Diocese of Toronto elects first openly gay bishop

Diocese of Toronto elects first openly gay bishop
The Rev. Kevin Robertson was among three priests elected suffragan bishops at a synod of the diocese of Toronto, Saturday, September 17. Photo: Diocese of Toronto

A gay man living with a male partner is among three priests to have been elected suffragan bishops in the diocese of Toronto this weekend.

On Saturday, September 17, members of an electoral synod elected the Rev. Riscylla Walsh Shaw, Canon Kevin Robertson and Canon Jenny Andison as suffragan, or assistant, bishops. Each will be responsible for one of the diocese’s four episcopal areas: York-Scarborough, York-Credit Valley, Trent-Durham and York-Simcoe. Archbishop Colin Johnson, diocesan bishop, will decide which bishop will serve in each area. Bishop Peter Fenty is currently the bishop responsible for York-Simcoe.

Canon Kevin Robertson, incumbent at Christ Church, Deer Park in Toronto, was elected on the fourth ballot of the second election. According to an article on the diocese of Toronto website, Robertson, who lives with his male partner, said it was a “historic day.” He said he believed he was the first openly gay and partnered bishop-elect in the diocese and perhaps even in the entire Anglican Church of Canada.

His election, Robertson said, together with this summer’s provisional vote at General Synod to allow same-sex marriages, showed a growing acceptance of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people in the church.

“I think General Synod [in July] was a turning point for the national church and my election today is a turning point for our diocese, and I’m honoured to be a part of that,” he said. “I know that for some people that’s a real challenge, and for others it’s the fulfillment of what they’ve been hoping and praying for a very long time,” he added.

But Robertson also said he did not want to be simply an LGBTQ bishop.

“I think LGBTQ clergy and lay people might naturally gravitate towards me looking for some leadership around the issue of full inclusion, but I absolutely see myself as a bishop for the whole church, including people who have a very different view of things than I do,” he said. “I’m their bishop, too.”

Robertson’s election came after an official protest was lodged against his candidacy. Before the vote, the Rev. Catherine Sider Hamilton, priest-in-charge at St. Matthew’s, Riverdale and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College, said she was concerned about the inclusion of “one candidate whose lifestyle is, to the best of my knowledge, irregular according to the teaching of the church regarding chastity and marriage.”

Johnson, however, replied that all the candidates were clergy licensed by the diocese and in good standing, and the election proceeded.

After the vote, Johnson said he anticipated mixed reactions to Robertson’s election from both the Canadian church and the Anglican Communion as a whole.

“Kevin is certainly not the first gay man to become a bishop in the Communion, but his election will probably bring a negative reaction in some places and a positive reaction in others,” he said. “We’re at an early stage in this experience; I think many parts of the world do not understand it, so it will be a challenge for them, but it will be an opportunity for us to explain how and why we have made this choice today.”

Robertson, 45, earned a master of divinity degree from Trinity College, University of Toronto, in 1997, and was ordained a priest in 1998.

The Rev. Ryscilla Shaw has served as the diocese's ambassador of reconciliation since 2009. </strong> Photo: Diocese of Toronto video image
The Rev. Ryscilla Shaw has served as the diocese’s ambassador of reconciliation since 2009. Photo: Diocese of Toronto video image
Walsh Shaw, who was chosen on the seventh ballot of the first election of the day, is the incumbent at Christ Church, Bolton, Ont. She is a Métis woman and has served as the diocese’s ambassador of reconciliation since 2009. According to her biography on the diocese’s website, she attended all seven national events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She is the grandchild of an Indian residential school survivor. Walsh Shaw saw her election, also, as a sign of progress.

“This is a real gift from the diocese and from the Spirit, and I feel very blessed and humbled,” she said. “I think this is a time of great hope and I’m really excited. It’s an historic time for the diocese and the culture is changing-it’s a new day for the church, I think.”

Walsh Shaw, 44, received a master of divinity degree from Wycliffe College in 1999 and was priested in 2001.

Canon Jenny Andison has served as the archbishop's officer for mission in the diocese of Toronto. Photo: Diocese of Toronto video image
Canon Jenny Andison has served as the archbishop’s officer for mission in the diocese of Toronto. Photo: Diocese of Toronto video image

Andison, elected on the third ballot of the third election, is incumbent priest at St. Clement’s, Eglinton, in Toronto. Andison, 44, was ordained a priest in 1999 two years after receiving a master of divinity degree from Wycliffe. From 2010 to 2013, she served as the archbishop’s officer for mission. Andison said she was emotionally overwhelmed by the election.

“I just asked the people of the diocese to pray for my soul, and that I would be a bishop who is faithful to God and pastoral to everyone,” she said. “My passion is seeing churches renewed and grow and spread the love of Christ to people who have never heard it, so it will be a huge and exciting privilege to work with the laity and clergy of the diocese to help more people know the love of Jesus.”

Johnson said he expected the three new bishops would together bring to the diocese a wide range of views.

“It will be a very diverse College of Bishops in this diocese-as diverse as anybody can imagine,” he said. “They are all deeply committed to renewal of the church and its extension in both traditional and in new ways, and I’m really excited by that. I also think it will be a team that can work very well together.”

The three elections were made necessary by the recent announced retirements of Bishop Philip Poole, area bishop for York-Credit Valley, and of Bishop Patrick Yu, area bishop for York-Scarborough; and by the election of Bishop Linda Nicholls, formerly area bishop of Trent-Durham, to coadjutor bishop of the diocese of Huron.

The election results must now be approved by the Ontario House of Bishops. If the bishops concur with the results, the three new suffragan bishops will be consecrated on Jan. 7, 2017.



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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the <em>Law Times</em> and the <em>New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal</em>. His writing has appeared in <em>The Globe and Mail</em> and <em>The United Church Observer</em>.

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