Portrait of a leader in tumultuous times

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Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Archbishop Michael Peers at the book launch for the Peers memoir, More Than I Can Say. Photo: Simon Chambers
Former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and Archbishop Michael Peers at the book launch for the Peers memoir, More Than I Can Say. Photo: Simon Chambers

BOOK REVIEW
More Than I Can Say: Michael Peers-A Memoir
Edited by Michael Ingham
158 pages
ABC Publishing (Anglican Book Centre), 2014
ISBN 978-1-55126-575-9

 

As primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 1986 to 2004, Michael Peers faced turbulence in nearly every aspect of church life.

He delivered a landmark apology in 1993 to native people for abuses suffered at church-run schools, chaired debate on the place of gays and lesbians in the church and celebrated a full communion agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The Anglican church was also facing restructuring in the face of declining numbers and finances.

Peers is now 80. His leadership, nationally and internationally, will be the subject of analysis and debate for a long time. While those learned treatises are being written, More Than I Can Say: Michael Peers-A Memoir adds a layer of warm, personal perspectives on a life lived very much in the public eye.

Initiated by the current primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and edited by Peers’ former principal secretary, Michael Ingham (later bishop of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster), the book stakes out its territory on the first page: “a tribute to Michael from a grateful church.”

 

Criticism, therefore, is in short supply, but when the 70 contributors range from Peers’ wife, children and boyhood friends to Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, honesty is not.

 

More than one reminiscence describes Peers’ legendary impatience with tedious process (or people), heedless attitude toward attire, obsessive attention to lists (and maps while travelling) and dry, sometimes cutting, wit.

Tutu refers to Peers’ linguistic abilities (he speaks five languages), recalling how he presided in French over a session of the 1988 Lambeth Conference. It was the first time that had occurred in a language other than English.

Williams-and others-recall Peers’ deeply felt concern that all voices be heard on difficult issues. “He was one of the people who showed how to listen, who brought to the conversation a sense of willingness to go deeper and take the time needed to absorb and cope with the underlying feelings,” Williams writes.

Clarkson remembers being “dazzled” by Peers’ “very evident brilliance” when she was a third-year undergraduate at Trinity College and he was a divinity student, and they engaged in long conversations and evenings at the movies.

What the book does particularly well is provide a readable, sometimes amusing, journey through the extraordinary depth as well as the breadth of Peers’ career and life (so far), although there could have been more voices reflecting on the human sexuality debates.

There is, inevitably, something of an insider’s feel to the text, but one doesn’t have to be a Canadian Anglican to enjoy or appreciate it. Ingham has wisely written an engaging 15-page introduction that succinctly sets out the accomplishments and difficulties of Peers’ primacy, against the background of family life.

Beyond facts and conclusions, however, the underlying emotions running through the contributions are affection and admiration and a sense that the Canadian church was fortunate to be deeply loved and well served by a man paradoxically possessing both intellectual genius and humility.

 

Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008. Now based in New York, she is editor of Episcopal Journal.

 

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Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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