After eight years in the role, Bishop Robert Bennett, of the diocese of Huron, will retire Nov. 1, 2016.
Bennett, who became diocesan bishop in 2008 after serving as suffragan (assistant) bishop of the diocese for six years, announced his retirement last spring. Succeeding him will be Bishop Linda Nicholls, who was elected coadjutor bishop of the diocese February 13.
Bennett said one of the great privileges he enjoyed as bishop was the chance to witness first-hand the ministry being done in parishes across the diocese.
“To become a bishop is to be punched out of your comfort zone and maybe even your myopic sense of what is real,” he said. “Every Sunday, I go somewhere different, and by and large, I’m like, ‘Wow, look at the stuff they’re doing here!’
“You see the church in a whole different way.”
Among the most troubling things he witnessed as bishop, Bennett said, was the divisiveness caused by the issue of human sexuality.
“I think it’s taken a great toll both within congregations and the House of Bishops,” he said. “That issue-and it’s still there-is always front and centre in the house, and it makes it very difficult for me, and I think everybody else, to embrace and focus on what we’re really about as church.”
Discord over human sexuality came to a head in the diocese of Huron only a matter of weeks after Bennett became diocesan bishop, when members of St. Aidan’s Church, in Windsor, voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada and join the conservative Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC). Members were upset about recent moves in some dioceses to bless same-sex unions. In 2011, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the parish could not legally separate itself from the diocese.
Bennett said he had also found it difficult to see the shrinking of congregations in the diocese, attributable partly to declining populations in some areas and partly to the “vortex of change” set in motion by the secularization of culture.
But Bennett also said he was deeply impressed by the people now being ordained-people, he said, whose talents and commitment made him feel hopeful for the church.
“They’re so bright and they’re so committed,” he said. “They want to make a difference, and they’ve got skills. They’re way ahead of where I was when I came in.”
Bennett said he wants to continue doing ministry of some kind, possibly supply work. He is also looking forward to spending more time with his wife and grandchildren.
The son of an Anglican priest, Bennett was born in London, Ont., and has spent nearly his entire life in the diocese. He earned a BA from the University of Western Ontario, followed by master of divinity and doctor of divinity degrees from Huron College. He was ordained a priest in 1975 and served numerous parishes in the diocese before his election as suffragan bishop.