Most Reverend Terence Finlay, Anglican archbishop of Toronto and Metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, some years back stopped to talk to a sex worker on a downtown street.
After a moment’s conversation, she said, “Love the colour of your shirt” – gesturing to the archbishop’s purple episcopal shirtfront. “Where can I get one like that?” The archbishop promptly gave directions to the nearby Anglican Book Centre and said, “Tell them Terry sent you.”
Prior to his election in 1989 as Toronto’s 10th bishop – which surprised him – the diocese had a reputation even by Anglican standards as conservative, uptight and strait-laced. But at his installation, helium balloons were set loose in the cathedral, and that same year, when Anglicans assembled in Toronto’s 50,000-seat SkyDome – now known as the Rogers Centre – to mark the 150th anniversary of the diocese, there were church-goers waving placards reading “Yay Terry!”
The members of Canadian Anglicanism’s largest diocese had acquired a bishop who loved to party, loved to dance – he and his wife were great at rock ’n’ roll – loved movies, who faced life with exuberance and joy, and would greet his daughters at Toronto’s Union Station when they returned home from university by playing the trumpet.
“He couldn’t play the trumpet,” his daughter Rebecca Finlay said.
Rev. Cheryl Palmer, one of several diocesan priests he mentored throughout his career, said: “Terry broke the mould of the stuffy, formal bishop. He gave the same face [of the church to the public] as he did to the rest of us: that the church was an approachable place to be. He was present in the city, and therefore people who had nothing to do with church knew who Terry Finlay was.”
Archbishop Finlay, who retired from the church’s senior Ontario position in 2004 but remained pivotally active in national and global Anglicanism, died of cancer in Toronto on March 20. He was 79.
His funeral, held in Toronto’s Cathedral Church of St. James on March 25, was attended by nearly 1,000 people. Among the honorary pallbearers were Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson, as well as Hugh Segal and John Fraser, present and past masters respectively of Massey College, where Archbishop Finlay was a senior fellow and deeply engaged in college life.
Terence Edward Finlay was born in London, Ont., on May 19, 1937, the elder son of Rev. Terence John Finlay and the former Sarah Isabelle McBryan. At London’s University of Western Ontario (now called Western University), where he graduated with both bachelor of arts and bachelor of theology degrees, he met his wife-to-be and lifelong soulmate, Alice-Jean (A.J.) Cracknell.
He was ordained a priest in 1962, the same year he and A.J. married, and subsequently completed a second BA and master’s degree at Cambridge University.
Prior to coming to Toronto in 1982 as rector of the city’s large and influential parish of St. Clement Eglinton – known jocularly as St. Clement’s of All Stockbrokers for its wealthy North Toronto congregants – he had served as incumbent in churches across southwestern Ontario.
He had an outstanding reputation as a pastoral leader – a counsellor, listener and someone who was ever-available to his priests, his church’s laity and the public.
“His sheer likability was a great gift,” said Vancouver’s retired Anglican bishop, Michael Ingham, who was principal secretary to the national archbishop, or primate, of the Anglican Church of Canada when Archbishop Finlay was elected to the episcopacy.
After he was became bishop of Toronto he was elected Metropolitan (and hence archbishop) of Ontario.
He advocated for the homeless with Ontario’s governments, campaigned against child poverty and vocally ensured his diocese honoured its financial commitments to Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
His successor, and for many years his executive assistant, Archbishop Colin Johnson, said he was elected bishop “because people saw in him both humility and a capacity to lead. We had come from a bishop [who was] very dominating. They were looking for a different style, someone who loved God and loved people.”
And that’s what they got. Therefore, it was perhaps ironic that Archbishop Finlay should have become ensnared in Anglicanism’s greatest contemporary fracture – over homosexuality.
In 1991, Rev. James Ferry, a suburban Toronto priest, faced being outed after members of his congregation discovered not only his homosexuality but that he was in a committed relationship with a man. He was told that if he didn’t resign as parish priest, the bishop would be told about his relationship. Canada’s Anglican Church at the time acknowledged that its priests could be gay but insisted that they be celibate.
Rev. Ferry went to see his bishop. What exactly was said is a little unclear, but in essence Archbishop Finlay ordered Rev. Ferry to end the relationship. Rev. Ferry refused. Archbishop Finlay consequently “inhibited” (barred) him from performing priestly duties, and a bishop’s court later found Rev. Ferry guilty of disobeying a superior, and in 1992, he was defrocked.
“The thing rolled out night after night on the CBC, making the whole church look like a medieval star chamber,” Bishop Ingham observed.
Protesters shouted insults at Archbishop Finlay when he celebrated the Eucharist. There were vicious telephone calls to his home. “The degree of vitriol and hate [from both sides] could almost be paralyzing,” Archbishop Johnson recalled.
As the primate’s principal secretary, Bishop Ingham saw some of the letters Archbishop Finlay received during the affair. He said: “There really were cruel and awful things said about Terry.”
What has remained in the realm of debate is why a natural mediator and believer in consultative and consensual governance would have taken the position that he did.
Many within the church’s leadership have said he acted on bad legal advice and realized almost immediately that he had made a mistake.
But some of those closest to Archbishop Finlay have noted that he saw himself as bound by the position the church’s House of Bishops had taken – homosexuality, while acknowledged, must be accompanied by celibacy because the only sexual relationship permitted at the time by the church was between a man and a woman – and that Canadian Anglicanism would have shattered irrevocably if action against Rev. Ferry had not been taken. It also has been noted that Archbishop Finlay, by taking action, brought the issue out of the shadows – out of the closet, as it were – so it could be openly debated. “In the end it was good – one of the things that sparked the whole change in the church’s attitude toward homosexuality,” Bishop Ingham said.
“But for Terry it was a crucible of fire.”
In any event, Archbishop Finlay left no doubt about his personal convictions.
After his retirement in 2004, he was appointed by the Canadian primate to a committee of the world Anglican Communion seeking ways of bringing the increasingly divided branches of North American and African and Asian Anglicanism together on homosexuality.
Then, in 2006, he officiated at the United Church marriage of his lesbian goddaughter and her partner and, as a result, was temporarily suspended from priestly duties by Archbishop Johnson. His goddaughter was a pallbearer at his funeral.
And, in 2012, he held a special service of reconciliation with Rev. Ferry, who had been incrementally readmitted to the priesthood as the church’s thinking on homosexually evolved. At Archbishop Finlay’s request, Rev. Ferry was a communion minister at his funeral.
“In Terry was someone with the capacity to absorb someone else’s pain and to feel it, and reflect on it in a way that allowed him to change his own life and priorities. A lot of people in senior leadership would have just stonewalled,” Bishop Ingham said.
In 2019, the church is expected to finalize approval of same-sex marriage.
After his retirement, Archbishop Finlay served as the primate’s envoy to the residential schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission and travelled the country with the TRC, listening for days on end to the stories of Indigenous peoples who had been emotionally, physically and sexually abused in the schools.
In 2014, he was named to the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice, formed to identify ways for the Anglican Church of Canada to put into practice its 2010 repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, the mid-15th century edict promulgated by European monarchies with the help of the papacy to legitimize the colonization of lands outside of Europe.
He leaves his wife, Alice-Jean; daughters, Sara-Jane and Rebecca; and five grandchildren.
The Canadian primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, said in his funeral homily that he and Archbishop Finlay planned many of the details of Archbishop Finlay’s funeral over the telephone in the final weeks of his life.
Archbishop Hiltz recalled him saying at one point, “I want everything in place so I can just lie there and enjoy it all.”
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