Church's Shepherd Prepared to Take on Even Bigger Flock

Article excerpt

The image of Jesus as shepherd is one that Archbishop Fred Hiltz particularly loves.

He has committed to memory passages of the Bible referring to Jesus as the shepherd that tends to his flock, leads them to other pastures, and asks his disciples to, in Archbishop Hiltz' words, "shepherd one another, and together shepherd the world."

The shepherd is an image that has constantly guided him, so much so that when he was the young, new rector of the historic parish of St. John's in Lunenburg, N.S., he once incorporated in his liturgy the presence of live sheep that children could pet after the service.

All went well until the farmer came to pick up the sheep and he (Archbishop Hiltz) and his then postulant, Dianne Parker, had to lead them out of the church and dung started dropping on the floor. "As I was cleaning, I remember looking up and seeing him behind me and we started laughing and I told him, 'you're going to remember this when you become bishop," said Archdeacon Parker, now rector of St. Margaret of Scotland and archdeacon of the Chebucto region, diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. On June 22, Archbishop Hiltz was elected primate (national bishop) of the Anglican Church of Canada. It is the top position that makes him the shepherd of a flock that is in many respects, at a crossroads: Canadian Anglicans are not just diminishing in numbers but are also embroiled in a dispute over the issue of whether same-gender unions can be blessed by the church.

Those who know him are confident that Archbishop Hiltz is up to the challenge. "He's a wonderful pastor. He has a sense of care and concern for your well-being," said Rev. Randy Townsend, also from Archbishop Hiltz's former diocese. "It may seem that he's not saying much, but he's really listening. He's also a wonderful mentor."

At church gatherings, children and people of all ages often gather around him, observed Archdeacon Parker, who has known him for 16 years. "He is so present to everyone in the context of full grace ... He draws people unto him and in turn, he draws them into Christ through him." He will, she said, "touch many people as he has touched us (in his diocese)."

On a personal level, she said he was "a grace-filled shepherd" for her family as they struggled with the illness and later, death of her husband in 2004. "I had moved in with my husband and we made the private room in the hospital into a palliative care unit and he would come late ;it night, after everyone else had gone," she recalled. "I referred it to being tucked in prayer because he would come into the room and there would be a low light on and he would be right there and you would see a grace-filled being enter the room. You could sense who it was, you didn't even have to open your eyes."

An unassuming, tall man, with brows that seem perpetually furrowed, Archbishop Hiltz is known in church circles for his quiet demeanour. He is not shy, said Mr. Townsend. "He may not be the life of the party, but I wouldn't call him shy, he's just a humble man in the true sense of the word."

Frederick James Hiltz, 53, was raised in Dartmouth, N.S., by parents who were active parishioners at Christ Church. At an early age, he said, he already felt a strong connection to the church. He attended Sunday school, sang in the choir and was an altar server. …