Joachim Fricker remembered as gifted liturgical innovator

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Bishop Joachim Fricker, left, shown here with Archbishop Michael Peers, former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, “was one of those people who was always delighted to see you,” recollects Peter Wall, dean of the diocese of Niagara. Photo: General Synod Archives

Joachim Fricker, former suffragan (assistant) bishop of the diocese of Toronto and one of the principal authors of the Book of Alternative Services (BAS), will be remembered for his brilliance and his friendly personality as well as his gifts as a liturgist, say some of the people who knew him.

Fricker, who served as area bishop of the Credit Valley Episcopal Area (now known as the York-Credit Valley Episcopal Area) from 1985 until his retirement in 1993, died October 28. He left his mark in a number of ways, especially on the shape of worship—both at the local and national levels, says Peter Wall, dean of the diocese of Niagara, where Fricker himself once served as dean.

“He was a liturgical genius—I think that’s not too strong a word,” says Wall, who also preached at Fricker’s funeral. “He did all sorts of things in the parishes in which he served, and particularly here at the cathedral, that were forward-thinking and different… He also was a significant leader in the Canadian church, particularly when he was in the House of Bishops, in terms of matters liturgical and being a contemporary church.

“He knew how to write prayers, he knew how to organize liturgical movement, he knew how to take ancient forms…and adapt them to the modern day and modern language,” Wall says.

Like the Rev. Bill Crockett, who died October 29, Fricker was a member of the national church’s doctrine and worship committee, which, starting in 1969, began a series of reforms to liturgy that resulted in the at-times controversial 1985 BAS. He served for a time as chair of the committee and helped shape the BAS in many ways. Much of the book’s liturgy for Holy Week, for example, was written by Fricker, Wall says.

Wall recollects that Fricker, as dean, tried “valiantly” to replace the pews of Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton with chairs. The proposal was voted down, but Fricker eventually succeeded in replacing the fixed pews with moveable ones—one of a number of changes he instituted.

“He did a lot of work in the cathedral itself—he changed the whole tenor of the place in terms of wall colours and paint,” Wall says. “He changed the ceiling—he just did a lot of stuff here to bring the place alive, and was responsible for really bringing the cathedral into the latter part of the 20th century as a lively, dynamic place.”

Fricker was “thrilled,” Wall says, when the cathedral, last year, finally replaced pews with chairs. The move allows the space to be used in new ways—the altar can be moved forward and the congregation gather for worship around it, and wedding receptions can be held in the nave, he says.

The Rev. Paul Gibson, who knew Fricker first as a fellow priest in the diocese of Niagara in the 1950s, and then through his own work with the doctrine and worship committee while he served as the Anglican Church of Canada’s liturgical officer, recollects Fricker’s brilliance as a liturgist as more creative than academic.

“I don’t see him as a liturgical scholar; I see him as an artistically gifted practitioner,” Gibson says. Fricker also had remarkable pastoral skill and dedication, he says.

Wall, who knew Fricker not only as a predecessor as dean, but as a parishioner—Fricker worshipped at Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton, Ont., during his retirement years—says he will also be remembered for his humour and good cheer.

“Joe was one of those people who was always delighted to see you,” he says. “If you asked Joe how he was he was, he always said ‘I’m great,’ or ‘I’m perfect’—those were his two responses, always.”

In an October 30 news release, on the diocese of Toronto website, Archbishop Colin Johnson, diocesan bishop of Toronto, said he learned of Fricker’s death with sadness.

“He was one of my mentors and I learned much from him,” Johnson said. “I asked him to preach at my consecration as bishop and was not disappointed. He had a sharp intellect, a robust sense of humour, a deeply honed faith in God the Holy Trinity and a profound love for the church.”

Born in 1927 in Zweibrücken, Germany, to Roman Catholic parents, Fricker crossed the Atlantic Ocean at the age of three with his five-year-old sister to join their parents, who had arrived earlier. He was raised in Niagara Falls, Ont.

In a 1985 article in the Niagara Anglican, Fricker said he knew at age five that he wanted to be a priest, and never aspired to any other profession after that. When he was a teenager, his family stopped attending church, but Fricker came to be drawn to Anglicanism because of the choir at Christ Church Cathedral.

“I joined the choir. It just happened. I sort of grew into the Anglican church,” he said.

Fricker graduated with a BA from the University of Western Ontario in 1950, then completed his licentiate in theology at Huron College in 1952. He was ordained a deacon and priest the year of his graduation from Huron.

For the next few decades, Fricker served as priest at parishes in Hamilton, Welland and Dundas, Ont. He was dean of Niagara and rector of Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton from 1973–1985. Fricker continued to serve after his retirement as bishop; he was associate priest at Toronto’s Church of the Redeemer until 1999, and served as interim dean at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo, New York, from 1994-95 and 2004-6.

Fricker is survived by Shirley, his wife of 65 years, and their children.

A funeral for Fricker was held at Christ Church Cathedral, Hamilton, Ont., November 5.

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

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