Hiltz chosen as new primate

Published July 3, 2007

Archbishop Fred Hiltz (right) waves as he enters Holy Trinity church, shortly after his election as the new primate of the Anglican Church of Canada on June 22. Beside him is the former primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison.

In an inner-city church reflecting the diversity of the Anglican Communion, Frederick James Hiltz was installed on June 25 as the 13th primate of the Anglican Church of Canada and national archbishop.

“Overwhelmed and humbled by the selection, I enter into this ministry saying, ‘I will, with God’s help,'” said Archbishop Hiltz.

St. Matthew’s church was filled with about 400 General Synod delegates, bishops, and representatives of Christian denominations and other faiths. Festive bunches of multi-coloured balloons were added to the church’s decorations of an aboriginal blanket and banners that read The People of God: Faces, Not Races and May the Streets of our Community be Holy Ground Beneath Our Feet. (St. Matthew’s is a thriving congregation with aboriginal, Caribbean, Anglo-Saxon and Sudanese members.)

To the soaring sounds of pipe organ, trumpet and choir, bishops, dignitaries and guests entered the church preceded by young people waving silk banners of purple, red, gold and silver.

[pullquote]And then, in a poignant moment, Archbishop Hiltz, wearing a simple alb and stole, was ushered in by Synod members from his diocese, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and stood by the foot of the altar, where the outgoing primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, asked him if he was accepting his new role as head of the church.

“I, Fred, chosen to be Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, commit myself to this new trust and responsibility, and promise, with God’s help, to be a faithful shepherd and pastor among you,” he replied.

The church’s four metropolitans (senior archbishops) then proceeded to robe him with the primatial cope, stole and mitre. (The so-called “Canada vestments,” depict the breadth of the nation, with the Northern Lights, maple leaves, a Mohawk eagle, prairies, mountains, the flowers of the provinces and territories – all richly embroidered.)

Archbishop Hiltz, 53, was elected on June 22 on the fifth ballot, garnering 60 out of 116 votes from clergy, and 81 out of 137 votes from laity. Bishop Victoria Matthews of the diocese of Edmonton came in a close second, with 56 votes from clergy, and 56 from the laity.

Amid the sweltering summer heat, delegates cast their ballots at Holy Trinity church, an inner city parish in downtown Winnipeg.

Delegates were nearly faced with the prospect of having the house of bishops make the final decision on the new primate when both houses of laity and clergy were split on their choice for primate. (Two other candidates, Bishop Bruce Howe of Huron and Bishop George Bruce of Ontario, were dropped from the slate on the third ballot.)

On the third ballot, Bishop Matthews received a majority of the votes from clergy while Archbishop Hiltz received a majority of the votes from laity.

On the fourth ballot, the deadlock between clergy and laity remained. The members were informed that if the stalemate remained on the fifth ballot, the decision would fall on the bishops, who were sequestered in a nearby hotel.

Delegates cheered and hugged each other when at 1:56 p.m., Dean Peter Elliott, General Synod prolocutor, announced that a new primate had been elected. Members sang the Doxology, a song of thanksgiving, and the church bells were rung. Minutes later, Archbishop Hiltz was escorted to the main door of the church by his predecessor, Archbishop Hutchison, and was met with a rousing welcome by delegates.

In his address at the installation service, Archbishop Hiltz mentioned the most contentious issue of the just-concluded seven-day meeting, saying that some would see synod’s refusal to allow blessing of same-sex relationships as a rejection of synod’s theme: Draw the Circle Wide. “Others will see it as drawing the circle wider as we discern the need for more study,” he said. He counseled wise use of the church’s theological resources “so we may be known as an inclusive church.”

International guests included the presiding bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the secretary general of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Canon Kenneth Kearon, both of whom presented Archbishop Hiltz with symbols of the communion. The newly-elected national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), Susan Johnson, presented a gift on behalf of Christian churches in ecumenical partnership. Jewish and Muslim representatives presented gifts that symbolized service to the “God of the family of Abraham.”

Archbishop of York John Sentamu, during his homily, advised, “Archbishop Fred, just be yourself. Whatever people expect, be yourself. God is calling you to loiter with intent at the crossroads.”

Plants sacred to native peoples – sweetgrass, tobacco, cedar and sage – burned by the church entrance in a purification rite shortly before the installation service. The service began with aboriginal drumming and chanting. It also included a celebratory dance and song by the Dinka Youth Group, members of a Sudanese congregation that meets at St. Matthew’s.

Shortly after his election, Archbishop Hiltz spelled out some priorities of his primacy: getting to know the churches in central Canada, in the West and in the North, more support for the Council of the North (composed of 11 financially-assisted dioceses in the North), and the deepening and broadening of the church’s relationship with the ELCIC, which is in Full Communion with the Anglican church.

In 2004, Archbishop Hiltz’s fellow bishops selected him as a candidate for primate, but he declined the nomination, saying he did not feel he had all the necessary skills to be the national leader and felt a commitment to a diocese undergoing a period of transition.

This year, however, he said he has had three additional years of experience, the diocese is on a firmer footing and he and his wife are more comfortable with the idea of moving to Toronto, where the seat of the primacy is located.


  • 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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