is required in the diocese was also significant. I thought that he made the statement at some personal cost, and for that I am grateful.

Having said that, I would also say that there is nothing that can ameliorate the damage done by the consecration; nothing can change the fact that in a solemn celebration of the gathered church we have done what is wrong.

What has Archbishop Colin Johnson assured you is expected or not expected in your ecclesial relationship with Bishop Robertson?

This will be clearer after the mediation process. However, for the moment he has indicated that he would respect the wishes of those who cannot accept Robertson’s sacramental ministry.

For myself, I seek some way to serve the beloved people of my parish while still being faithful to the teaching of the church on marriage. To “consecrate” bishops who represent and live a different teaching creates a very particular problem in a hierarchical church. When my vows of obedience to the received doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church are at odds with the obedience I owe my bishop, how am I to proceed? For me it will be a victory if we can simply get the archbishop to understand how real the problem is and how great the anguish this situation of lived contradiction creates. He believes he is creating a big tent. We believe he is betraying the faith, and asking us to do so with every Eucharist that we celebrate as priests of his diocese.

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.”

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 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 been a priest on staff there 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.

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 been decided upon but has yet to be publicly announced.

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