Before being appointed in 2012 as the Anglican Church of Canada’s special advisor for government relations, the Rev. Laurette Glasgow spent 37 years working for the federal government. She was a diplomat for 26 of those years, including as ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, and as Canada’s Consul General in Monaco. During her discernment process, she was asked why she was giving up diplomacy to become a priest. “I said, ‘Well, I’m an ambassador for my country, and I’m going to be an ambassador for Christ.’ They’re different, but they draw from some very similar things.” Now, she has had training as a political scientist, as an economist and as a priest. “You blend all those things together and somehow God uses it all,” she said.
The Anglican Journal‘s Leigh Anne Williams asked her about the challenges and rewards of her work for the church in Ottawa.
Why does the church need a special advisor for government relations?
You need to be able to have a voice that will articulate the voice of the church, particularly on behalf of those who don’t have a voice themselves with people who have power, people who have influence, people who are shaping policies and laws that are going to affect the lives of Canadians and also of those beyond our border.
Are there some particular issues where you feel you’ve been able to have the most impact?
I don’t tend to think of successes or failures but rather, how is my garden [of networks] growing? Recently, Bishop John [Chapman of the diocese of Ottawa] and I were asked by the Ambassador for Religious Freedom to come in to have a strategic discussion on Iraq, and that, to me, is an example…We have cultivated that part of the garden very carefully and thoroughly. We believe strongly in the objectives of that office. Initially, I don’t think we were on their radar screen, but now we are invited in as partners, so to me, being invited in to have a conversation is an element of success…I felt as if there’s a little blossom coming out here.
One of the things that I am hoping will bear fruit is the extent to which we’ve helped highlight the work and the mission of the Diocese of Jerusalem with Canadian government authorities. We did this when Bishop Suheil [Dawani] was here last October , where I lined up four days’ worth of meetings with government ministers, with think-tanks, with government officials and others, to be able to spread the word of the good work they are doing. Al Ahli Arab Hospital…is being looked at very favourably as one area of health care in Gaza that is free of any influence by Hamas and that can deliver first-rate services but needs to have the financial and human support…to be able to do their work. We have connected the Canadian government locally with the Diocese of Jerusalem and with the work of the hospital in Gaza, so to me, this is also having a tangible outcome to the efforts that we have put in so far.
What are the most challenging aspects of the job?
When something pops up as an issue, there’s no easy go-to-place for the conversation within our church…The decentralization of the Anglican church is one of its beauties, but at the same time, it offers a challenge for us in terms of coherence, and in terms of co-ordination and in terms of being able to communicate our views effectively, so that people out there will say, ‘What is the Anglican view on this?’ and I’d have to say there are different views on this.
…Waiting three years for a General Synod is a little bit long. [The Council of General Synod] can serve a certain role. They meet regularly but not [that] frequently, so how do you have that conversation to figure out: well, where is the church on this issue?
…These days, issues come and go; if you don’t have a response in that nanosecond, you are outdated. Church policy, of course, has to be considered and reflective. It has to go through a process of discernment, so some fundamental issues need to go through that, but on other things, we need to have a more rapid response. Part of that is greater anticipation of some of the issues that are out there, which is one of the things I try to do. But [questions remain]…how do we mobilize a more rapid response?…How do we integrate the different views to have a balanced response and one that represents a considered view? So that’s, I think, a big challenge when it comes to speaking to authorities about where we are as a church…
Have you developed a strategic approach to your work?
If you figure that there is not going to be an opportunity for much progress, but you need to speak truth to power, then you may want to have…more [of a] “protest model.” We have to have a tool kit that offers us a lot of different options. And frankly, things like letters to the prime minister…have marginal effect. Increasingly, I [recommend] mobilizing people to just realize that they have a right as individual citizens to speak to a member of Parliament, to a member of the legislative assembly, to speak to their local councillor or mayor…We are totally non-partisan, but…educating people on issues [is important] and providing them with some of the tools that they may need and the confidence to know that when you go and meet with a parliamentarian and you have a specific ask or you have a point of view that you want to get across, there’s a conversation to be had, and a conversation leads you further than a unilateral statement.
Any other advice for Anglicans trying to influence public policy?
I’ve encouraged them to stop and think, ‘What is the government relations angle on this issue?’ That’s what I’m here for, to be drawn in as somebody with extensive public policy knowledge and experience and an understanding of how the federal government works…Just for them to develop a reflex or an instinct of [thinking], ‘Maybe we should get the advice of [the special advisor].’ They can ignore my advice, but I think trying to have that automatic reflex is one my secret hopes.
What has been one of your most memorable experiences?
As I was leaving the [Ahli Arab] hospital in Gaza, the director Suheila Tarazi gave me a lovely shawl, hand embroidered by the women in Gaza…I was struck with how I was coming with empty hands in many ways, and she said to me, ‘Your hands may be empty, but your heart is full…Beyond any fundraising or anything else, what’s important is for us to know that we are not alone, that we have not been forgotten.’ Any time that I get discouraged-you have a lot of setbacks in this work and a lot of disappointments-I think back to that moment, and I can touch that shawl and remind myself that there is a larger purpose…It’s about relationship and how we have to continue to be in relationship-that is what Jesus asks us to do. So that’s the heart of my ministry.