The Primate's New Year's Day sermon, Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa

The following is the text of a sermon preached on New Year’s Day at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa by Archbishop Andrew S. Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


It was a motion of the National Executive Council of our church in 1984 that initiated the tradition that brings me to this pulpit in our nation’s capital on New Year’s Day. The motion asked that the Bishop of Ottawa and the Dean be approached to arrange for the Primate to preach on two Sundays in each year on some aspect of relations between church and state. While I am not certain that that arrangement was ever kept precisely, in recent years this New Year’s Day address has become firmly established to serve the purpose. I am very grateful to Bishop Peter Coffin and Dean Shane Parker for the opportunity.

It is true that the Parliament is in recess at the moment, and that its members are in the midst of an election campaign. The subject of the address, however, engages us all – and some of you more directly than others. Copies of it will be sent to the departments concerned, and it will be posted to our church’s national web site, for those who may wish to pick up on its contents in the new mandate.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Many of you will recognize those as the opening lines of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. Others may think it is simply descriptive of life on planet earth during the past year. And some may feel it describes all too well their personal journey during 2005.

Whether on a global scale or in Canada, for governments and for the Church alike, to paraphrase Lloyd Robertson, “That’s the kind of year it’s been.”

The year began in the aftermath of the tsunami in South-East Asia. It was a wake-up call for our governments and for the church in our readiness to respond to crises. We are grateful that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) recognized the role of the churches which were on the ground in the affected areas, and matched the generous donations of Anglicans through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. Natural disasters were to follow in the form of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, forest fires and tornadoes in many parts of the planet, including here in Canada. Again there was a generous response from Anglicans to each one of these through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, for which I am truly grateful.

During 2005 another 6 million of our brothers and sisters in the world died of HIV/AIDS, many of them children – not to mention other treatable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria. We acknowledge with gratitude Canada’s contribution of a further $280 million to the global fund, making us the largest per capita contributor to that fund. This should not make us complacent.
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund presses on towards its goal of $1 million this year for its World Without AIDS program. I urge your support.

Millions continue to live in extreme poverty – something we have the ability to eliminate altogether. What it takes is for nations to commit 0.7% of GDP to that purpose. I am glad to be able to report that every Anglican diocese in Canada gives annually at least 0.7% of the total income from all parishes to that purpose through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund – some of them double that. Yet the governments of the world including our own, have failed to commit to achieving that goal by 2015 in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the U.N. Surely Canada, with its surplus in the billions could exercise leadership in this. 0.7% of GDP is after all only 1/20th of what world governments spend on defense.

We salute the Government for its initiative in hosting the Montreal Conference on Climate Change, in which I was privileged to participate, along with a strong Anglican delegation. It should, however, be an embarrassment leading to decisive action that Canada has failed to reduce toxic emissions since signing the Kyoto Protocol, and in fact has increased them.

That increasingly water is becoming a marketable consumer product even here in Canada is a matter that should concern us all. In Canada a litre of bottled water is more expensive than a litre of gasoline. There are northern communities that following the pollution of their water supply by hydro developments have had to rely on bottled water. Elsewhere in the world that hardship is extreme. Providing access to safe water supply for all humanity should surely be a priority in which Canada exercises leadership.

I participated in a conference of world religious leaders in Washington, D.C. With us was the President of the World Bank. The focus of the conference was on global poverty, and how world religious leaders could collaborate more effectively with governments in the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. We then took our communiqué to New York where 170 world leaders were gathered for the General Assembly of the U.N. We met with the President of the General Assembly, and with the Deputy Secretary General – a Canadian, Mme Louise Frechette – to present our communiqué. It was generously quoted by the President of South Africa, and by others who addressed the assembly. The churches, and other religious groups, may have limited financial resources, but they have one enormous advantage. We are there on the ground in the most needy places of the world with people who know and understand the local culture. Our willingness to monitor the use of International funds in local projects was particularly welcomed by the U.N.

All of the preceding is by way of saying that we are citizens of one world with responsibilities that must match our privileged status within that world. The global village of which Marshall MacLuhan spoke has become our reality. The extent to which we exercise responsible global citizenship is a measure of our national soul.

Within Canada there have been important developments as well. The parliament has acted to permit same gender marriage. Many faith communities registered disapproval, and there is no clear consensus among Anglicans on the subject. There is, however, broad consensus that the laws of the land must be for all Canadians, and that religious bodies should be free to decide on standards for their own members. There is also agreement that all people must be treated justly and with respect. The Government has chosen one way of doing that, and churches must decide on how to achieve the same end. I urge all Anglicans to engage this important discussion.

The appointment of Mr. Justice Iacobucci to take up the file on Residential Schools has resulted in an agreement in principle with the Assembly of First Nations. If approved by the courts it could take effect before the end of this calendar year. All former students of residential schools would receive a “common experience payment”.

Eleven years ago our Church, through my predecessor, Archbishop Peers, made a formal apology to native Canadians for our part in executing a government policy that was fundamentally flawed, and our share of responsibility for the abuses that occurred within that system. We established a healing and reconciliation fund, and came to an agreement with government to establish a $25 million Settlement Fund. $16 million of that has already been raised, and to date we have paid out over $7 million as our 30% share of claims. We continue to do so, and we continue the healing and reconciliation work. I am grateful to every diocese in Canada for their commitment to this work.

While we are pleased that the Government has stepped up to accept major responsibility financially, a formal apology has yet to be offered to native Canadians by the Prime Minister. People of faith will recognize that nothing less can promote true reconciliation. Having said that, we are encouraged by the promise of the recent meeting of first ministers with indigenous leaders in Kelowna.

A second welcome appointment was that of Mr. Justice John Gomery to address issues of integrity and accountability in the use of public funds. It is essential to our well being as a country that those we elect and those who are in public service be trustworthy.

We continue to support prayerfully, and through our Chaplaincy to the Canadian Forces, our young men and women in uniform. I am grateful that Bishop Peter Coffin has undertaken the oversight of that important ministry on behalf of our church, in addition to his duties as Bishop of Ottawa. The role of the military in the modern world is changing, and Canada’s traditional role of peace keeping is being challenged by changing circumstances in theatre. Our prayers are with the Minister of Defense and his staff as they address the impact of this shift in recruiting, training, equipping and deploying our forces.

Canada has been a destination of choice for immigrants, and for those seeking refuge from violence in other parts of the world. Four years ago Parliament approved a process for a merit based appeal in cases where refugees are refused, given that such decisions are now made by a single person – presumably as fallible as most of us. The Minister has recently announced that he has no intention of acting on that authorization. This is surely a regressive step that has potentially dangerous consequences for applicants, and is bound to have a negative impact on our international reputation. The churches, whose experience in working with refugees has a longer history than the federal government, are eager to collaborate with the Ministry to work for a policy in which justice is both done and seen to be done for all who seek refuge in this land.

It is time that our actions matched our rhetoric on the subject of youth – and here I address Church and Government alike. Child poverty in Canada, which we are pledged to eliminate, is on the increase. Parenting and family life cry out for support, and the discouragement of youth erupts in incidents of deadly violence. It is abundantly clear that it takes a whole village to raise a child, and to allow that child to realize his/her God-given potential. The best minds in government, church and community must collaborate and act. I have called upon every national committee of our church to respond to the challenge of youth inclusion and responsible engagement, and I am grateful for their response.

“Serving God’s World, Strengthening the Church” is the theme of the Anglican Church of Canada for this triennium. God came among us in Jesus not to be served, but to serve, and in that service to give his very life. It is in that high calling that we find our truest identity and honour God, one another and ourselves. It is our Anglican tradition that we honor those who are called to public service by praying for the Head of State and for all who work for justice and peace in the best of times and in the worst of times. May they come to know, as we believe, in the words of the second reading for this liturgy,

it is God who is at work in you, enabling you 
to will and to work for his good pleasure

And through our faithfulness to our respective, and collaborative tasks, may 2006 bring us one step closer to the kingdom of justice and peace which God came to establish in Jesus Christ.

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