“How high do you want your mitre?” This was not a question that Canon Linda Nicholls, the newly elected suffragan bishop of Toronto, had thought of when she set out to find an episcopal outfit. But now she was in a vestment store facing a selection of traditional, pointed bishops’ hats. “Which mitre best represents my ministry?” she wondered.
This is one of the many “new bishop” moments that Canon Nicholls has experienced since being elected suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Toronto on Nov. 17. It’s an unusual job transition in many ways.
“Much of the process feels to me like what I suspect people go through with marriage,” said Canon Nicholls, a former parish priest who most recently has worked as Coordinator for Dialogue in the department of Faith, Worship and Ministry at the national office. “There is the moment of the proposal when you say ‘yes’ and the realization that nothing will be the same, then the rest of the planning does feel like planning a wedding.”
Like a wedding, there’s a lot of practical preparation. Canon Nicholls has already met with staff in the Trent-Durham office, where she will replace Bishop Michael Bedford-Jones who is retiring. She’s also had a few pastoral visits with diocesan Bishop Colin Johnson to discuss what episcopal ministry will be like. As for the spiritual preparation, it’s ongoing but will culminate in a personal retreat right before her ordination as bishop.
Then there’s the big day to plan. Her ordination service, Feb. 2 at St. James’ Cathedral, Toronto, is a uniquely personal event. Canon Nicholls has selected details that reflect her ministry, including the servers, preacher, and music, part of which will be sung by the chamber choir she belongs to.
A highlight of the service is the vesting, when Canon Nicholls will be given items that symbolize episcopal ministry: a bible, a pectoral cross (the identifying necklace), a chasuble (cloak) and mitre (hat), an amethyst ring, and a crozier (hooked staff). Most of these items are gifts from family, or friends like her long-time canoeing partners.
It’s been an adventure to find this “episcopal bling” (as she jokingly calls it), particularly those items that don’t exist for women. There aren’t readymade episcopal shirts for the Anglican Communion’s 21 female bishops, for example, so Canon Nicholls had to get hers custom made. Fortunately there are also upsides to being a female bishop, like the amethyst earrings friends gave her.
At the end of the day, all this ceremony is meant to evoke the deep tradition and solemn responsibility of the bishop’s job. Bishop-elect Nicholls is already thinking ahead: “I look forward to working closely with parishes again, and working with the clergy to support their ministry and envision what that needs to be for the future.”
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