The recent passing of Father Christian Swayne and his well-attended funeral at St. John’s on November 1st, points to the major role he played in the evolution of St. John’s during the decade he served as its incumbent from December 1990 to December 2000. His long leadership followed a period of shorter-term incumbents that ended abruptly in July 1990 with the resignation of Father Robert Hagler, who like Father Christian, was a brother of the Order of the Holy Cross, the Toronto base of which is the Priory next to St. John’s.
Read Father Christian’s personal introduction in the Christmas 1990 issue of St John’s newsletter (pg 3), The entire newsletter can be found here: December 1990 Christmas Newsletter
Father Christian’s background, shaped by family roots in the Anglican and Mennonite faiths, followed by global experience as a monastic brother, would prove to be just what St. John’s needed as the parish worked to discern its way forward. Father Christian was very cognisant of changing times, of the need for the church to see inclusivity as a major priority, diversity as a gift, and the need of constant revision in liturgy. Of particular importance to him and to the congregation were discussions about sexuality and homosexuality, as well as meeting the needs of neglected groups. The beginning and end of the 1990s were times of considerable reflection, discussion and planning about the church and its future. The early 1990s considerations focused on growth, improved support for members, better use of the church’s main space, and finances. Of particular importance was addressing the fortress-like perception of the church building in the neighbourhood and the need to be better integrated into the local community through closer relations with Humberside Collegiate and with other churches. By the late 1990s, the persistence of St. John’s in survival mode, coupled with rapid changes in local demographics, which meant fewer Anglicans and more residents of different faiths, or no faiths, pointed to the pursuit of quite dramatic options. The first involved a plan to merge with St. Paul’s Runnymede, but based in St. John’s building. This plan was ultimately aborted in October 1998 after St. Paul’s rejected the option that would sacrifice their building. Shortly thereafter, the leadership of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Christ, the Good Shepard, offered to purchase St. John’s building, while allowing St. John’s congregation to remain as a renter for 3 years. While St. John’s voted to accept the offer in January 1999, for internal reasons, the Ukrainian church abruptly withdrew their offer in March.
In the aftermath of what Father Christian described as the merry-go-round of 1998-99 and the roller-coaster of the previous few years, he oversaw the revival of a 1995-96 Vital Vision strategic plan based on a closer consultation with church members about specific areas of interest that they could focus on.
The process led to the reorganization of committees and the creation of new ones (ie. Budget, Christian Education, Concert, Publicity & Communications, New Members, Youth) which would be coordinated by the Parish Life Committee.
By March 2000, amidst this revitalization at St. John’s, which included fresh attention to music and a successful concert series, as well as new ventures in Christian education in collaboration with neighboring churches, Father Christian made the decision to retire.
In his honour, a special farewell party was held on November 11, 2000, and on December 3, he gave the last of a decade of especially engaging and enlightening sermons.
It was difficult for the St. John’s community to say good-bye to Father Christian at that time, although he remained a familiar face at the church and in the neighbourhood as he lived at the Priory through the rest of his life.
The next meeting of the SJWT-100th Team will be Monday, Jan. 9 at 7:30 via Zoom. All are welcome.
Contact Christopher Rutty – firstname.lastname@example.org – with ideas, contributions, questions.
Originally published in the St. John's Newsletter on January 7th, 2023