2011: Protestor, Survivor, Lover

It is an annual New Year’s Day tradition for the Anglican Primate to preach at Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa. This year Archbishop Fred Hiltz considers the significance of names and the nameless—from the protestor celebrated by Time magazine to those who call themselves survivors of the residential schools system. Finally, he considers how each Anglican can be a better Christian lover, both through work in Canada and by strengthening ties around the worldwide Anglican Communion.

New Year’s 2012 Address

To us a child is born
         to us a son is given.
         And his name shall be called
         Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
         Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)

On this eighth day of Christmas and the first of the new year, we celebrate the naming of the Christ Child.

Of this sacred moment Henri Nouwen writes, “Names tell stories, most of all the name which is above all, the name of Jesus, in whose name I am called to live.”

The name of Jesus tells the story of divine love made known in the manger and on the cross.  It tells the story of the Son of God coming to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.  It tells of the Servant of God walking among the least and the last, feeding the hungry, healing the sick.  It speaks of the Beloved of God drawing us into an abiding friendship one with another in his mission in the world.

As true as the statement “names tell stories” is of Jesus, so it is of others.  Names tell the stories of the day and of the events of the year.

According to Time Magazine the person of the year 2011 was “Protestor.”  In Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and now Syria, we saw masses of people filling city squares protesting the oppression under which they lived for so long.  Refusing to be suppressed any longer they demanded dictators step down and they called for democracy in the governance of their nations.

In Europe we saw massive protests in the wake of political turmoil and floundering economies in several countries.

In New York hundreds of protestors occupied Wall Street drawing worldwide attention to the ever growing gap between the wealthy and the poor.  The Occupy Movement spread to cities all across North America and around the world.

Here in Ottawa, the Blanket Train made its way to The Hill protesting the lack of a comprehensive Government plan for addressing longstanding issues of injustice borne by the indigenous peoples of this land.  The awful reality is that across this country there are many communities like Attawapiskat.  The crisis in housing, access to fresh food and clean water, health care, and schooling cannot be ignored.

As a signatory to the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Government of Canada must address the crisis with renewed determination.  The Church has a significant role to play here.  It’s the work of advocacy and public pressure, grounded in the justice of God.

The preaching of the Son of God, itself rooted rooted in the teaching of the prophets, calls us to the vision of “a truly, just, healthy and peaceful world.” In the face of systemic injustices and the violation of human rights we must speak truth to power.  We cannot and dare not remain silent.

If “Protestor” was the person of the year in 2011 I believe a very close second was “Survivor.” We saw immense suffering through natural disasters — the cataclysmic tsunami in Japan, relentless flooding in India and Pakistan, earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand, and storms that battered the Philippines just before Christmas.  We watched millions of people on the move, struggling to survive in their escape from the ravages of famine in the Horn of Africa.  Canadian Anglicans channelled their compassion and extraordinary generosity through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) working with Action by Churches Together (ACT).

Here at home through the National Events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) we heard the story of survivors of the Indian Residential Schools.  At the National North Event in Inuvik many of us were deeply moved by one man who when he finished telling his story got up from his chair, looked around at the Commissioners and everyone present and said, “now I know I am no longer #148.  I am Paul and I have a right to be healthy and happy.”  Other survivors concluded their stories with words of apology to their own families.  They said that in residential school they had lost the capacity to love and be loved and to enter into mature wholesome relationships in marriage and in parenting.  Their words of confession and hope of forgiveness were accompanied by deep silences, many tears and prolonged embraces.  I remain ever grateful for our Church’s “in-for-the-long-haul” commitment to healing and reconciliation.  Through many community based projects supported by our church, “healing is happening.” One of the best good news stories is that there is solid evidence that the Suicide Prevention Program initiated by our church is having a positive impact.  Counselling and peer support groups are making a real difference in the lives of many teens.

We are haunted by the face of other survivors, those who have suffered through gender-based violence and human trafficking.  Tragically many young people are lured or snatched up for the sex trade.  They become a commodity, goods delivered, damaged and then discarded.  From the horrors of this violation of human dignity, we cannot turn our eyes.  We must shout out our condemnation at all forms of sexual slavery and we must stand with those who would help people escape its bondage.

Abuse often has its seeds in bullying.  Alarmingly this behaviour is learned at a very young age.  Those who are bullied are often silenced sometimes to the desperate act of taking their own life. Thankfully however many young people themselves are taking initiatives to address this issue.  Musical pop stars and sports celebrities are inspiring them in a shift from a climate of bullying to a culture of kindness.  As a Church we must do everything we can to support and model that shift.

The ministry of the Servant of God, touched the suffering ones of his time.  His eyes beheld them.  His lips uttered words of compassion.  He reached out to touch and comfort them and in his heart he carried them.  After his example we are called to “go and do likewise.”

As protestors summon our solidarity and survivors our compassion, our responses must be more than a political act.  They must be acts of public witness to our faith.

Much of the work to which we are called in the world reflects a devotion to the Christ of the Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke.  To what work I wonder does the Johannine portrait of Christ call us?  Implicit in that gospel and related writings is the beautiful image of Christ as the Beloved of God — sent from God not to condemn the world but to redeem it.  The Beloved becomes very flesh and dwells among us.  He draws us together as a community that abides in the mystery of the eucharist, the word of his peace and the command to love one another.  “By this” he said, everyone will know that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

Lovers?  Is this how we are known — as lovers of God, lovers of one another, lovers of God’s creation?

Is loving a theme in your life’s story and mine?  Is it a pervasive theme in the witness of our church?  I hope that what people see and hear and experience in our church is a love revealed in genuine welcome and hospitality, a love informed by gospel values and oriented toward the world, a love inspired by the Beloved himself and then incarnated in our words and actions.

Inasmuch as I hope for such expressions of love I am much encouraged by what I hear and see in many places.  Throughout our Church there is a deep commitment to the Marks of Mission proclaiming good news, growing disciples, serving the suffering, building just societies and caring for the earth. In 2011, these marks became household language in many of our parishes.  They are informing diocesan ministry plans and they are certainly at the heart of Vision 2019 — a guide for the General Synod in setting its priorities for the next number of years.

I am also encouraged by evidence throughout the Anglican Communion of a new love, a new regard for one another in Christ, in gatherings that assume friendship in Him, and conversations marked by humility.  The Archbishop of Canterbury recently reminded the primates that “we all live in imperfect churches,” and that “drawing together in hope for the fuller presence of our Lord, we must be willing to receive from each other whatever gifts God has to give.”

The Archbishop has also challenged the entire Communion to think about the nature of an “authentically biblical church.”. He reminds us that such a church cannot be “vague or lukewarm about the unique miracle of the Word made flesh once and for all in Jesus of Nazareth or about the revolutionary demands it makes on individual lives and relationships.”  In this respect he says, we all need to be strive to being more authentically biblical.

One of the most beautiful expressions of our common life in the Communion is the Companion Diocese Program drawing people together across vast geographical, cultural and theological perspectives.

I am especially delighted to hear how the companionship of this diocese of Ottawa with the diocese of Jerusalem has come to bud and blossom in the past year.  Likewise I am happy to have had a hand with Bishop Peter Coffin in the appointment of one our own, Major The Rev John Organ, as the next Chaplain to the Bishop of Jerusalem.  General Synod’s call for strengthened ties with the Church in the Holy Land is also reflected in the establishing of Canadian Companions of the Diocese of Jerusalem, a fellowship of Anglican across the country committed to supporting the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem in its ministries of hospitality, health care, education and reconciliation.

Finally dear friends, let us never lose sight of the love with which we are called to uphold one another in prayer.  It is a gift whose blessing is beyond our capacity to imagine.  In many places where there is civil war, suppression of the Church and persecution of Christians, we hear stories of faith and ministry that are nothing less than heroic.  In times of grave need in places like Kenya, Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Pakistan, let us persevere in asking the strength of God for the Church’s courageous witness.

As we take our first steps into this new year, with these names in mind — Protestor, Survivor, Lover and the stories they tell, let us never fail to reverence that name which is above all names, the holy name of Jesus, and the glorious story it tells.

With the Son of God,
let us stand with the oppressed.
With the Servant of God,
let us serve the suffering.
With the Beloved of God,
let us love and love again.

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