Primate Fred Hiltz insists that Canadian Anglicans get over any preoccupation with whether the Anglican Church will survive—and stop focusing too much on issues of sexuality—and get on with what should be its first priority: its mission  to the poor and others in need.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate (Chief Bishop) of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Near the end of his first official visit to the Diocese, the head of the Anglican Church of Canada gave a public lecture May 24 at Christ Church Cathedral.

“It’s not just about sex” was the title of the hour long address, referring to the controversy swirling about the Anglican Communion over the blessing of same sex unions and the ordination of a U.S. bishop who is openly gay.

 “We have to be less concerned about survival, and more concerned about serving—serving in the name of Christ,” the former Bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island told his audience. He was elected head of the Canadian Church 2007.

Earlier in the day the Archbishop had been taken on a tour of several programs with which the Diocese of New Westminster is associated on the Downtown East Side of Vancouver—one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. He visited the St. James Community Service Society, the Mission to Seafarers, the 127 Housing Society, and went on a walk through the area with the Diocese’s “Street Priest,” Father Matthew Johnson.

“I met some incredible people today,” Hiltz told his audience. “I heard about some incredible people that have shaped the life and witness of this diocese… and I met some incredible people on the street.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz and Father Matthew Johnson during a walkabout in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver.

“I know in this diocese there is a considerable determination to live out the Gospel—to honour Christ in bread and wine, and to honour him in the faces of the poor,” he said. People are fed, housed, and supported by parishes and societies associated with the diocese.

“I understand this to be a mission-minded diocese. As Primate it is my hope and my prayer that every diocese in the Canadian Church will become more and more mission-minded.”

“Yes, we have to look after maintenance issues. But that has to be set in a larger context of having a mission mind, and a mission heart.”

He suggested that mission is what really holds the Anglican Communion together – the 38 national and regional Churches throughout the world that are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (and usually with each other). Mission, he suggested, is equally if not more important than church structure and doctrine.

Many in the Church agree, he suggested, in that they continue to support the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, which, in addition to helping at disasters like floods and earthquakes, sponsors local development projects throughout the world.

“Through all the conversations about sexuality that have threatened to divide us and pull us apart, support for PWRDF has continued strong,” he said, noting that in the past 49 years the Fund has raised $89 million to assist at disasters in Canada and throughout the world, and to sponsor development in Canada and other countries.”

Jack Card, a resident and worker at "The Wellspring," a low-income housing development of the 127 Housing Society, shows his dog Ruby to fellow dog-lover and Primate Fred Hiltz.

This work has been done with support of 30 per cent of the countries Anglicans, he said, adding he plans to inspire and educate the other 70 per cent and get them to give.

“We belong to a communion held together by mission relationships,” he said/

Some members of the Anglican Communion, acting on the advice of the 2004 Windsor Report and several meetings of Anglican Primates, have been trying to fashion an “Anglican Covenant” to find agreement about how the Anglican Communion should be structured.

As important and helpful, if not more so, Archbishop Hiltz suggested, would be the creation of “another kind of covenant…a Covenant for Communion in Mission.”

The Anglican Communion has to deal with “current realities: HIV/AIDS, conflicts and wars, unfair distribution of resources, misuse of power and authority, challenges in the context of human sexuality, corruption, human rights and gender equality, and abject poverty,.” He said.

“If the idea of a covenant arising from the Windsor report is about our internal relations within the communion, then the notion of a covenant for communion in mission could be…a basis for outward looking relationships among the church’s missional organizations and societies.”

During a question period, an audience member suggested the Primate’s speech contained too much “social activism,” which he felt was not what the Church should be about.

Archbishop Hiltz replied: “I’ll stand on my record as a parish priest, as a bishop, and now Primate of this Church, that we need to be more and more about the Gospel in action, and the Gospel put to work in places like the East Side of Vancouver.”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz at the lecturn of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver.

“More and more does our Church have to be speaking about homelessness and poverty. It is inherent in the Gospel, it seems to me, that we give our attention to such things.”

“When we pray the Eucharist, and we are preparing to make the transition from the table to the world… we pray that ‘we who share his body [will] live his risen life, we who drink his cup will bring life to others, we whom the Spirit lights will give life to the world…so that we and all of God’s children shall be free.’”

“We could spend a whole synod thinking about that word free. Free of what? There is a long list of things that the children of the world need to be freed of as we consider them in the sight of God—chosen, created, precious in God’s sight.”

“They need to be free of hunger and violence and poverty and disease. They need to be free of being oppressed, and they need to be free of living in fear.”

“And I think the Church has an enormous responsibility in proclaiming a gospel that liberates. I think it a solemn obligation that the church act as it is doing.”

In thanking the Primate for his talk, Bishop Michael Ingham said he should know of “the strong support of the Diocese of New Westminster for you and your leadership.”