Primate’s New Year’s Day Sermon

Archbishop Fred Hiltz
Sermon, New Year’s Day, 2019
Christ Church Cathedral
Ottawa, Ontario


We praise you, heavenly Father,
for the name of your incarnate Son, Jesus.
May it be to us and all your children
the name that is above every name,
the name to be honoured, trusted, and adored,
now and forever more. Amen.

Friends, it is wonderful to be with you for this Choral Eucharist in honour of The Naming of Jesus and for the Levee that follows it. Lynne and I have really enjoyed our visits for this gathering every year since 2007 – every year except one. That was 2017!

We were in Corner Brook, Newfoundland for the wedding of Laura and Andrew on New Year’s Eve.  Laura is the younger daughter of Archbishop Percy and Monica Coffin.  It was a beautiful wedding and we were glad to share in the celebrations.  Well just a couple of weeks ago Laura gave birth to their first baby – what excitement that was.  I can still hear Lynne on the phone hearing about the baby’s weight and that she was feeding well.  It would be another day before we would know her name “Grace Joanna” – Grace just because they love it and Joanna because of Laura’s deep affection for her sister. What a happy time in that household and in the wider circles of their families and friends.

The registration and naming of a child is a delight that surpasses all others.  It gives them an identity within a family, citizenship within a country, and rights within a world. It ensures they have access to health care and opportunities for education.  It enables them to open a bank account and obtain a passport. It gives them freedom of movement.

The harsh reality is that in our world some 51 million children are not registered.  Half of them are under 5 years of age.  This is particularly prevalent in South Asia (64%) and Sub Saharan Africa (63%).  Most are poor, marginalised, or displaced. They are homeless, stateless,, and powerless.  In the eyes of heartless societies, they are nobodies.  They have no access to the services enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child.

They are at high risk of being trafficked, forced into prostitution, drafted as child soldiers, enslaved as workers in factories. Supporting the Campaign for Universal Birth Registration is a top priority for the International Anglican Family Network. (  They say and rightly so, that “birth registration is a gospel issue”.  They remind us that Jesus stood alongside the poor and marginalized and that he cared deeply for children and promoted their welfare.  It is an important ministry of our Anglican Communion, worthy in every way of our support and prayers.

While this global initiative addresses the right of children to have their births registered and their names celebrated, there are other issues too – for example what happens to a child who is given a name and then it is taken from them.

This is the story of many Indigenous children in the era of The Residential Schools in Canada.  My friend, indeed the soul friend of many in our Church, Andrew Wesley was six years old when he was taken to the St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ontario.  He was never known there by his birth name, “Wah ba no way dum” which means, “travelling voice from the east”.

Years later, Andrew would recall “My number at Residential School was 56 and I was known by that number for many years.  I was not considered to be a human being, just a number.”

But the Creator had a plan for Andrew and it was not for his harm, but for his good and the blessing of many others.  In time, he would be called to be a priest of our Church.  He is recognized as a highly esteemed elder and respected as one of the great teachers of our time.  He has done so much to help non-Indigenous People to learn about Indigenous history and resilience, Indigenous respect for the Creator and the land, Indigenous spirituality shaped by the teaching of the Grandfathers and Grandmothers.  His ministry among Indigenous people living on the streets of Toronto has touched their lives with the kindness of God and the compassion of Jesus.  The very mention of his name brings a smile to the faces of many, a drawing of the hand to the heart in thanksgiving for his good work in the Lord.

To have no name from the beginning or to have one’s name taken from them is an affront to the dignity of a child, to the love of his/her parents and grandparents and siblings.  It is an affront to the theology of identity and belonging that is at the very heart of our faith.  We are made in God’s image and God delights in us, even from the time writes the psalmist, when God beholds our limbs yet unfinished in the womb. (Psalm 139)  God knows us by name, God knows our comings and goings, our sitting down and our rising up.  God traces our journeys and is acquainted with all our ways. (Psalm 139) We belong to one another.  We are born to be loved and to love.

“Our name”, writes Brother Curtis Almquist, SSJE, “is what uniquely distinguishes us from others.  It also however, unites us with others in so far as they will call us by name knowing they have a certain claim on us”.  So with the Name of Jesus.  It uniquely distinguishes him from all others and unites him with all others.

Mary and Joseph named him in accord with how an angel had spoken, “You will name him Jesus”.  “He will be great and will be called The Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:31)

St. Paul writes of him, “being born in human likeness and he humbled himself and became obedient even to the death of the cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name so that at the name Jesus, every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess him Lord.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

Such reverence for the Holy Name of Jesus is the very stuff of some of the most treasured song of the Church.  I think of the great 15thcentury hymn “To the name of our Salvation” and those hymns that express a deeply personal reverence in the Holy Name including “Jesus the very thought of thee”, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds” and “O Jesus King most Wonderful”.

“Knowing someone’s name”, writes Curtis “gives a certain access, intimacy and power.  You have Jesus’ name.  Use it. Breathe in the name of Jesus. Breathe out the name of Jesus. Breathe it for yourself and for others, those far off and those who are near.  Jesus will live up to his name for you.”

What a refreshing way to pray with fewer words, longer silences, and the quiet repeating of his name.

On this 8thDay of Christmas, let us remember that the Church is the community of all those who reverence the holy name of Jesus.

Let us be humble enough to acknowledge as Rowan Williams puts it, that “the Church is holy not because it is a gathering of the good and well behaved, but because it speaks of the triumph of grace in the community of strangers and sinners who miraculously trust one another enough to gather in common repentance, prayer and praise, to express a deep and elusive unity in Christ who is our righteousness and our sanctification”.

Let us remember that He unites us, in a fellowship of truth and love not of our making but his, in a holy communion not of our grace but his, in an abiding friendship not of our choosing but his.

United with Him, we are called to regard one another as found in Him.  The truth is there are times when such regard comes easily and there are times when it is painstakingly difficult.  And in those times when we are in deep disagreement without any expectation of achieving consensus in either direction “there is a task” writes David Ison, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, “a task of encouraging those at odds to express their concerns in a safe environment, listen carefully to those with whom they disagree profoundly, find something of Christ in each other and consider together what the practical consequence of disagreement might be.”  Ison reminds us that “from New Testament times the Church has had to face disagreements.  Fashioning our life as a Church includes finding ways to disagree Christianly.”

I for one, am heartened by such holy counsel, and in it, I pray we abide.  I am mindful of how very important this is as we prepare for General Synod this year.  And especially, as we consider a second reading of an amendment to our Canon on Marriage that would make national provision for celebrating same gender marriage in our Church.  Pray with me our conversation be marked by disciplines of speaking and listening respectfully, acknowledging our disagreements, and finding a way to live together that befits the community we are called to be in Christ. Pray with me this discussion be marked by a patience and perseverance that preserves the spirit and ethos for which our Anglican Tradition has always been known.

I hasten to happily say, on this Day of The Naming of Jesus that the theme for this Synod is “I have called you by name”.  It is drawn from the 43rdChapter of Isaiah.  “I have called you by name”, says the Lord.  “You are mine”.  With such blessing comes a calling to be about the work of God in this world tending to its wounds, healing its hurts, reconciling its peoples, drawing the nations together in that peace of which the angels sing.  With this blessing comes a call as the Archbishop of Jerusalem says “to know that the Incarnate God thirsted, knew pain and cried in order to teach us the divine concept of our true humanity.  Far from all hatred and envy it is a humanity that is loving and sacrificial to others. It is a more humble humanity.”

General Synod will take time to consider the heartbeat of our Church.  As we think of its work and witness in the world, what makes our hearts glad, what makes them ache, and what makes them feel hopeful.  While these are important questions for us to ponder, it would be interesting to hear how society- at-large would respond.  General Synod will renew its commitment to the Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion worldwide.  We will assess our response to the Calls to Action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  We will take further steps in supporting the emerging of a truly Indigenous expression of the Church within The Anglican Church of Canada.  We will be challenged by commitments to free people from the horrors of Human Trafficking.  With our Lutheran brothers and sisters, we will enter into a formal conversation with Muslims.  And we will celebrate the 60thAnniversary of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.  These are but a few of the many matters to which this synod will give its attention. Countless people will look to us with some measure of trust and hope for the work we do.

We all know too that the names of several bishops nominated for the Office of Primate of our Church will be presented to the delegates to Synod.  We pray for the wisdom and leading of the Holy Spirit in the process of election and that by the same Spirit, the new Primate will be guided and strengthened in leading our beloved Church.  In the acceptance of a ministry that is national and global in scope, what a source of encouragement it is to know that day-by-day, and week-by-week one is remembered by name in the prayers of the faithful.

On this First Day of a New Year, when we rejoice in the name of Jesus.  Let us renew our resolve to live all our days in a manner worthy of that holy name and the songs we sing.  .

“Hail to the Lord’s anointed,
great David’s greater son!
Hail in the time appointed,
his reign on earth begun.”
(Hymn 101, Common Praise)

Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .