Before Ralph pronounced the blessing, some commendations were read from people too busy, I suppose, to be present, such as the governor general and the primate. They noted his great gifts for friendship, kindness, and good humour; his focus on mission, his ecumenical spirit, his commitment to building collegiality among the Canadian bishops.
One commendation referred to the time that Ralph was detained as an I.R.A. suspect on his way to Lambeth Palace. This sounds like a story we'll try to get from Ralph in his retirement.
I have to say that when the dean read a letter which he claimed to have received from the Hamilton chief of police, people seemed suspicious of its authenticity. The letter asked Ralph to keep his "Mitre 1" licence plate so that traffic officers could keep careful track of him.
So the whole service reflected the spirituality and service of Ralph Spence: the worship of the Lord; the love of Anglican liturgy and music; the joining together of conservative and liberal, catholic and evangelical; the wit and humour and decency; the pride in being Canadian; the excuse for a nice party.
This fine service owed much to the devoted behind-the-scenes work of (among others) the dean and assistant curate of the Cathedral, and to Alison Meredith, the Cathedral parish administrator, and Alison d'Atri, the bishop's secretary.
During the happy reception that followed, I thought of the many good things that Ralph has achieved (see the sidebar). I asked several people why they thought Ralph had been so successful. Here are some of their answers.
He has been a friend. A priest who had contracted cancer told me how Ralph had phoned her, sent her flowers, and brought her communion faithfully over many months. Others told me how accessible and supportive he had been for them personally, despite his gruelling schedule.
He has been a leader. He has worked from a vision of what the diocese was called to be, and has led it with conviction in that direction.
He has been a beggar for Christ and a remarkable fund-raiser. He has a tremendous gift for motivating people to contribute to the work of the diocese.
He has been a unifier. Despite the diversity of opinion among us about various issues, he has maintained caring and respectful relationships with all who would let him, and this has been a glue that has helped keep us together.
He has been a physician for the church. Where he has diagnosed diseases of finances or personnel, he has brought healing (and sometimes surgery).
He has been a vocational guide. He has been very canny at discerning the gifts of clergy and layfolk, and has guided them into the right ministries. He has been committed to supporting the ministry of the laity.
He has been an agent of change. He has helped the diocese begin to adapt to its new historical situation.
He has been an advocate of justice. He has spoken out on issues of labour, human rights, the First Nations, and the environment.
He has been an evangelist. In word and example and decision-making, he makes it a priority to show why the message of God's love in Jesus Christ is appealing and life-changing.
Thanks be to God, for being faithful to us. Thanks be to God that this faithfulness has included raising from among us such a fine bishop.
A few landmarks in Bishop Spence's episcopate
September 1997: Ralph Spence is ordained bishop.
January 1998: Ralph Spence is installed as bishop of Niagara....
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