By Archbishop Colin R. Johnson
I never thought retirement would look like this! I’ve joked that I am busy failing at it. A long-retired colleague more gracefully reframed it, “You’re in retirement stage one.”
It has been a joy to serve these few months from October to January as Diocesan Administrator on an interim, part-time basis between the 13th and 14th diocesan Bishops of Huron. I admit that this role never entered my wildest imaginings when I sat in the office of Bishop Carmen Queen in January 1972, the first bishop I ever met, and nervously explored the possibility of ordination to the priesthood. (I am sure the idea never entered his head, either!)
Over these past few months, I have had the opportunity to ordain a deacon and a priest, appoint an archdeacon, encourage the sharing of ministry in three area ministries, and license clergy to new appointments. I have participated, often as chair, in meetings too many to mention, including Diocesan Council and the Corporation of Huron University College. There have been a clergy conference and two regional clergy education days, individual interviews with clergy and postulants for ordination, and consultations with staff and chancellors.
If you ask bishops what is the most rewarding aspect of their ministry, almost all will respond that it is the Sunday visits to parishes that most energize them – the opportunity to worship with local people and hear how they are engaging in their communities and the issues they are struggling with. There is amazing, diverse ministry happening all across a diocese. The bishop is privileged to go from place to place and see the broad strokes of it, and oh my, how heart-warming and humbling it is! This is the real antidote to the fear and despair that are so much a part of the usual narrative of church today.
Alas that has not been part of my short mandate. It will be Bishop Todd’s joy to take up that. But fortunately, still I have learned a great deal about Huron’s parishes. I met with each of the archdeacons every month to hear about each of the parishes in their area and to advise about pastoral, liturgical and parish issues that arise. While not as comprehensive as gatherings with parishioners, in my many meetings with parish clergy, both in groups and individually, I have had a taste of the life of this diocese.
I offer you three observations as I finish my ministry here.
You have a superb staff in the Synod Office and senior leadership team. Archdeacon Tayna Phibbs, Canon Paul Rathbone and the support team around them are among the most competent, caring, faithful people I have met, and they are exercising stellar ministry on behalf of the diocese and the church they love. The diocesan archdeacons are equally impressive, and together with your new bishop, you are very blessed indeed in the leaders you have.
Secondly, each of your parishes is completing a Ministry and Mission Plan. This allows you to assess your ministry in the context of Christ’s mission within your own local community and as part of the coordinated ministry and mission of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Huron. Huron is providing leadership in the Canadian Church in this (although the Church of England has been doing it for some time) because it is being both realistic in facing the challenges and proactive in discovering new and, yes, old avenues for ministry. You are providing the basis for faithful and thought out action in response to God’s invitation to us to proclaim the Gospel afresh in our time. Good for you! Keep at it!
Thirdly, you already have the resources you need to face the future with confidence and hope: faith, scripture and liturgy, leadership, imagination, skills, commitment, financial and physical assets. There are indeed obstacles and challenges – social and demographic shifts, expensive and aging buildings, inflexible habits – but all of these can also be converted from obstacles to really substantial opportunities with some creative imagination and persistence (and some willingness to embrace the pain of change.) My daughter had a social media tagline: “If you believe you’re too small to make a difference, you have not been in bed with a mosquito!” Do not underestimate the gifts you have at your disposal. They are very significant. They are part of your rich heritage. They are God’s gifts to you to use for his purposes today.
Thank you for the chance to serve in this diocese. Personally, I am not sure what stage two of retirement will look like, or even how many stages there are, but I do know that there are lots of ventures to keep me active. I would like to explore my family history further, continue to mentor new bishops, undertake a couple of research projects that interest me, participate in Life Long Learning courses, pick up my flagging exercise regime and travel some more. And, of course, I need to learn to say more forcefully, “No, but thank you for asking!”
On the other hand, you never know what surprises, yet to be imagined, God has in store. May I be wise enough to respond to his invitations with a faithful, “Yes!”