‘I always thought I would be a teacher’

inviting community The Most Rev. Michael Peers served as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada for 18 years (1986-2004). Photo: Art Babych
inviting community The Most Rev. Michael Peers served as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada for 18 years (1986-2004). Photo: Art Babych
By on July 1, 2010

Archbishop Michael Peers, former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, hopes Anglicans across Canada will find ways to make their churches more welcoming to newcomers. He also hopes we will overcome “difficulties with reaching out beyond ourselves to be more open to inquirers.”

The “greatest of all gestures,” he told the Anglican Journal, is for Anglicans to build a local church community where parishioners feel comfortable inviting people to church. “We have to make sure that we are an inviting community,” said Archbishop Peers.

In fact, it was an “inviting community” located in the slums of Vancouver’s notorious downtown eastside that first inspired Archbishop Peers to turn from studying languages at the University of British Columbia to setting his sights on the priesthood. A UBC classmate had invited him to attend a Sunday worship service at St. James’ Anglican Church. Established in 1881 as Vancouver’s first Anglican church, St. James’ was steeped in social ministry and community activism, advocating for the poor and the marginalized, and engaged with the world outside Canada. Ultimately, the mission of St. James’ served to “motivate people, give them a vision beyond just the liturgy,” said Archbishop Peers.

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Importantly, St. James’ “gave a picture of the wider church,” he pointed out, particularly through its association with Fr. Trevor Huddleston, one of the heroes of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa 55 years ago. (An Anglican priest and one-time Archbishop of Mauritius and the Indian Ocean, Huddleston died in 1998.)

There was a “great sense of awe” about St. James’ that touched Archbishop Peers spiritually, and ultimately changed the course of his life.

“I had always wanted to be a teacher and thought I would be a teacher of languages,” said Archbishop Peers, who was studying French, German, Russian and Spanish at the time.

David Somerville, the retired archbishop of the diocese of New Westminster, and one of the first bishops to ordain women and support the exploration of various forms of liturgy and music, was also a powerful inspirational force for young Peers.

“I just felt that this (priesthood) was like teaching plus, teaching with potential breadth and depth…,” recalled Archbishop Peers, now 75. He went on to become a priest, then a bishop, and for an 18-year period between 1986 and 2004, he served as primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

This April, at a special eucharist held at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Ottawa, Archbishop Peers celebrated his ordination as priest. He had been ordained at St. Thomas’ along with four others: Allan McGregor, David Lethbridge, Stan Haskell and Harry Hobbs.

Haskell, who joined the Roman Catholic Church, is now deceased, as is the Very Rev. Harry Hobbs, who was killed in a car accident in 1979. Canon Lethbridge and the Ven. McGregor are both retired priests from the diocese of Ottawa.

Some things stand out during Archbishop Peers’ primacy. In 2001, full communion was achieved between the Anglican and Lutheran churches after a 30-year dialogue. Archbishop Peers took a leading role advocating for the ordination of women as priests at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. And on Aug. 6, 1993, he represented the Anglican Church of Canada in making an apology to residential school students. He takes pride in the fact the church he serves is regarded by many to be “the most transparent of all the provinces of the Anglican Communion.” Ω

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