Changing our tune

Robert Adrian Hillman
Robert Adrian Hillman
Published October 1, 2011

The Anglican Church of Canada is making progress toward overcoming a longstanding negative stereotype and becoming an effective partner in preventing suicide. “It’s a challenge because the church has not traditionally been a welcoming place for the families of suicide victims,” explains Cynthia Patterson, coordinator of suicide prevention since 2009 for the Council of the North, Anglican Church of Canada. “Suicide was considered a mortal sin and the deceased could not be buried in consecrated ground.”

According to Patterson, “We have a lot of teaching to do to explain that this is not our attitude now. We are working away, one partner at a time, and we are gaining more acceptance.”

In another groundbreaking move last winter, the Anglican Church of Canada became the first national church to join the Winnipeg-based Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP). “The world of suicide prevention is largely secular,” explains Patterson. “One of our challenges is to incorporate a spiritual component.” CASP holds its annual conference in Vancouver, Oct. 3 to 5.

In collaboration with CASP and with the backing of the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Council of the North also launched a letter-writing campaign aimed at federal MPs as they returned to Parliament after the summer break. The letters called for a national strategy on suicide prevention.

Although there are some prevention initiatives at the provincial level, “Canada and Russia are the only G8 nations without a national strategy,” says Patterson. Five years from now, she hopes to see “a lower suicide rate, a national, properly funded strategy in place and the church an informed and effective partner at every level.”

In Moose Factory, Ont., a community that has experienced 14 suicides in three years, World Suicide Prevention Day was recognized on Sept. 10 with a series of training workshops given in collaboration with the Council of the North and the local parish of St. Thomas. The workshops were the result of a partnership with the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and the local band health centre.

The workshops were run by the Centre for Suicide Prevention, an independent organization founded by the Canadian Mental Health Association that develops community workshops and online training programs. Its River of Life program was specifically designed for indigenous culture and is Canada’s first accredited online training program in suicide prevention. The council is also involved in two ongoing pilot projects in the dioceses of Moosonee and Keewatin.

In other initiatives, the council asked all council bishops to encourage prayers and healing walks for the workshops and projects and produced a new brochure, “Suicide Prevention Program: Partners for community-based suicide prevention in Canada’s North.”

For more info, go to or contact Cynthia Patterson, 418-694-1997, [email protected]. Those interested in donating to the Suicide Prevention Program should contact: Paul Clur, 416-924-9199 ext. 293,
[email protected].


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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