Primate’s New Year’s Day address

What follows is the text of an address by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, delivered on New Year’s Day at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa. It has become traditional for the Anglican Primate to deliver an address in the nation’s capital on the first day of the year.

Today we celebrate the naming of the Christ Child. The gospel tells us that Mary and Joseph called him Jesus, “the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”. (Luke 2:21) “Jesus” is the Greek form of a Hebrew name “Yeshu” meaning Yahweh saves. The reading from the Old Testament portrays the one whose name is holy as gracious in all his ways – shining upon his people, blessing and keeping them in his peace. The reading from Philippians reminds us that his name is above all names and that at the very sound of it every knee should bend and every tongue confess him Lord.

In a homily for the naming of Jesus and the marking of a new year, Karl Rahner once wrote, “Let us give this name to the coming year. Let us sign the Cross of this Jesus on brow and mind and heart. Let us say with relief ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord.’ And then stoutheartedly let us cross the threshold of the New Year. If his name shines above it, even its darkest hour will be an hour of the year of the Lord and of his salvation.”

The New Year is an occasion for us to look back and to look ahead.

2008 was my first full year as Primate of our beloved church and I have had occasion to visit 25 of our 30 dioceses for episcopal ordinations, synods, parish anniversaries, quiet days and retreats, and presentations of the Anglican Award of Merit in recognition of outstanding service to the church on the part of laity. From northern communities to rural villages to downtown churches I see a faithful preaching of the Gospel of Christ. In many places I am given opportunity for conversation with clergy and laity in townhall style meetings. In those gatherings I am always moved by expressions of genuine care and concern for our Church, its place in the Anglican Communion and its witness in the world.

In June last year about 150 people ranging in age from 17 to 75, gathered at Huron College in London for “Generation, 2008,” a conference enabling people committed to youth ministry to network and support each other. In a communiqué entitled “A Word to the Church” the participants said, “We invite all members of the church to share with us in meeting the challenges of providing training, staffing, and financial resources, and above all of developing a shared vision for youth ministry. To face these challenges will require perseverance from all who value the ministry of, for, and by youth in our church.”

A spirited venture in which many of us participated last fall was the Amazing Grace Project. In over 500 places in Canada and beyond Anglicans gathered to sing Amazing Grace and to put a toonie on the plate in support of ministries in the Council of the North dioceses. Renditions ranged from traditional to “rap” and as of today, more than $40,000 has been raised. A marvellous DVD called “Amazing Together” captures the spirit of this project, “a beautiful opening”, as someone put it, “into the life of our church across the country.”

Last year it was noted with concern that since 2003 the General Synod has been incurring deficits, that in 2008 a deficit budget was adopted, and that coming into 2009 we would be in similar situation. In November the Council of General Synod adopted a plan for deficit reduction over the next three years, a commitment to budget equilibrium by 2012, and notice of motion for General Synod 2010 that would prohibit deficit budgeting in the future. In the spirit of good stewardship these decisions were wise and responsible.

Revenue of course is the major issue. We recognize that we cannot hope to generate new revenue without renewed vision. We must have the capacity to say with Henri Nouwen, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources God has given you – your energy, your prayers, and your money – in this work to which God has called us…”

Three working groups mandated by General Synod 2007 are well into their work. The Vision 2019 Group is helping the church to establish priorities for its work for the next decade. In the interests of consulting with the whole church, a Bible Study has been prepared and will be available for use in parishes across Canada throughout Lent and Easter. Parishes will also be invited to tell their own story of mission in their local context, and to share a hope they have for the national church. This is an exciting initiative and I believe it will draw us together in meaningful conversation and renewed commitment to the gospel.

The Primacy Role Task Group is charged with a review of the Canon on the Primacy, including an examination of the roles and responsibilities associated with this ministry. A question that is motivating the work of the group is “what are the qualities of leadership necessary for the exercise of primacy in a church that is seeking to renew itself in the service of God’s mission?”

The Governance Working Group has several files, including one for Indigenous Ministry. For many years aboriginal peoples in the Anglican Church have called for opportunity for self-determination, a stronger voice in decisions about ministry in their communities, and fuller participation in the General Synod. The appointment of a National Indigenous Anglican Bishop has enabled these conversations to proceed with focus and hope. In consultation with local bishops and elders in First Nations communities, Bishop Mark MacDonald is working to create area ministries with aboriginal leadership and this working group is endeavouring to prepare governance structures appropriate to the culture and tradition of those people and places.

In the record of Canada coming to terms with the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools, 2008 was a significant year. In March leaders of several churches participated in the “Remembering the Children” tour. Travelling from Ottawa, to Vancouver, and on to Saskatoon and Winnipeg we endeavoured to raise public awareness of the history of the Residential Schools, to express regret for our complicity as agents of a federal government policy of assimilation designed to remake aboriginal peoples in our image and likeness; and to apologize for the wrongs committed through abuse in the schools. We also sought to give profile to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to the importance of its work of hearing, recording and preserving the story of the schools. And we encouraged Canadians to call on the Government of Canada to make an apology to all First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

On June 11, 2008 in the House of Commons Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered the long awaited apology. Many who were present were moved to tears. In accepting the apology National Chief Phil Fontaine said, “The memories of the residential schools cut like a knife at our souls. This day will help us put that pain behind us.”

It truly was a sacred moment in the history of the nation.

Now the challenge is to live the Apology.

It is deeply regrettable that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been so long delayed in the commencement of its work, especially so for the survivors of the Residential Schools. It is imperative that matters at hand be resolved. With many others I believe this Commission represents hope for healing and new life on the part of students and staff who will have opportunity to tell of their experiences in the schools. It also represents a commitment on the part of this nation that in acknowledging their legacy, we will say with one voice that never again can we treat people as we treated aboriginal people. Through the doctrine of discovery and the arrogance of our colonialism, we robbed people of their God-given dignity. It is time to make amends. It is time to honour and celebrate the dignity, languages and traditions of aboriginal peoples.

It is also time for this nation to acknowledge the deplorable living conditions in many First Nations communities. It is time to call on the Federal Government to act on the Kelowna Accord committing Canada to a concrete plan for closing the living standards gap between aboriginal peoples and all other who live in this land.

2008 was a Lambeth Conference Year. Some 660 bishops and their spouses, together with bishops of churches in full communion and a delegation of some 80 ecumenical guests gathered at the University of Kent in England. Before the conference opened the Archbishop of Canterbury, our host, called the bishops into retreat in Canterbury Cathedral. As apostle, mystic, teacher and pastor Rowan Williams addressed us and prayed with and for us. He reminded us of our first vocation – to be disciples of Jesus and of our need to be continually refreshed in that vocation if we are to fully embrace other callings made upon us by the church. He spoke of the ministry of bishops, reminding us that people should be able to see in us “the Gathering Christ;” that they should see in the way we go about our work what “communion” means, what it means to be in relationship with one another in God’s name. He reminded us that this conference was about celebrating communion, but also about deepening communion and in some respects restoring it. There is no doubt in the minds of many of the bishops that his addresses set the tone for how we then engaged one another in the conference.

The theme of Lambeth was “Equipping Bishops for Leadership in Mission and Strengthening Anglican Identity”. Each day began with a celebration of the Eucharist followed by a study of the “I Am” sayings in the Gospel according to John. Much of our time was spent in “Indaba”. Indaba is an African word meaning a meeting for purposeful conversations among equals. In those circles we discussed a wide range of topics including evangelism, the authority of scripture, sexuality, a covenant for the Anglican Communion, ecumenism, working with other faith traditions and social justice.

In the Reflections report produced by the conference it was noted that the matter of blessing same-sex unions was discussed at some length and that a strong majority of bishops present agreed that moratoria on same-sex blessings and cross-provincial interventions were necessary. In a letter following the conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury acknowledged that while the majority of bishops had spoken that way, “they were aware of the conscientious difficulties this posed for some and that there needs to be greater clarity about the exact expectations and what can be realistically implemented. How far the intensified sense of belonging together will help mutual restraint remains to be seen.”

At the fall meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops we had a full discussion of the call for moratoria. We recognized that in some dioceses the blessing of same-sex unions has been under discussion for some time and from a variety of perspectives — scriptural, pastoral and canonical and that there is an expressed will on the part of those synods to move forward with such blessings, while in others the matter requires further discernment. I must also say that across the board, irrespective of where bishops stand on the matter of blessing same-sex unions, no one is content with the continuing havoc created by cross-border interventions by primates and bishops of jurisdictions other than their own. I remain committed to addressing the matter in the Communion and particularly at the meeting of the Primates next month in Egypt. At the end of the House of Bishops meeting, we issued a statement in which we said: “A large majority of the House can affirm the following:

“A continued commitment to the greatest extent possible to the three moratoria – on the blessing of same-sex unions, on the ordination to the episcopate of people in same-sex relationships and on cross-border interventions – until General Synod 2010. Members of this House, while recognizing the difficulty that this commitment represents for dioceses that in conscience have made decisions on these matters, commit themselves to continue walking together and to hold each other in prayer…

“We ask for your continuing prayers as we steadfastly seek to discern the mind and heart of Christ for the wholesome care of all members of his Body, the Church. We share a deep hope that though we may never come to consensus over this matter of the blessing of same-sex unions, we will live with differences in a manner that is marked by grace and generosity of spirit, one toward another.”

In the eyes of the world, especially the poor, Lambeth will be remembered for the Walk of Witness in Support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Great Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown described the march in this way, “You have sent a simple and very clear message, with ringing force, that poverty can be eradicated, poverty must be eradicated, and if we all work together for change, poverty will be eradicated.” He then called us to take the message home to our own cities and towns on September 25th when the United Nations would be meeting in the interests of re-invigorating global commitment to these goals. In the spirit of that challenge the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Susan Johnson and I, with the support of Bishop John Chapman and the co-operation of the Dean and staff of this Cathedral, hosted a walk here in Ottawa. At locations pertinent to each of the goals we stopped for reflection and prayer. At the United Nations Association office we read a joint statement calling on our Prime Minister and other world leaders to establish a timeline for achieving the goals. We quoted former Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane, who has written, “Poverty is the new global apartheid.”

We called on the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament:

  • To act on the Better Aid Bill passed in the House of Commons in March 2007, mandating the ending of poverty as “the exclusive goal of Canada’s foreign aid policy;”
  • To revisit their 1989 commitment to end child poverty in Canada and to examine why it is that the child poverty rate remains the same now, as it was then – 12 per cent and 25 per cent in First Nations communities;
  • To develop a comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy including affordable housing initiatives and in so doing to consult with those most adversely affected by poverty – women, youth, and aboriginal peoples.

Our commitment to speak out on such matters is grounded in the truth that, “for Anglicans indeed for the whole church the gospel is not just the proclamation of individual redemption and renewal, but also the renewal of society under the reign of God; the ending of injustice and the restoration of right relationship with God, between human beings and with the whole of creation”.” (Paragraph 43, Indaba Reflections, Lambeth, 2008)

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of PWRDF. It began as a compassionate and generous response on the part of Anglicans across Canada to a mining disaster in Springhill, Nova Scotia on October 23, 1958 in which 75 men died. So widespread was the care of the church that a year later the Primate’s World Relief Fund was created. Ten years later in 1969 the word “Development” was added to the name of the Fund. Through the fund we provide emergency relief in the event of earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters. In 95 programs in 25 countries we address issues of food aid and security, combat HIV/AIDS, and work at issues of global justice.

Since 1959, Anglicans across Canada have given $89 million in support of PWRDF. Alongside that good news is the staggering statistic that only 30 per cent of church-going Anglicans support the fund regularly. We need to substantially increase our donor base. Needless to say, a major dimension of the 50th Anniversary is public awareness and education, in the interest of substantially increasing our donor base do work can be sustained and expanded.

Thirteen percent of the PWRDF budget is allocated for work with refugees. I am pleased to announce that in its 50th Anniversary, PWRDF is committed through the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship program to bring at least 50 refugee families into Canada. As one refugee woman told the Council of General Synod in November, “we are the miracle for which they wait in hope.”

The theme for the 50th Anniversary is “In Faith, Join Hands, Inspire Hope”. It reminds us that the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is faith based, action oriented and life changing. I take this opportunity to thank those who give leadership in their dioceses and parishes and to thank one and all who “pray, act, and give” regularly and generously.

The year 2008 ended with some clouds on the horizon. Recent events on the Gaza Strip remind us of the fragility of peace and of how delicate political stability in our world can be. The fragility is reflected as well in the global economy. 2009 will clearly be a year of challenge for the Church, for all Canadians and for everyone in the village that is the world.

And now I call for your prayers, especially

  • for the Primates of the Anglican Communion who are meeting in February in Egypt
  • for a Conference on Mission in the Americas, North and South, in March in Costa Rica
  • for the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in May in Jamaica
  • for all who take counsel for the nations that peace with justice may be their aim.
  • for all who serve in Canada’s Armed Forces – in peace keeping missions and in theatres of war. Pray especially for those serving in Afghanistan. Pray for all who have died in service and for their families who grieve. Pray for those who serve as chaplains in the regular and reserve forces and for the ministry of their bishop, Peter Coffin.

Finally, dear friends, with all the challenges and opportunities that lie before us, let us enter this new year in a spirit of “sheer wonder at the beauty of God, gratitude for the gospel of Christ, and an eagerness to deepen self-giving service in God’s world” *, in Jesus’ Name. To him be glory for ever and ever.


* From a document of the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship

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