Snell was ‘a real missionary bishop’

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Bishop George Snell

Bishop George Snell, who served as the eighth bishop of the diocese of Toronto from 1966 to 1972, died on Dec. 26 in his 100th year.

On Dec. 30, Toronto’s diocesan bishop, Colin Johnson, led a funeral service for Bishop Snell at St. James’ Cathedral, which was packed with attendees led by Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, bishops, clergy and lay people of the diocese.

Bishop Johnson noted that Bishop Snell “presided over the church in one of its most turbulent times as it was transforming from an ancient world view to a contemporary world view. He contributed enormously to the well-being of the church in creative ways. He was a real missionary bishop.”

Bishop Snell had taught classes at a theological night school, which he founded to prepare older candidates for priesthood. During his time as bishop, he led the founding of 50 new parishes in the diocese, when the city saw a surge in population in the 1950s.

Upon retirement, Bishop Snell preached in various churches across Canada and compiled what he called his “labour of love,” a book tracing the life of Jesus as illustrated on postage stamps from around the world.

Last Jan. 25, Bishop George Snell – who was then 98 – celebrated a milestone few clergy reach: the 50th anniversary of his consecration as a bishop and the 75th year of his ordination as a priest. The anniversaries were marked with a eucharist at St. James’ Cathedral on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In remarks made during the celebration, Bishop Snell urged his fellow Anglicans to “appreciate” the Anglican church. “It deserves our loyalty and support. I hope you will serve and love the Lord in the name of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Please realize what a glorious heritage you have.”

In an interview before the lunch, Bishop Snell noted that he had set up trusts, which, among other things, supported a lecture series that, in 2004, saw former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey speak on the topic “Whatever Happened to Christian Mission?” At the time Archbishop Carey, noting that Bishop Snell was a well-known scholar, remarked, “I rather think you should be standing here giving the first Snell lecture yourself, George!”

Last year, the trusts, administered by the Anglican Foundation and named after Bishop Snell and his late wife, Esther, distributed  $26,000 to support various projects of the St. James’ Cathedral, St. Michael and All Angels parish, Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, Trinity College, Wycliffe College, and Moorelands Community Services. Within the trusts are three specific designations, one that support music, drama and other special projects at Toronto’s St. Anne’s church, one for the George Snell Lecture Series and one that provides bursaries to aboriginal students studying toward ordination in an Anglican church.

Earlier in his career, Bishop Snell served as dean of Calgary. He was elected suffragan (assistant) bishop of Toronto in 1956 and served as diocesan bishop from 1966 to 1972. When asked to cite the most important changes in the church during his lifetime, he first mentioned permitting the remarriage of divorced persons, “because we did it first” then the ordination of women and changes to the Book of Common Prayer. He greatly enjoyed, he said, contact with the international Anglican church through attendance at the 1958 and 1968 Lambeth conferences of bishops. As for the secret of his longevity, “I just kept breathing,” he said.

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