Has this ever happened before?
Bishops seek churchgoers in downtown area, startling commuters
Idling taxis, hot dog stands and four smiling Anglican bishops in full regalia. That was the sight greeting sleepy-eyed commuters leaving Union Station during this morning's rush hour.
Sporting long, damask robes of pearly white or sky blue, heads topped with pointed bishop's hats, the clergy passed out cards encouraging the Bay Street hordes to make their way to a house of worship this Sunday. Most people accepted the handout drowsily, without comment; others seemed startled or amused at the group's elaborate outfits. A few passers-by stopped for quick chats before scurrying along to their offices.
"You invite people to baseball games or to the movies," said Bishop of Toronto Colin Johnson. "Traditionally, we've not been good at inviting people to come to church."
Johnson oversees the 211 parishes of an area that stretches from Mississauga to Brighton and north to Haliburton; in total, 80,000people are on the church's rolls. This morning's outing was modelled on the United Kingdom's "Back to Church Sunday" a two-year-old program that encourages regular churchgoers to invite friends to join them.
Although the foursome represent the 254 congregations of the Golden Horseshoe, Johnson stressed that they were encouraging Torontonians of all faiths to reconnect with their own traditions. "Faith gives life perspective, shape, direction and hope," he said. "It helps people see they're part of something larger than themselves."
Most who stopped to chat with the bishops seemed to be regular churchgoers already. Making his way from Whitby to Bay Street via GO Train, Gerald Godinho stopped to debate with Bishop Linda Nicholls about ordaining gay and lesbian priests, a contentious issue that has led various international Anglican Communion members to threaten fissure from the central church.
He said he has invited a friend with him to Carruther Creek Community Church in the past. "A single friend of mine, about a year back," Gondinho said. "I introduced him to the pastor of our youth group and I think he liked it. He lives downtown, so I set him up with Meeting House in Toronto."
Chartered accountant Bruce Armstrong exclaimed happily at running into Bishop Philip Poole-the two sang in the choir together at Wilfrid Laurier University, back when the school was known as Waterloo Lutheran.
"I've got a spring in my step this morning," said Armstrong, who still sings in the choir at his current church, Armour Heights Presbyterian in north Toronto.