Church seeks clarity about religious freedom office

Archbishop Fred Hiltz delivers his report to CoGS as members of the structures working group look on. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Archbishop Fred Hiltz delivers his report to CoGS as members of the structures working group look on. Photo: Marites N. Sison
Published March 22, 2013

The Anglican Church of Canada is seeking a meeting with the Office of Religious Freedom to gain more clarity about its mandate, said the church’s primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz.

Created by the Harper government in 2011, the office “is a bit of a mystery; not everyone is clear about its term of reference,” Hiltz told the spring meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGs), the church’s governing body between General Synods.

The Canadian government officially opened the office on Feb. 19 with the appointment of its first ambassador, Andrew Bennett, a Catholic, academic and former federal public employee.

According to its website, the office, attached to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, has a mandate to “protect, and advocate on behalf of, religious minorities under threat; oppose religious hatred and intolerance; and promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad.”

Hiltz said the church’s special advisor for government relations, the Rev. Laurette Gauthier Glasgow, is trying to arrange for a meeting either in Toronto or in Ottawa.

In his report to CoGS, Hiltz reflected on the work that General Synod has done over the past triennium and said the words of a billboard he sees on his way to work-“On mission, on task, on time”-capture what he feels about Vision 2019, the church’s strategic plan.

He noted, in particular, the work around creating new structures to strengthen the church’s mission and ministry. The resolutions about structures, he said, will be put forward at the General Synod this July.

In his report to the spring meeting of Council of General Synod (CoGS), Hiltz also reflected on the church’s work concerning healing and reconciliation with indigenous people in Canada.

Earlier this month, he attended a meeting of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP). The Idle No More movement, which has sprung up across Canada in response to new legislation affecting aboriginal treaty rights, was discussed. Hiltz said he sought ACIP’s advice by asking them, “What should the church be saying? Should the church be saying more and what might it be?”

He also sought guidance about how the church could commemorate the 20th anniversary of the residential schools apology made in 1993 by then primate, Archbishop Michael Peers.

The primate also said it was “worth noting” that the Anglican Healing Fund, now in its 21st year of operation, has supported 500 projects totalling $5-million. “That is a sign of our commitment to healing and reconciliation,” said Hiltz. Established in 1992, when abuses at the Indian residential schools surfaced, the fund provides grants “to encourage and initiate [residential schools-related] programs, which help educate and heal.”

The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) will wind up in 2014, and by then “a whole lot of truth” about the 150-year legacy of residential schools will have been gathered. But, he said, “the work of reconciliation will go and on and on,” and that would primarily be the work of churches. “The writing is on the wall,” he said.

The primate also said he continues to visit dioceses across Canada, and highlighted the three days he recently spent with parishes that were returned to the diocese of New Westminster after a lengthy legal battle involving parishioners who left the church over the issue of same-sex blessings. “I heard about their struggles, hopes and dreams, and we spent a rich time in prayer,” said Hiltz.

He said that he got a sense that the congregations hoped “to build something new” and were not longing for what they’d had. “It was one of the most meaningful pastoral visits I’ve ever had an opportunity of making,” he added. “I commended them for their perseverance, their commitment to be firm and their desire to build new parishes.” Hiltz said he had brought with him an Anglican Church of Canada flag, but it was only blessed and not hoisted on the occasion of his visit so as not to convey a message of triumphalism. “It’s not about victory,” he said.

The primate said he was “feeling good” about the progress of planning for the joint Anglican-Lutheran assembly this July.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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