(Ret.) Bishop Thomas William Ralph Collings, who was known for having devoted much of his ministry with Canada’s native people, died after a long battle with cancer on July 8 in Winnipeg. He was 75.
Collings was consecrated the seventh bishop of the Anglican diocese of Keewatin in 1991, at the age of 52. He was bishop of the diocese, located in Kenora, Ont., for five years, until he resigned in 1996. He and his wife, the Rev. Julie Collings, later embarked on a joint ministry in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, as parish priests at All Saints Anglican. He also served as part-time regional co-ordinator of the southeast region of the Anglican diocese of Qu’Appelle.
“Tom was a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, serving both the church and the community with deep faithfulness and incredible energy,” said a statement issued by the diocese of Keewatin. “He was profoundly committed to working for peace and justice for all, especially First Nations people. To the very end of his life, he continued to take a great interest in Keewatin’s commitment to new expressions of the Gospel in which the vision of an indigenous self-determining church within in the Anglican Church of Canada could become reality.” Collings “particularly rejoiced” in the election of Bishop Lydia Mamakwa as area bishop of Northern Ontario and last month, as the first bishop of Mishamikoweesh, said the statement.
Before he was elected bishop, Collings had been dean of theology, co-ordinator of native studies and director of the lay education program at St. John’s College, University of Manitoba, since 1983.
In 1987, he was also a non-stipendiary priest-in-charge of St. Helen’s Anglican Ayamihewkamik Church in Winnipeg. From 1982 to 1985, Collings was rector of Peguis/Hodgson, a six-point parish, and also had a ministry with native people. He was assistant priest at St. John’s Cathedral, Winnipeg, from 1980 to 1982.
Collings felt a particular calling to native ministry. “Native people teach you to be a priest. They expect priestcraft from you,” he once said in an interview.
When he became bishop, Collings pledged to develop “the ministry of the Whole People of God.” In a message he wrote for The Keewatin, the diocesan newspaper, Collings displayed a profound sense of humility. His work, he wrote, “will be continued after me, for all of us play only a small part in the designs of the Creator; it is never a path without problems and questions, and I give thanks that the Bible tells the story of God who works in and through our mistakes.”
One of his priorities, he wrote, was ensuring the participation of women in all parts of the church. “We need the gifts of women in leadership,” he said, quoting Archdeacon William Winter, a highly respected aboriginal elder and Anglican priest in Kingfisher Lake, Ont., who said, “In our generation, we are beginning to see the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel ‘that the Spirit will be poured out on all flesh.’ ” (Winter, who died in 2011, is the uncle of Bishop Mamakwa.)
In a brief message posted on Facebook, one of Collings’s children, the Rev. Megan Collings-Moore, spoke poignantly about her father. As a bishop, she said, “there will be much said about him as a pastor and teacher and defender of the faith.” But at the moment of his passing, she said, “I am primarily remembering the silliest father who ever lived, who told me he and the other dads did their ballet lessons on Thursday evenings when the daughters weren’t there.” He had taken her for sunrise hikes “and taught me the ontological argument (and the arguments against it) at his knee when I was three years old.”
Collings-Moore, who is the chaplain at Renison College, in the University of Waterloo, said it was her father who officiated at her marriage and ordained her a deacon and later, a priest. He loved “jazz, and good food and wine, and my mother (not necessarily in that order!).” He was the dad “whose Welsh accent became thicker as he became weaker.”
When he retired, Collings became interested in inter-faith dialogue and served on the executive of Manitoba Multifaith Council (MMC), according to an obituary prepared by his family. Concerned about the plight of prisoners, he sat on the Provincial Corrections Committee, chaired MMC’s Corrections Committee and for 11 years, volunteered weekly in the spiritual care department of Headingly Jail “and continued to work on projects when he could no longer go out,” said the obituary.
In his profile as candidate for bishop in 1991, Collings listed jazz, recorder playing, novels, camping, jogging, yoga and table tennis as general interests. He displayed a wry sense of humour, adding, “If there were mountains in Manitoba, I would walk them.”
Collings would walk each day until his illness was advanced, said the obituary. “He cherished his family. (His) Christian faith was central. He was egalitarian, non-materialistic, honest, trusting, faithful, disciplined in prayer and action, and always, always enthusiastic.”
Collings is survived by his wife of 49 years, the Rev. Julie Collings; by their three daughters, Megan Collings-Moore (John Moore), Bronwen Bugden (Shawn Bugden) and Tamsin Collings (Andrew Swan); by their two sons, John Collings (Joan Collings) and David Collings; by 19 grandchildren and a brother, Roynon Collings.
The funeral service will take place at St. John’s College Chapel, University of Manitoba, on July 12, at 11 a.m. The burial will be at St. Mary’s-St. Alban’s Cemetery in Kaleida, Man., later in the afternoon.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.