In an opening address before the spring session of Council of General Synod (CoGS) Friday, June 23, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, reflected on the church’s role in society and encouraged council members to look beyond the church’s quarrels and divisions to its wider calling of bringing justice to the world in areas such as Indigenous rights, poverty and human trafficking.
Hiltz began by quoting some thoughts on Pentecost by Karen Gorham, bishop of Sherborne, U.K. As the disciples saw after Pentecost “an in-between time of witness” before the coming of the Kingdom of God, so should Anglicans, he said, see Pentecost as ushering in a time when “the ordinary can be made extraordinary” for Christians as they work the world-transforming work of Christ.
“Pentecost reveals the power we present-day disciples need to continue to fulfill our calling to continue to make Christ and his gospel known,” Hiltz said. “The Ascension as described by Luke ends with the question to the disciples, ‘Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? There is work for us to do.’ ”
Hiltz reflected on the phrase from the Book of Isaiah, “You are my witnesses,” which served as the theme for last July’s General Synod and for the current triennium, which lasts until 2019. In the Anglican tradition, he said, being a witness to God—evangelism—is done both through the performance of liturgy and service to the community, not through preaching what he called a “pocket-sized” gospel.
“The gospel that we proclaim cannot be shoved into our pocket because it is a gospel not just about me—it is a gospel for the world,” he said.
“Jesus looks at us and he says, ‘You are my witnesses, and if you are going to be my witnesses, you must be engaged in the community, you must be engaged in the world.’ ”
Bearing witness, Hiltz said, also means living in true communion with one another, in “one mystical body, one holy fellowship.” He then spoke of the eighth round of the Canadian-African Bishops’ Dialogue, which ended last week with meetings in Nairobi, Kenya. Despite the presence of “very diverse political, social, culture and theological contexts,” Hiltz said, the bishops were able to say, in effect, that “a new understanding of the Anglican Communion has led to renewed commitment to its flourishing. Myths and stereotypes, misunderstandings and propaganda have been broken down. It’s clear we have so much more in common than the issues that divide us or threaten our unity.”
The Anglican Church of Canada’s work in the world, Hiltz said, has been recently recognized by at least two notable Canadians. At the April meeting of the House of Bishops, he said, University of Waterloo Professor David Pfrimmer said he saw in the Anglican Church of Canada the marks of a “public ethic of belonging” because of traits such as its “extreme hospitality,” “radical gratitude” and “focus on major life-enhancing things.” He praised the Anglican and other Canadian churches’ history of “public ecumenism,” or willingness to engage the world, and “was pleading with the house” that the church continue this tradition, Hiltz said.
Then, at a symposium hosted by the diocese of Ottawa last week, Hiltz said, former senator Hugh Segal spoke of the Anglican Communion’s “compelling presence and engagement on the front lines of global and domestic challenges,” the Anglican church’s widespread presence on the ground in Canadian communities and the perspective it has to offer on poverty in Canada. Quoting Segal, Hiltz said, “My plea is that you do not underestimate the importance and salience of your voice.”
Hiltz then spoke of the various measures the church had been taking in recent years in realizing the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, many of which he also mentioned in an Aboriginal Day statement June 21, and of a consultation session, slated for this September, on the future shape of the Indigenous Anglican church in Canada.
Hiltz’s strongest words were for human trafficking, which is to be the subject of a CoGS presentation Saturday, June, 24. In Canada, he said, the most vulnerable to human trafficking—much of which is for the sex trade—are women and girls, sometimes as young as 13, the poor and Indigenous people. He recalled a recent report claiming that some sex slaves can be raped as many as 40 times a day.
“This is the ugly crime of seduction, lying, luring about a better life,” he said. “This is the ugly crime of inflicting damage on people’s bodies and minds and souls. It is the lust of the consumer being satisfied and it is the greed of the owner of the sex slave that is being satisfied.”
Other forms of trafficking, he said, feed factories where people are forced to work in inhumane conditions.
“This crime, this ugly, filthy crime stalks the Earth—no country is beyond its reach,” including Canada, he said.
Though it would involve a difficult conversation, Hiltz said, he prayed the church would mobilize its women and men in effective ways to rid the world of the “living hell” caused by modern human trafficking and slavery.
Hiltz then quoted former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple: “the church…that lives to itself will die to itself,” and concluded with a prayer for unity and action.
“Pray with me…that we not ever be so preoccupied…with all our joys and all our trials, all our celebrations, and all our squabbles that we lose our sight, nor our hearing, of the cries of those who look to us in the hope, the great hope of Christ’s mercy and compassion and that release and freedom of which his gospel speaks.”
He then referred once more to Gorham, referring to Isaiah’s call that Christians be “transformers of a needy world.”
“After all, my brothers and sisters, is that not the essence of our vocation, of our worship and our work from one week to the next?” he said.
CoGS’s spring session this year is meeting in Mississauga, Ont. June 22-June 25.