Driven by choice, not by chance

The seating of the 13th Bishop of Huron: Linda Nicholls is the first woman to become a bishop in the Diocese of Huron and the first bishop not to be seated in St. Paul’s Cathedral

By Davor Milicevic

The Right Reverend Linda Nicholls was officially seated as 13th Bishop of Huron in London, Ontario on Saturday, November 26. She is not only the first woman to become the Bishop of Huron but, due to the ongoing repairs at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the first bishop whose enthronement took place in a church other than Anglican.

1-webOnly nine days before the Welcome and Seating service, the sanctuary of St. Paul’s cathedral was declared unsafe and had to be temporarily closed. Metropolitan United Church in downtown London, acting in the best tradition of ecumenical hospitality, graciously offered the Bishop and the Diocese the use of their church for the occasion.

But what could be seen as an event dictated by circumstances and by pure chance, might also be interpreted as determination to enter the realm of closer ecumenical ties with other Christian denominations by choice – something that reflects Bishop Nicholls’ long- standing engagement in representing the Anglican Church on the national level in this kind of dialogue.

She made this obvious in her words at the end of the service at the Metropolitan United Church:

“It is no accident, I think, that we are here today. For we are in the midst of challenging times as God’s Church in which we are being called to work together. It is also an opportunity to witness to that unity in Christ that we have as brothers and sisters across ecumenical traditions”, said Bishop Linda.

“I actually think this is a mark and a sign of my episcopacy that we will move on together”, added the new Bishop of Huron, announcing openly that the years to come could see more of this co-operation:

“It is a sign of many things to come, I am sure: small communities or large, wherever we can, to share the good news together, to worship together, to share our spaces and to know that at the end of the day what is most important is our life in Christ, to witness to the world God’s love – and this we can do the best together.”

There was another symbolic detail in the service which confirms these words.

3-webThe crozier Bishop Linda used to bang at the door at the beginning of the service was the one presented to Bishop Bruce Howe, the 11th Bishop of Huron, by Bishop Ron Fabbro of the Roman-Catholic Diocese of London, in 2007 for the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Huron.

“So we entered to the bangs of the Roman Catholics and into the grace and hospitality of the United Church and it is a sign of many things to come”, commented Bishop Linda.

For the cathedra – the throne in which a bishop is seated – the solution was found in the so-called “Isaac Hellmuth chair”, the chair in which the second Bishop of Huron sat and from which he allegedly presided over the meetings that led to the formation of Huron University College (the founding college for Western University, London).

The chair was brought in from the Huron Church House where it has recently been “retired”. On this Saturday afternoon it played quite an unexpected role in yet another historic event in Huron.

2-webThis solution symbolically pointed also to the efforts to find the new ways of ministry which would strengthen the faith in the times when some of the church buildings in the diocese are unsustainable – something that Bishop Linda takes over as one of the priorities from her predecessors on the episcopal throne.

The topic was echoed in the Primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz’s address from the pulpit. He reminded the faithful of St. Augustine’s words stating that not only churches but we too are a house of God: “The work we see complete in this building is physical; it should find our counterpart in your hearts.”

The sentiment that faith can no longer be tied to the buildings was displayed in the procession of diocesan clergy before the service.

Stretching from St. Paul’s and then through Queens Avenue and Wellington Street to the doors of Metropolitan United Church, the procession represented a powerful public statement of faith. And the beauty and flawlessness of the service showed that the diocesan clergy and faithful felt at home in the building of the United Church.

Once the service started, it was all the Anglican way, with a touch of Huron.

1-webbbThe Welcome and Seating service brought together in prayer and celebration hundreds of faithful with their clergy: deacons, priests, retired bishops (Bishop Linda’s predecessor Robert Bennett, Bishop Bruce Howe and Bishop Terry Dance), as well as the Most Reverend Fred Hiltz, Primate of All Canada, and the Most Reverend Colin Johnson, Metropolitan of Ontario.

Also present were: Rt. Rev. Michael Bird, Bishop of Niagara; Rt. Rev. John Chapman, Bishop of Ottawa; Rt. Rev. Patrick Yu from the Diocese of Toronto (York-Scarborough); bishops-elect from Toronto Rt. Rev. Kevin Robertson and Rt. Rev. Riscylla Walsh-Shaw; and Rt. Rev. Bishop Michael Pryse (Eastern Synod of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Canada).

Metropolitan Johnson presided over the service and Archbishop Hiltz was the preacher.

Upon entering the church, Bishop Linda was greeted by the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Rt. Rev. Bishop Barry Clarke who welcomed her as “our bishop”.

She was then welcomed by Rev. Canon Laverne Jacobs as a representative of the indigenous peoples of Huron to whom Bishop Nicholls acknowledged that “the land on which we gather and in which our diocese serves is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunce, Attawandaron (Neutral), and Wendat peoples.”

Then it was on Archbishop Johnson to lead the Investiture:

“Now I, Colin, Metropolitan of Ontario, with the consent of those who have chosen you, do invest you, Linda Nicholls as Bishop of Huron, with all the temporal and spiritual rights and responsibilities that pertain to that office, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Bishop Linda’s predecessor, Rt. Rev. Bishop Robert Bennet then laid down the diocesan crozier, which he has “maintained in good faith”, and gave it to the representatives of diocesan Synod, who presented it to the new Bishop.

Bishop Linda Nicholls was officially seated at the cathedra by the Dean of St. Paul’s and then presented to the clergy and faithful by the Archbishop.

Before celebrating the Eucharist, Bishop Linda affirmed the ministries of Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor to which James Ferguson and Christopher Sinal have been appointed.

It was a historic day for Huron. As the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada noted in his statement for the Huron Church News, “the way in which all the plans came together in spite of the circumstances here at the Cathedral were absolutely amazing.”

The Primate, Archbishop Johnson and Bishop Linda herself, expressed sincere gratitude to the Metroplitan United Church which was represented on this day by its senior minister Reverend Dr. Jeff Crittenden.

Also present at the Welcome and Seating of the 13th Bishop of Huron was Dr. Imam Jamal Taleb, the Imam of the Islamic Centre, London.

Finally, it should be noted that the seating of Bishop Linda as the first female bishop in Huron coincides with the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Canada.

The Diocese of Huron marked this jubilee in a three-day event in Stratford which ended with a celebratory service at Stratford’s St. James Church on November 30.

Our church leaders on Bishop Linda Nicholls

The Most Reverend Fred Hiltz, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada:

I am delighted to be here to celebrate with the Diocese as you seat the new bishop, Linda Nicholls. I have known her for a long time. She is a great leader.

I think the way in which all the plans came together in spite of the circumstances here at the Cathedral were absolutely amazing. We had a glorious service; it was a great atmosphere in that place today, the Spirit was clearly among us and I think it is just a great beginning for what would be a wonderful episcopate.

The Most Reverend Colin Johnson, Metropolitan of Ontario:

Bishop Linda is a terrific bishop. She has done extremely well in the Diocese of Toronto. She is pastoral, thoughtful, she is able to give direction without being bossy and she encourages people to work with her. She is simply just a wonderful person.

Having been a bishop already I think that she will be able to bring those gifts, from a different context into this context. That will expand on a very good ministry that has happened over the past fourteen or fifteen diocesan bishops and suffragans in the Diocese of Huron.

She will bring real energy because one of her real strengths is her ability to connect people one with another.

The Right Reverend Bruce Howe, 11th Bishop of Huron:

Saturday was a glorious day for Huron. God has truly blessed our Diocesan family with the gift of Bishop Linda as our Chief Pastor and shepherd.

With her many gifts and her deep faith Bishop Linda will, with our prayers and support, lead us forward with a renewed vision of our call to ministry in building up the Kingdom of God. God is good!