THE FIRST bishop of the Diocese of Ontario, John Travers Lewis, didn’t have an easy time of it at the beginning of his term in 1862, and neither did the 10th, Peter Ralph Mason.
On May 31, 1992, Bishop Mason had to cross a picket line outside St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston to attend his ordination. Relatives and friends of boys abused by the cathedral’s choirmaster, John Gallienne, had picketed weekly, demanding that the church acknowledge some responsibility.
Bishop Mason spoke with the pickets before the ceremony and invited them to the service and to a reception afterward. At that time, Mr. Gallienne was serving time in prison for sexually molesting 13 boys.
Bishop Mason moved quickly to address the fallout from the scandal, which had broken two years before his arrival. Four months after his installation, he called all clergy in the diocese to a mandatory one-day meeting to work on a diocesan protocol concerning the recognition of sexual abuse and the reporting procedures.
Shortly thereafter, in a day he later called “the longest day of my life,” he publicly apologized for the suffering caused by the scandal – once on the cathedral’s steps and again inside the church, at a special service.
Subsequently, according to news reports, the diocese and the cathedral paid a total of $2.1 million to settle several lawsuits relating to the case – payments that sapped both institutions’ financial health at the time.
Today, although recovery is under way, there is still a sense among cathedral and diocesan office staff that people remain shaken by the scandal, stunned both at the betrayal of trust on the part of a talented and charismatic music leader and by criticism that the church failed to protect its most vulnerable charges. The cathedral’s renowned music program continues, but there hasn’t been a children’s choir for several years.
“(The Gallienne situation) has in some ways marked my ministry as bishop, but you have to come to terms with that and move forward. I found it very stressful at first,” said Bishop Mason.
Bishop Lewis could have spoken that last sentence, word for word, when the Diocese of Ontario was created in 1862 out of the Diocese of Toronto. Among the problems facing him: he wasn’t the first choice of Toronto’s bishop, John Strachan, fundraising for the creation of the new diocese had been slow and a Kingston politician had promised to raise funds for the diocese if his brother was named bishop.
The Anglican Church had been an institutional presence in the Kingston area since 1785, when Rev. John Stuart, whose property and church in upstate New York had been burned by American revolutionaries, followed his Loyalist flock across Lake Ontario. In 1792, the first St. George’s church was built in Kingston, a wood-frame building, and in 1825, construction of a stone cathedral was begun. The cathedral was gutted by fire in 1899, but rebuilt within 18 months and its dome, along with the town’s city hall, is one of the dominating features of the Kingston skyline.
The history of the diocese also cannot be separated from the existence of the Mohawk people in the area, many of whom, allies of the British Crown, left their New York homeland to settle in Ontario after the American Revolution. One of the founding members of St. George’s in 1792 was a Mohawk woman named Molly Brant
(her Native name was Gonwatsijayenni), sister of the famed Mohawk chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea).
A respected leader in the Iroquois matriarchy, she was also the common-law wife of Sir William Johnson, British Indian affairs agent. She had eight children with Sir William, acted as liaison with Native peoples at the request of the Crown, and, according to contemporary accounts, attended cathedral services in her Native dress.
One of six royal chapels outside England exists in Deseronto, where Christ Church, Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, was built in 1843. The church houses several gifts from British monarchs, the oldest being a set of communion silver given by Queen Anne in 1711, when the Mohawks had a chapel in upstate New York. Today, the diocese contains the Tyendinaga reserve, but it never housed any Native residential schools.
Bishop Mason recently formed a committee to advise him on how to respond to the residential schools lawsuit crisis facing General Synod. “We want to think through how our diocese can interpret and respond to this situation – some would like to send money, some to write letters. We also want to support those who were victims,” he said.
The issue has touched the diocese, however, as one of its priests, Len Hands, pleaded guilty in 1996 to committing sexual abuse at a residential school in the West and served time in prison.
The Diocese of Ontario contains one major city – Kingston (pop. 140,000) – and several smaller cities, such as Brockville and Trenton, but it has many rural parishes, some of which are struggling to survive. “We needed to look at restructuring and we’ve done some reconfiguring, that is, moved one congregation out of parish A to parish B,” said Bishop Mason. “We need to remember when the church was established and travel was by horse and buggy or sleigh that it was normal to establish a congregation in each settlement. Now, all of the people drive and we are much more mobile,” he added.
Many of the diocese’s parishes are multi-point, that is, have one minister for several churches, and Bishop Mason said he is developing regional ministries designed to get clergy to “work together more co-operatively and less competitively.”
The diocese isn’t prepared to help support waning parishes forever, he said. Diocesan grants to parishes totalled $15,000 in the last fiscal year, from about $20,000 six years ago, said Geoffrey Jackson, the diocese’s executive officer.
The diocese also has congregations with a higher-than-usual proportion of older people, since the area is a popular retirement location. In other areas, a “graying” congregation is seen as a problem, since it means an inevitable decline in numbers if younger members don’t join. But in the Diocese of Ontario, retirees boost the numbers and Bishop Mason noted that “they have time, they have fresh ideas and they want to get involved.”
Kingston, the see city, presents some remarkable challenges for the church. The city’s three major institutions, the Royal Military College, several major prisons and Queen’s University, feature large transient populations with distinctly different needs.
In each case, Bishop Mason said, his question is the same: “What can Christ mean to this neighbourhood?” There is a strong evangelical flavour to his ministry. “My passion is for people to come to faith in Christ,” he said.
He has also encouraged parishes and the diocesan synod to develop vision statements in order to articulate ideas and plans for the future. A fundraising campaign called Forward in Christ’s Mission initiated by the bishop collected $3.1 million of its $4 million goal, according to Mr. Jackson, and was put to work supporting stewardship education, lay education and youth ministry.
Married, with three grown children and three grandchildren, Bishop Mason served parish churches in Montreal and Halifax and was principal of Wycliffe College in Toronto before coming to Kingston.
His 19th-century predecessor, Bishop Lewis, served for 38 years, dying at age 75 in 1901, the year after his retirement. He had presided over a time of extraordinary growth in the diocese and had helped plan the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, but the pressures of his job and the constant travel had taken a toll on his health.
Bishop Mason, who said he sometimes feels that “a lot of my work feels like fixing and not succeeding,” meets regularly with his counterparts in the dioceses of Montreal and Ottawa to exchange notes and, as he put it, “cry on each other’s shoulders.”
In the midst of turmoil, however, the church’s essential work continues. One recent afternoon at the cathedral, a man and woman stepped inside the front door and explained to a guide that they’d moved to town recently and were facing hard times.
The guide welcomed them and directed them to the cathedral’s lunch program.