The truth is revealed in the “musty documents” of church archive collections, says Harry Huskins, executive archdeacon of the Anglican diocese of Algoma.
“And it is important for Anglicans today.”
Huskins was guest speaker at the annual general meeting of the Friends of the Diocesan Archives in Ottawa, October 15.
He recalled that at a General Synod archives committee meeting, “understandable sentiments” were expressed about whether to spend money on the archives or on mission work.
There was “quite a lot of tussle over the budget, about just closing down the whole operation, period,” he said, before adding, “and then the Indian residential school lawsuits came around.”
Since that day, said Huskins, “we have heard absolutely nothing at the national church level about closing down the General Synod archives.”
The General Synod archives was one of the places to find records that could confirm that someone was a residential school student “and they had every right to the claim they were making,” he said. There were also records relating to claimants personally and what happened to them.
Records also showed that some people making a claim had never been near a school, he said. Those facts came out “only because we retained that General Synod archive collection.”
Huskins, who served as prolocutor for General Synod from 2013 to 2016 and holds master degrees in history and canon law, and a doctorate of theology from Oxford, had high praise for the archives of the diocese of Ottawa.
“I want to tell you that here in Ottawa, you also have one of the best collections in this country and one of the best diocesan collections in the world. Cherish it.
“We are the people of our story, of our history, of the generations that went before us,” he said. “Our archives and the truth that lives in them is revealed in them.”
In his talk, delivered entirely without notes, Huskins said the story of the Anglican archives is part of a long history. “What it tells us is that we, as Anglicans and Christians, just don’t live in this particular moment, but are rather part of a broader continuity, a chain if you will, of generations stretching far, far back in history.”
For Anglicans, the chain stretches back not only to the Reformation in the 1530s when the Church of England broke away from the authority of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church, but also to Christ as well as “all of the heritage and legacy brought to us by Judaism.
“Knowing our history helps us to understand what God is doing with us and calling us to do, in turn,” he said.
Huskins finished his talk with a message to the friends of the archives seated before him. “Your task is to receive from those who have gone before you, to hold it, and to cherish that truth that lives in all of these musty documents,” he said. “If you can, [your task is] to pass it on even better to those who will follow.”
Huskins has served as executive officer for the ecclesiastical province of Ontario since 1998. He also identified himself as the former diocesan archivist in the diocese of Algoma.
The diocese of Algoma archival records are now housed at the Arthur A. Wishart Library of Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story quoted Archdeacon Harry Huskins as having said that the General Synod archives was the sole place to find records that could confirm that someone was a residential school student. It was one of, not the sole source of information.
Changes have also been made to the fourth paragraph. The General Synod archives committee meeting was not held in 2016.