It all came down to one day, one cold, drizzly Sunday in late winter, February 28, 2021. The outgoing diocesan bishop, Archbishop Melissa Skelton had announced her retirement 10 months previously. She would “age out” on March 14, 2021, and of course would adhere to the rules of the Anglican Church of Canada directing bishops in active ministry to retire at the age of 70. At that time the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic was just under two months old and the world that we know and certainly church as we know it had changed and would continue to change. Most of us adapted, Zoom licenses were purchased, YouTube channels were launched, websites were updated and the life of the faithful continued. And part of that continuing would be the organizing of an electoral synod, the election of a bishop October 3, 2020 (in this case a coadjutor bishop), the ordination and consecration of that bishop, January 23, 2021, culminating in the conclusion of one episcopacy and the beginning of another on February 28.
It wasn’t just the Installation and Seating of the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster at 4pm that afternoon, there was also a morning Choral Eucharist for the Second Sunday in Lent to be celebrated at 10:30am. This was the principal Sunday service at the cathedral church of the diocese, Christ’s Church. Both liturgies were livestreamed with only the principals present celebrating the Eucharist. The afternoon liturgy was more complicated than the morning which necessitated a larger tech crew, and some additional lay support for the worship. The January 23, 2021 Ordination of the new bishop was similar, so Archbishop Skelton had early in the year connected with the folks at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and submitted a safety plan respecting the Provincial Health Officers orders that no more than 10 people may gather in one space for religious ceremonies marking major life events, but asking for some leeway on use of the other rooms that comprise the main sanctuary level of the cathedral space. As the ordination followed by the installation of a bishop is something that happens on an average of once every 12-15 years VCH decision makers were understanding and accepted the submission for the two liturgies.
The cathedral’s livestreaming staff were given the morning off on February 28 as Proshow Audio Visual contracted by diocesan communications needed to set up the day before, Saturday, February 27. Both Archbishop Melissa Skelton and Bishop John Stephens were present for the morning liturgy. For the final time in her episcopacy, Archbishop Skelton preached and presided at the Eucharist. Bishop Stephens assisted with the prayers and served at the altar along with Deacon of the Word and Table, the Reverend Jeffrey Preiss. The Rector of the Cathedral and Dean of the Diocese of New Westminster, the Very Reverend Chris Pappas was part of the Sanctuary Party along with the cathedral’s administrator, Liturgical Assistant Vincent Carey as MC. Cathedral warden, Tegan Smith was the reader and led the intercession. Organist and Director of Music Rupert Lang led the music in worship with stellar support of an S.A.T.B. quartet consisting of members of Cathedral Choir.
Following words of welcome and parish announcements by Dean Pappas, Tegan Smith invited Archbishop Skelton to join her near the ambo (a combination of lectern and pulpit; they were physically distanced of course) as she offered a few words of gratitude for the archbishop’s ministry and presented her with two gifts both inspired by the parish’s desire to pursue reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. One gift was an Eagle pendant in silver created by Indigenous artist, Ralph Burgess and the second was a replica of one of the specially designed and created Debra Sparrow blankets that are displayed in the cathedral’s narthex. Tegan Smith explained that the Eagle is the spirit animal which is the closest to the Creator. Archbishop Skelton was moved by these gifts and thanked the parish through Tegan for all that the cathedral community has done for her and meant to her over the past seven years.
In her sermon, Archbishop Skelton took the Gospel for her text, Mark 8:31-38. She began the sermon which she had titled “What we take with us” by saying,
“The process of moving one’s things discloses much about a person – and here I’m speaking of myself of course, in that, next week, I will be moving from my home in Canada to my house in Washington state. No it’s not just about learning about yourself as you sort through the stuff of your life and put them in three piles labeled “keep”, “toss”, “throw away.” Rather for this move, a move from a role I have loved, a people I have loved, a country I have loved, what’s fascinating to me is what I’m choosing to take in my car, and not entrust to movers, as I cross the border… It says a lot about what’s important to me as I go through what many call a “transition process, : an experience that is very much a process of dying and being reborn, of letting go of many, many things, trusting that something new will emerge as I let go.”
Here is the YouTube of archive of the Eucharist for the Second Sunday in Lent:
The afternoon liturgy, “The Installation of Bishop John R. Stephens as the Tenth Bishop of the diocese of New Westminster” took for its theme the passage from the Epistle for the liturgy, 1 Peter 2:4-10 and specifically verse 5, “like: living stones, let yourselves be built.” The lectionary day selected was Ember Day or more accurately the day after the three spring Ember Days for 2021, February 24, 26 and 27. There are four sets of Ember Days, three days in the calendar year, roughly around the start of the four seasons, set aside by the Church as a way to mark the passage of seasons through prayer and fasting.
The livestream began at 3:35pm with a 25 minute video featuring eight pieces of music performed by a diverse group of talented people from around the diocese. For three of the eight pieces, the music was composed by the artists. These music “videos” were augmented by 350 photographs depicting members of the Diocese of New Westminster, at worship, service and play. A number of parishes submitted photos never before seen outside of their communities and the rest were assembled by diocesan communications. Following the video, the live action began with the dean, the Very Reverend Christopher Pappas, welcoming the online congregation who were watching from around the diocese, the nation and around the world. Next, there was a territorial acknowledgement and welcome offered by Kelvin Bee, ODNW of St. James’ and then the liturgy moved outside to a celebratory welcoming song for Bishop John offered by members of Urban Aboriginal Ministry: Jessica, Natalie, Koven and Havden. This took place on the cathedral’s exterior west facing plaza at Burrard and Georgia Streets in downtown Vancouver. Drizzle occasionally increasing to showers had been present all day and the tech crew and the event’s producer were very nervous about having the camera, mics and operators outside in what could have increased at any moment to full-fledged rain. However, a well-placed plastic bag (sourced by the cathedral’s organist and Director of Music, Rupert Lang) and some good luck kept things dry and the exterior shots worked well. Inspired by the joyful music of the UAM group it was time for Bishop Stephens to take a crosier and strike the cathedral’s main door three times. The door was answered by Dean Pappas who said these words:
“John, Bishop in the Church of God and our Bishop, we welcome you to your Cathedral Church, the symbol and centre of your pastoral, liturgical, and teaching ministry in this diocese.”
Bishop John responded saying,
“I thank you for your welcome. I promise, with God’s help, to be a faithful pastor and servant among you. I pray that the ministry we share may be pleasing to God and may strengthen the life of this diocese located on the unceded ancestral lands of the Coast Salish People and the whole Church of God.”
With that part of the process completed, the procession led by Deacon of the Word and Table, the Reverend Alisdair Smith entered the narthex and continued through the empty nave to the chancel platform where Archbishop Skelton awaited with the diocesan crosier. Preacher for the Eucharist, the Reverend Louise Peters and the Executive Archdeacon of the diocese, the Venerable Douglas Fenton were already in place in the chancel. The Chancellor of the diocese of New Westminster, George Cadman, QC, ODNW positioned at the ambo read the certificate of ordination signed by Archbishop Skelton and the other consecrating bishops, the Right Reverends David Lehmann and Lynne McNaughton. With the legal business completed, Archbishop Skelton said:
“I pass to you this crosier, a symbol of your office as Bishop of New Westminster. May Christ the Good Shepherd so uphold and sustain you that you may lead with courage and guide with love those committed to your charge.”
She passed the crosier to Bishop John who then followed her around the altar to the Cathedra as all those present said,
“John, we, the people of this diocese, receive you as our Bishop. Be among us as our pastor and leader. May the Lord stir up in you the flame of holy charity and the power of faith that renews the world. Amen.” Bishop John sat down and was greeted with sustained applause.
The newly seated bishop then addressed the online congregation.
A video of his address is available below.
Following the bishop’s address, the Eucharist for Ember Day continued. Mebbo Basvi recently arrived from Central Zimbabwe read Isaiah 44: 1-8 in the Shona language. The quartet under the direction of Rupert Lang sang a Setting of Psalm 87 composed by Rupert Lang and dedicated to Bishop John on this, the occasion of his Installation. Midori Seo, ODNW read the Epistle, 1 Peter 2: 4-10 in Japanese and Reverend Alisdair Smith proclaimed the Gospel John 17: 6-19. The preacher was the Reverend Louise Peters, Bishop John’s friend and colleague from the Territory of the People, the Reverend Peters began her sermon with a T.S. Eliot quote,
“I said to my soul, be still and wait…wait without thought for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
Reverend Peters spoke of service and of servant-leadership and offered wisdom to help guide Bishop John as he begins this new ministry.
The intercessor was Patrick Gregg who also edited the 10 minute video that followed the conclusion of the liturgy. The video consisted of 11 submission from each deanery of the diocese offering unique and innovative words of welcome for Bishop John Stephens.
And then it was time for the Offertory followed by the Eucharist. Bishop John Stephens celebrated the Eucharist for the first time as the Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster.
Prior to the Dismissal, Bishop John called Archbishop Melissa Skelton forward to present her with two gifts. The first was a blanket, blue in colour, the shade of blue of the badge of the diocese. Mebbo Basvi and Midori Seo wrapped the archbishop in the blanket. Once she was blanketed Bishop John said:
“Some of you will know that over the past six weeks in particular Archbishop Melissa, Her Grace, has been mentoring me and guiding me and supporting me to be a Bishop in this Church. It was not an easy task, for the role of a bishop is complicated and varied in these days. But it will come as no surprise to you that Archbishop Melissa has been exceptional as a teacher, mentor, leader as our diocesan bishop and for that I am extremely grateful. You will know that she has brought healing and hope to our diocese. Hope and understanding that many people, even in the world of this day, are interested in knowing more about this Jesus Christ as our way, truth and life. She has brought incredible insight and purpose as to what it means to be the Church and what it means to be leaders in this time.
If you have heard Melissa speak about Parish Development you will know that she has for seven years and even some time before that, with markers and flipcharts shown us that we are called to be places that Gather, Transform and Send. Places that invite and welcome, places that offer beautiful and significant ways to consider God’s wisdom and purpose, places that send us out into the world to be the Church. She has Gathered and Transformed us and on this day we now we send her out, with our blessing, our love and our assurance that she will always be a part of who we are as the diocese of New Westminster. As a sign we offer you this blanket.”
And then he handed her a small felt pouch, which she opened revealing a silver cross. Bishop John said:
“I’d also asked Haida artist, Alvin Adkins, to once again create a piece of beautiful art that reminds Melissa of us. But more than that it is a cross with a hummingbird on it; a sign of prayers and wisdom and peace. May this cross be a sign of God’s blessing, wisdom, peace and love upon you Melissa now and always.”
The day concluded as it had begun with gifts given to the retiring archbishop, blankets and silver crafted and created by the descendents of the people whose cultures have existed on these lands for thousands of years, these lands where the Diocese of New Westminster is located.
The liturgy closed with the hymn, Go to the World.