Archdeacon Harry Hilchey served as the national church’s General Secretary from 1979 to 1987.
(Editor’s note: This story, which first appeared Monday, Nov.20, has been revised. Details about the funeral have been added in the last paragraph.)
One of his favourite biblical texts, Archdeacon Harry Hilchey once said, was “Jesus went.” Jesus went to people. He reached out to people. He didn’t wait for them to come to him.
Archdeacon Hilchey, who died on Nov. 17, sought to emulate that example and was known as someone who, in the words of retired bishop Peter Mason, “befriended the lost, shepherded the faithful, and counseled the famous.”
Ordained in the diocese of Toronto in 1944, Archdeacon Hilchey served the Anglican Church of Canada in many capacities: in 1974 as deputy prolocutor (an officer of General Synod), from 1975 to 1979 as prolocutor and from 1979 to 1987 as General Secretary.
Born in 1922, Archdeacon Hilchey wrote fondly about his childhood in Popes Harbour, N.S. “There was what I call ‘the house-on-a-hill’ – the bungalow built by my father after his return from Flanders Fields and his discharge from the army – as home for himself and my mother, and in due course for me and my younger brother Ray,” he wrote in Ministry in Many Places, one of many books he would author. “That house-on-a-hill had everything needed for life in the country: a well, a large wood pile, a fenced hen house, and a barn with a hay loft and a cow to be milked.”
After third grade, the family moved to Halifax, where Archdeacon Hilchey completed his education. In 1941, he graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Dalhousie University. He pursued a master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Toronto, and later entered Wycliffe College to study theology.
Upon his ordination to the priesthood, he served the parishes of Stanhope, Atonement, and St. Elizabeth Queensway in Toronto, before moving to the diocese of Nova Scotia and later, the diocese of Montreal, where he served as principal of the Montreal Diocesan Theological College from 1974 to 1978. While in Halifax, he served as rector of St. Paul’s, the oldest Anglican church in the country, from 1955 to 1964. It was during his tenure there that he was elected to General Synod.
In 1964, he became the rector of St. James the Apostle in Montreal and was first elected to the National Executive Committee (now the Council of General Synod, the national church’s governing body between General Synods).
Upon his retirement as the national church’s general secretary, he served Toronto’s Wycliffe College as director of development and communications, acting principal and archivist. He also took on interim ministry appointments in the diocese including the parishes of St. Chad, St. George-on-the-Hill, St. Matthew Islington and Christ Church Mimico; he was most recently honorary assistant at St. Matthew, Islington. An obituary on the school’s Web site noted, “He poured himself into the life of half a dozen congregations, leading, shepherding, comforting and challenging them with his cheerful presence and unflagging energy. Simultaneously he turned his hand to recording sketches of many of the individuals – clergy and lay people – whom he encountered either at church or through Wycliffe.
Archdeacon Hilchey possessed “a life-long fascination with people,” Bishop Mason wrote in the foreword of Ministry in Many Places, a book about Archdeacon Hilchey’s life that his friends had urged him to write. “From his earliest days, Harry has studied, described and probed the characteristics and qualities of countless individuals whom he has known and loved – family, friends, colleagues, parishioners, students and mentors.”
Bishop Mason added, “Undergirding the multifaceted ministries of Harry Hilchey, has always been a spirit of optimism and hope. He always looks for the best in people and is therefore seldom disappointed. He has been a life-long learner and teacher, innately curious about religion, politics, and current events, and much loved by students, curates and junior colleagues who have looked to him for counsel and example.”
This spirit of optimism, hope and openness can be gleaned from a sermon that Archdeacon Hilchey delivered at All Saints Cathedral in Halifax in 1985. He noted how confused Anglicans had become over the many conflicts gripping their church over such issues as abortion, capital punishment, support for the World Council of Churches, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the Book of Alternative Services. To this, he said: “I am grateful that I am a member of a church which is prepared to tolerate sharp differences of opinion, and even to encourage them as a way of discovering large truth, in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect, without thereby fracturing the fellowship in Christ which is deeper and stronger than our differences.”
Visitation has been scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 23, at St. George’s Church, 4600 Dundas St. West, Islington, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
The funeral service has been scheduled at St. James’ Cathedral, Toronto, on Friday, Nov. 24, 11 .am; burial will be in the afternoon at St. George’s Church Cemetery, Islington.