Former primate fills his days with parish duties, editing book

Published April 1, 2005

Archbishop Michael Peers was at ease at his farewell party last May during General Synod.

After 18 years as primate, or national archbishop, of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Michael Peers now handles some of the concerns of the average parish priest.

Among other activities, he is filling in as interim priest-in-charge at St. Simon-the-Apostle church in Toronto where illness has caused a temporary vacancy.

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Peers, who is 70, reflected on the year since he retired last February as primate, the changes in his life and expressed some rather peppery opinions on the role of retired bishops.

He is not exactly responsible for turning the lights on and off at St. Simon’s, but has participated in organizing a Lenten study series, preaches and leads services, and attends weekly staff meetings.

“It’s been 28 years since I was in parish life,” he recalled, with a little wonderment.

“One of the good things is that I’ve gotten three and a-half months of consistently good music and that hasn’t happened since I’ve been a bishop,” he said over a sushi lunch in Toronto. “There are so many things I’d forgotten – organizing what seem to be simple events. As a bishop, you have no input into worship, you just go. I had to learn to pay attention to things that before weren’t my business.”

Perhaps he found such activity a little trivial after 18 years traveling the world, representing the entire Canadian church? “Oh no,” he said emphatically. “Although I was privileged to do fascinating things (as primate), there is nothing more important than to be – Sunday by Sunday – with parish communities. It’s what the church is for. You go to church to meet God in a direct and focused way.”

Like many retired bishops, Archbishop Peers has accepted a number of teaching and speaking engagements. He is “ecumenist-in-residence” at the Toronto School of Theology, at the University of Toronto, where he has lectured and preached at services.

A selection of his monthly columns for the Anglican Journal, called Grace Notes, is scheduled to be published this spring by the Anglican Book Centre’s publishing arm and Archbishop Peers is editing the collection.

“They’re very carefully and thoughtfully written,” said Robert Maclennan, publishing manager of ABC Publishing. “Each one has a nice little ‘ah-ha,’ an insight. A lot is about Michael’s travels – he is in some monastery and some ordinary thing will happen that has larger implications. He relates these insights to everyday life.”

Since this work takes place at home, Archbishop Peers now finds himself commuting among three offices. “The biggest problem for me is that now I have no staff. Where did I file something? Did I file it at all? The e-mail is just awful,” he said.

As primate, he spent roughly one-third of his time traveling. Now, his life is less hectic, though he says he sees his children and grandchildren less frequently (none of them live in Toronto) since work does not put him on the road as much. He and his wife, Dorothy, get out to the movies more, often on Tuesday nights, which the famously-frugal archbishop noted is the discount night.

One thing he refuses to do is comment publicly on the church’s current controversies. In February, he gave a keynote speech to the diocese of Oregon’s convention where he counseled patience and focus for the church. But he declined to comment on the Windsor Report concerning differences in the church over the issue of homosexuality.

“I was asked by the dean of Oregon to open a conversation about the Windsor Report. I said I can tell you how it came to be and what are the issues that produced it, but the report itself is after my time. I don’t want to say anything about the Windsor Report when it’s (U.S. presiding bishop) Frank Griswold who has to go and slug it out. He doesn’t need advice from has-beens,” said Archbishop Peers.

A sense that retired bishops should not interfere with the work of their successors is a strong feeling with Archbishop Peers, who carefully signs in at the visitors’ log each time he returns to the church’s national office in Toronto for a visit.

“I learned that from (former Canadian primate) Howard Clark. You move on. It’s not time to relive the past. (Archbishop Peers’ predecessor) Ted Scott didn’t spend his time offering me advice,” he said, noting with disapproval that former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, after retirement, publicly criticized his predecessors and his successor.

All in all, he said, “I have enough to do – some weeks, too much. I’ve found stuff comes to me. I’m quite happy.”


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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