"To be awake to the needs of our times": A Q&A with Henriette Thompson

Excerpts from an interview with Henriette Thompson, new Director of Partnerships for General Synod

Before coming to General Synod on March 12, Ms. Thompson worked as Associate Dean at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto. She worked previously with World Vision Canada for 13 years in various capacities, including Director of Advocacy and Education, and Program Manager for the East Africa Region. She continues to actively participate in ecumenical justice work with churches and coalitions on issues of gender, environment, trade, aid, conflict, and HIV/AIDS. She is an active member of St. George’s Anglican Church, Georgetown, Ont.

What does the word “partnerships” mean to you?

“Partnerships” implies sharing, equality, and respect for each other. It’s also identifying what the other’s strengths are and what our strengths are, and asking, “how do we help each other to actually make something that’s greater than the sum of our parts?” It’s a form of stewardship—stewardship of gifts and resources, expertise, vocation, all of those things. Being a partner means working alongside and supporting each other—by invitation. That’s important.

Can you share an example of how you’ve worked in partnership?

I was involved in church coalition work in the 1980s and 1990s. From 1998 onward there was a global campaign and focus entitled Jubilee 2000 [an international coalition movement calling for debt relief by the year 2000]. I was working at World Vision at the time and I was busy producing resources for Jubilee 2000, so I was involved in conversations with our partners, especially in Africa, around debt relief. I was just so impressed by the ecumenical nature of Jubilee 2000. I even went to the Christian Aid offices in London en route to Africa and met with people in the UK who were part of the Jubilee 2000 global secretariat.

I appreciated the deep theological content of the campaign—going back to the earliest books of the Bible and seeing what jubilee meant then and how it is still a relevant theological context for us today. In fact it gives us what we need to currently address the still-huge problems of international debt, respect for creation, and justice for indigenous peoples. It had real theological depth and I thought that was a good example of partnership work.

What should Canadian Anglicans know about the mission and justice work in their church?

Canadian Anglicans should know that mission and justice are at the heart of the church’s action in the world—it is love in action. Specifically, that work is about our relationships with global partners—volunteers, theological students, clergy, lay leaders—and largely about capacity building and advocacy for justice. In Canada, the work of indigenous justice is paramount. Perhaps it’s the timing of the start of my work here at 80 Hayden St., as theRemembering the Children tour in March has really created a flashpoint for the broader Canadian society. It’s also a point around which Canadian Anglicans can acknowledge privilege, repent for the still current and systemic racism underlying relationships with indigenous peoples in Canada, and participate in a new dialogue that will advance the work of healing and reconciliation.

In the early 1990s, and leading up to the 1993 apology by Archbishop Michael Peers on behalf of the church, there was some awareness that the church had a lot of work to do in this area. The danger is in thinking that with the revised settlement, the hard work is over. As I’ve come to work here at the national church I’ve realized, of course, that nothing of this magnitude can ever be resolved in a period of 10 years, 25 years, 50, or 75 years. This has generational impact.

If we can’t do the work of healing and reconciliation within the national church, it makes me wonder how well we can do this in other situations. It’s got to be the work that we do at home in Canada that will allow us to say things about other situations of injustice with some integrity.

What are your hopes and plans for the Partnerships department?

My first priority is to listen and learn! Thereafter, one of my priorities will be to effectively communicate the work of Partnerships and invite people to participate in that work. We know we have a lot of awareness-raising to do in the area of healing and reconciliation between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals—during the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission and beyond. We must also continue to tell the stories of our partners in mission and issue calls to action for the earth and its peoples.

The other area that’s close to my heart—because I’ve worked with youth for many years in my own parish and I have three children who are between the ages of 19 and 23—is how do we as a church create a welcoming space for youth? The perspective and dynamism of youth is essential to the life of the church. We need each other.

This is a job that involves a lot of travel and cross-cultural engagement. Tell us about a trip that’s made an impact on you.

The trip that comes to mind is my 2005 trip to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. I was on secondment to a global project with World Vision at the time and I stayed on the Mount of Olives. There was something very different about being in East Jerusalem and in those places where Christ physically walked at one time. That goes right into you and you feel something—it’s an indescribable feeling.

At the same time, there was a sense of heaviness. I listened to all the bulldozers that were working on the wall separating Israelis and Palestinians. We drove to Bethlehem one night, and to enter Bethlehem cars go through a single lane opening in the wall. I also went to Ramallah in the West Bank, visited a school and spoke with local people about being cut off from their olive groves, having their wells destroyed so they couldn’t access clean water, and suffering daily indignities at checkpoints. The situation struck me as so complex, so long-running—centuries and centuries—and so challenging in terms of how peace might ever come. Yet, I’ve become aware of the amazing witness of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists—Christian, Jewish, Muslim—and others who put their lives at risk for peace.

I’ve also travelled a lot through all the regions of the world, especially to Africa. The struggle of people living in chronic poverty in so many places, that we, as a human community, have not resolved is a travesty—one that is lifted up in my daily prayers.

My overall hope and prayer is to be awake to the needs of our times and to seek the support of people in my daily life who will remind me of that, hold me accountable to that, help me to live the life that I want to live, and to realize that that life is only possible by God’s grace.

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