New Year’s Day sermon by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada

The Primate delivered this sermon on New Year’s Day at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa. It is a tradition for the Canadian Anglican Primate to preach in the nation’s capital on the first day of the year.


It is a great joy to be here in the nation’s capital on New Year’s Day – the day when the Church throughout the world celebrates the naming of Jesus. I thank the Bishop of Ottawa, John Chapman, and the Dean, Shane Parker, for the invitation to preach at this Eucharist in this beautiful cathedral church. We gather to give thanks for graces – human and divine – by which we were blessed in the past year, and to pray for God’s guidance as we step into this New Year.

The Readings for the Day include:

An act of blessing,
An act of naming,
And an act of honouring.

The Blessing is the subject of the Old Testament Reading from The Book of Numbers. The Lord gives instruction to Moses as to how Aaron and his sons are to bless the people.

“You shall say to them
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

This blessing which has come to be known as the Aaronic Blessing would be given time and again in the Temple, in the Synagogue and in the home. Through this blessing the people would know the loving care of God in both times of prosperity and adversity. God would put his name upon the people and bless them with his peace.

So lovely is this ancient blessing that it has in fact become a part of the fabric not only of Jewish liturgy but Christian as well. “It has been used,” writes Canadian priest and author Herbert O’Driscoll, “in every conceivable circumstance of human life.” This blessing continues to give comfort, offer hope, seal self-offerings for sacred purposes, bless ministries of many kinds and to renew commitments in the service of God’s will for the world. In life and in death, we know the tender mercy of the Lord through this blessing.

I give thanks for all through whom this blessing is given – all bishops, clergy, and laity engaged in the pastoral care and sacramental ministry of the Church. I think particularly of those who serve in the most remote and isolated areas of Canada, where pastoral demands are very high and resources so very limited. In making known the Lord’s healing love and peace they are, “modest, humble and constant in their labours,” often to the point of exhaustion. Many of them exercise this ministry without stipend; they are indeed among the most exemplary of the servants of the Lord in this land.

In care and support of them and those whom they serve, our General Synod last June passed several supportive resolutions including a renewed financial commitment on the part of the whole Church to ministry in the North.

Another exciting moment in the General Synod was the installation of the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, the Right Rev. Mark MacDonald. A high priority in his ministry is meeting with First Nations’ communities, listening to their needs and hopes and working with their bishops to address them. Mark is an incredibly gifted person and we rejoice in the blessing of his ministry among us.

A third moment of note from General Synod was the renewal of A Covenant Toward The Constitutional Recognition and Protection of Aboriginal Self Government in Canada. The occasion was National Aboriginal Day, June 21st. It was an incredibly moving moment when my predecessor, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison and the former National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Ray Schultz, led a delegation representing nine Canadian churches and religious organizations in renewing commitments made at the initial signing of the Covenant 20 years ago – truly a significant moment in the long road to self-determination.

As our Church comes to terms with the legacy of our participation in the Government of Canada’s policy of assimilation through the Residential Schools program, there are a number of significant moments and actions to note:

The first and perhaps most significant is The Apology offered by former Primate Michael Peers to the National Native Convocation in August, 1993. In it, he acknowledged our Church’s failure in the Residential Schools. He said:

“I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally.”

He went on to say, “I know how often you have heard words which have been empty because they have not been accompanied by actions. I pledge to you my best efforts and the efforts of our church at the national level, to walk with you along the path of God’s healing.”

The second significant action is embodied in the Anglican Indigenous Healing Fund, established in 1992. Annually the General Synod allocates $300,000 to this fund. In the past 15 years the fund has supported, in excess of $3 million, some 300 projects in communities in almost every diocese across Canada.

The third action was the commitment of every diocese to accept its fair share of the Settlement Fund negotiated between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Federal Government in the fall of 2002. In keeping with the terms of the settlement, Church and Government leaders continued negotiations resulting in an Amended Agreement that was ratified by the courts in the fall of 2007. We acknowledge, with grateful thanks, the tremendous effort made by many people to achieve this agreement.

We rejoice that common experience payments are now being issued to former Residential Schools students.

We affirm the Prime Minister’s intention to make an apology on behalf of the Federal Government to all First Nations Peoples in Canada. We welcome news of the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Research Centre to preserve the story of the Residential Schools. In the interest of raising public awareness, Church leaders will participate in a Sacred Walk in March of this year, beginning in Ottawa and travelling to a number of other cities across the country. Anglicans are hosting the event in Vancouver in conjunction with a meeting of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. Bishop Mark MacDonald and Archbishop Terence Finlay, my Special Envoy for Residential Schools, will join me on this Sacred Walk with other leaders.

2008 is a Sacred Circle year. This gathering of Aboriginal Peoples, with their elders and other Church leaders, will take place in August in Vancouver. I pray that through this Sacred Circle many will experience the blessing of the Lord’s love and peace.

Much farther away – in a variety of places throughout the world I think of men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces serving on peacekeeping missions. I think particularly of those deployed in Afghanistan. However one feels about our continuing presence there, three things must be acknowledged:

First – the courage and commitment of those who serve;

Second – the struggle and worry of their families;

Third – the recognition by all Canadians of the loss of life.

To date 74 Canadian soldiers have died. We remember them with great respect and their families with compassion for the grief they bear. We also recognize that many will suffer for life the trauma of their experience in Afghanistan.

I wish to pay public tribute to the Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces, Peter Coffin, and to the many chaplains, both regular and reserve force, who tend to the spiritual needs of our soldiers and their families. I join you in thanking God for their commitment to their vocation. Through their labours, that ancient Aaronic Blessing is uttered time and again in life and in death.

The Naming in today’s commemoration is the subject of the Gospel reading. St. Luke records that “after eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” “Mary named him Jesus,” writes Herbert O’Driscoll. “Each of us in our own way, with the shepherds and magi, with apostles and martyrs, with saints and scholars, with holy men and women in every age must decide whether or not to add the title Christ.” We come to that decision time and again as we follow the steps of his most holy life and ministry, reading and reflecting on the Gospel he proclaims to the world and in renewing the promises made in baptism. New Year’s Day is a wonderful day for re-affirming our baptismal vows – to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers; to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to respect the dignity of every human being and to strive for justice and peace among all peoples.

In the six months I have been Primate of our beloved Church, I have had the great privilege of visiting a number of dioceses, for a variety of occasions including very significant anniversaries. Everywhere I have been I see evidence of the very things that Canadian priest and evangelist Harold Percy names as marks of vitality in the Church:

Visionary leadership
Inspirational worship
Training for discipleship
Authentic community
Loving outreach.

Of particular note last year was the Sesquicentennial Celebration in the Diocese of Huron marking the 150th Anniversary of the election and consecration of Huron’s first bishop, Benjamin Cronyn. Nine thousand Anglicans gathered with their bishops, Bruce Howe and Bob Bennett, for a grand service of thanksgiving in the John Labatt Centre in London. The theme was “Light and Life” in Jesus the Christ. All of the Canadian Anglican and Lutheran Bishops and their spouses were present as were a number of other guests. The next morning the headline in The London Free Press read, “Anglicans celebrate the gift of fellowship!”

In remarks I make across the country I name the things that draw us together as Anglicans in Canada and throughout the world. There are of course the commonly held Instruments of Communion – the Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference, The Primates’ Meeting and The Anglican Consultative Council. To these four, Canadian priest and Liturgist Paul Gibson has suggested a fifth – not legislated but real – The Eucharist. I would also add the Cycles of Prayer used within dioceses, provinces and the Communion; Companion Diocese relationships that span the globe; and Churches Acting Together in Relief, Development, and Justice work throughout the world.

In a time of great tension in our Church over issues of sexuality I believe we need to be reminded that there is far more that draws us together than can ever tear us apart. This passion for communion in Christ Jesus was clearly enunciated in the March 2007 Statement from the International Anglican Women’s Network.

“Given the global tensions so evident in our Church today we do not accept that there is any one issue of difference or contention that can, or indeed would, ever cause us to break the unity as represented by our common baptism. Neither would we ever consider severing the deep and abiding bonds of affection that characterize our relationships.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

I am convinced that in Canada we are discussing the matter of the blessing of same-sex unions in a manner that is comprehensive and respectful of diversity of perspective. In June the General Synod received and concurred with the opinion of the St. Michael Report, prepared by the Primate’s Theological Commission, that the blessing of same-sex unions is a matter of doctrine, but not creedal. In other words, it is not ranked alongside doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Passion and Death of Christ, the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit. The Synod requested the Commission to do further work on whether the blessing of same sex unions is a “Spirit-led” development of doctrine. In anticipation of continuing conversation across the country, that work is underway.

Notwithstanding the fact that a resolution, “affirming the authority and jurisdiction of a diocesan synod with the concurrence of its bishop and in a manner respecting the conscience of the incumbent and the will of the parish to authorize the blessing of same sex unions” did not pass, three dioceses — Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara — have since voted by a strong majority to request their Bishop to consider the authorizing of public rites for the blessing of same-sex couples who are civilly married. I believe these resolutions present an opportunity to test the mind of the local Church and the results speak of a pastoral need that cannot be ignored. In each case the Bishop has indicated that in considering the request he would consult widely.

General Synod also endorsed an April 2007 statement from the House of Bishops making provision for what was described as “pastoral generosity” whereby gay and lesbian couples who have been civilly married might ask the Church for prayers for their relationship. Not to be confused with a nuptial blessing, these petitions would be offered in the context of the prayers of the people within a Eucharist. Requests for this provision have been granted in a number of places.

General Synod also concurred by resolution with the opinion of the St. Michael Report that the blessing of same-sex unions should not be a communion breaking issue. It is now, however, evident that for some it is. Some members of our Church feel compelled to leave over this issue. Their decision is regrettable given the fact that the Bishops have made adequate and appropriate provision for the pastoral care and episcopal support of all members of our Church including those who find themselves in conscientious disagreement with the view of their Bishop and Synod. These provisions are contained in a document known as Shared Episcopal Ministry approved by the House of Bishops in November 2004 and recently commended by an international Panel of Reference appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In light of these provisions, as well as ancient canons of the Church, statements of successive Lambeth Conferences, the Lambeth Commission on Communion known as the Windsor Report, and the 2005 and 2007 Communiqués from the Primates; we believe that recent actions by way of intervention on the part of another province in the internal life of our church are neither necessary nor appropriate. Our concern was made public in recent statements by the Council of General Synod (Nov. 16, 2007) and a joint Pastoral Statement from myself and the Canadian Metropolitans (Nov. 29, 2007). It has been made known to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

While some choose to leave our Church over this issue a great many more, even in the midst of great personal struggle, choose to remain within our fellowship. It is important that we recognize and honour their intentions.

As the conversations continue I am grateful for the guidance of our Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee. I pray that through grace we will maintain a capacity for respectful dialogue, a tolerance for diversity of opinion and a vision for the Church that is as inclusive as the loving embrace of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

2008 is a Lambeth Conference year. Bishops from all over the world will gather at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This year’s conference will be shaped around the Five Marks of Mission for the Anglican Communion:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God,
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers,
To respond to human need by loving service,
To seek to transform unjust structures of society,
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Bishops will take time to study, learn and pray about their role as leaders in mission. My hope and payer is that in the midst of tensions over sexuality and unity, we will remain focused on the missional role of those called to apostolic ministry. For this call to be Christ-centered and mission-minded, I ask the prayers of the whole Church.

In our life in Christ, Anglicans in Canada are richly blessed by our relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Celebrating six years of Full Communion, General Synod and National Convention both met in Winnipeg in June 2007. The ELCIC elected the Reverend Susan Johnson as its new National Bishop. She and all the Lutheran bishops attended my installation and I and several other Anglican bishops attended her’s in September. As partners in ministry she and I intend to encourage the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission that oversees the implementation of Full Communion in its commitment to pursue an ambitious agenda over the next six years.

I want to reiterate as well our commitment to dialogue with other churches. I note in particular conversation with the Roman Catholic Church and with the United Church of Canada. We are a member of the Canadian Council of Churches, and remain firmly committed to the justice and peace initiatives sponsored by the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Coalition known as KAIROS. We rejoice in the appointment of a Canadian, the Rev. Canon Dr. John Gibaut, of this diocese, as the new Director of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, a position he assumes this month in Geneva, Switzerland.

This year, 2008, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity celebrates its 100th Anniversary. The theme is taken from Paul’s counsel to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”. With brothers and sisters across many traditions we will come together in downtown churches and rural country settings to bear witness to the unity Christ wills for the Church.

The Honouring of the Name of Jesus is the subject of the New Testament Reading. Paul speaks of Christ’s humility in the manger, his passion through the cross, and his exaltation in highest heaven. There He is given the name which is above every name.

“We must learn” wrote the great St. John Chrysostom, “how to be discerning Christians honouring Christ in the way he would have us honour him.” An honouring of Jesus, as English Bishop Michael Marshall puts it, “hidden in the bread and wine of the Eucharist and hidden in the faces of every person in need, poverty, or sickness.” We are called to honour Jesus as much by our witness to others as by our worship of Him, as much by our service as by our songs.

I truly believe that Christ is honoured in the way He would wish by the work of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) which continues to enjoy strong support. In 2007, PWRDF became a member of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank – an agency dedicated to issues of food aid, security and justice. The year also saw a review of our association with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and a thoughtful consideration of the recommendations from that review. In 2009, PWRDF will celebrate its 50th Anniversary and plans are well underway for a number of events whereby we will renew our commitment to “offer compassion for those who suffer, advocate for those whose voices are not heard, and call for just resolution to tension and conflicts.” As President, I thank you for your support of the PWRDF and ask you to continue to “pray, act, and give” generously.

Through PWRDF and Partnerships throughout the world, the Anglican Church of Canada remains firmly committed to the UN Millennium Development Goals. They are:

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

These goals will be front and centre throughout the entire Anglican Communion in the next several years. It is also anticipated that through the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches there will be major public initiatives to challenge political leaders, especially of the G-8 nations, to remain firm in their resolve to achieve these Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

In the interests of peace in the world I draw to your attention the continuing support of the Anglican Church of Canada for the International Campaign to abolish nuclear weapons.

As we think at this time of year of the birth of the Prince of Peace, we rejoice and give thanks for the November 2007 commitment on the part of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmer and Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas to forge an Accord on an independent Palestinian State by the end of this year. With all people of goodwill we pray for the success of this initiative.

With many throughout the world we are horrified by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, just 12 days before national elections were to take place in Pakistan. A champion of democracy, she was a woman of great courage whose, “duty became her passion.” Headlines the world over speak of crisis in Pakistan and concern for the stability of the entire region. We join, especially with Canadians of Pakistani origin in offering prayers for Bhutto, her family and the people she desired to serve.

So dear friends, let us begin this year by blessing one another with the peace of that ancient Aaronic blessing, by naming Jesus as the Christ, and by honouring him “not only with our lips but in our lives” by giving ourselves to his service in this world.

As we have prayed in years’ past, so now we pray again,

“God bless to us this new year.
In your mercy grant us time for the task,
Peace for the path,
Wisdom for the work,
And love to the last.” Amen

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