Dear Friends in Christ,
Happy Ascensiontide! These ten days between yesterday’s Feast of the Ascension, and the upcoming Feast of Pentecost on May 23, is a time pregnant with anticipation. Yesterday at our College of Bishops meeting, Bishop Kevin called it “a mini-Advent”. I like that image. Those early followers of Jesus were waiting, in some anxiety and wonder, for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. We all know how waiting can feel.
With yesterday’s announcement from the Provincial Government that the Stay-At- Home order will continue until at least June 2, we continue to wait – for numbers to indicate that the COVID-19 virus and its variants are being contained, for transmissions to decrease, for hospitalizations to lessen, for mass vaccinations to occur, eventually for things to return to normal. It can be difficult to wait –frustrating and anxiety-provoking. But we continue to abide by our Red Stage Guidelines and to do our part, in anticipation of that day when we too, like those first apostles, leave our places of refuge to re-engage with the world around us and to share the hope that is in us, in new and exciting ways – possibly ways that we couldn’t even imagine before! The pandemic opened to us new opportunities for doing things and reaching new people. What other creative and bold ways are we being called to serve and engage with the world, post-pandemic? Maybe we can use this time of waiting to plan something exciting, something that can change our relationship with our neighbours and our world just as soon as we are able.
One area where I know there is interest and excitement in our Diocese is around the use of our land. We are blessed in this Diocese with good land. Our properties are the site of our church buildings, gardens, and cemeteries. In the past, when they have become surplus to our needs, the proceeds from their sale have funded much- needed capital improvements and new forms of ministry throughout our Diocese. But – especially in light of the worsening housing crisis – could they do even more? How could we work together with others in our communities to create homes and contribute to the flourishing of our neighbourhoods?
In 2019, our Diocese’s Synod adopted a motion to develop an affordable housing plan for the Diocese, to determine the feasibility of building affordable housing on diocesan-owned lands, in partnership with industry experts in the fields of planning, development, and affordable housing provision.
The Diocesan Property Working Group is developing a framework for property
development in the Diocese while encouraging parishes to assess their own situation and, where appropriate, to consider alternate uses of their property, including affordable housing.
As part of this endeavour, we will be offering a series of online meetings over the next few months to educate parishes and encourage them to explore potential redevelopment options. The first event, “Common Ground and the Common Good: Church Redevelopment in the Diocese of Toronto,” will be held the morning of Saturday, June 12. This online workshop will include an exploration of the theology of land use, examples of recent successful housing developments on church properties in other parts of Canada, and discussion of what assistance the Diocese could offer parishes through the redevelopment process. This event is designed especially for clergy and lay leaders of parishes who are considering redevelopment, but also welcomes anyone in the Diocese with an interest in creating affordable housing.
The June event will be followed up by a series of summer seminars which will take interested parish leaders deeper into specific aspects of the redevelopment process, such as getting a congregation on board, seeking out partnerships for construction and operation of housing units, securing funding, and more. Finally, another event is planned for September 2021, for parishes planning to take the next steps in pursuing redevelopment.
To register for Common Ground and the Common Good on June 12, please visit link here.
I am writing this to you from outside, on this beautiful spring day, and I am giving thanks to God that I get to call this little corner of creation my home. All of us need and deserve a safe place to call home, and I pray that we can be inspired by the Holy Spirit to do our part in making this a reality for more of our neighbours. Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil Bishop of Toronto