Magazine article Anglican Journal

A Servant Ministry: The Primate's Work across Canada

Magazine article Anglican Journal

A Servant Ministry: The Primate's Work across Canada

Article excerpt

It's children's story time at St. John's West Toronto and the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada sits with the kids.

Caption: Clockwise from above left: Archbishop Hiltz leads children's story time at St. John's Anglican Church, West Toronto. Archbishop Hiltz and National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada plant a tree at Queen of the Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga, Ont., to mark the 10th anniversary of the two churches' full communion relationship. Archbishop Hiltz and the Rev. Barbara Shoomski proceed into the outdoor meeting tent at 2012's Sacred Circle gathering in Pinawa, Man.

Soft morning light mottles the little crowd and a preschooler, Jake, begins to wax eloquent. Nodding a head of brown curls, he ventures that the wedding at Cana was attended by "mommies and daddies and grandmas."

Jake goes on. And on. And on.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz listens intently, smiling and keeping his eyes on the boy.

For the Primate, these moments are just one, happy part of his job--one of the most misunderstood in the Anglican Church of Canada. Though people often recognize his face, he's often asked, "So what exactly do you do?"

It's not a quick answer. A seven-page canon, or section of church law, explains the Primate's work. He's called a presiding bishop, senior metropolitan and a primus inter pares (first among equals).

In truth, he's an episcopal oddity. Unlike other bishops, or many primates elsewhere in the Communion, Archbishop Hiltz is not based at a cathedral. He must be invited by a diocesan bishop before he presides at a parish eucharist.

In 2010, a primatial task force reviewed this unusual role. Some parts were clarified, but in short, the group found that Canadian Anglicans wanted a spiritual leader--a Primate who is both prophetic and caring.

One indigenous community in Manitoba called Archbishop Hiltz "Canada's great praying boss."

"The relationship piece for me is very important," says Archbishop Hiltz. "People always say to me, 'You're our connection to the national church,' so I try to be it."

He's both a spokesman and a servant. Elected in 2007, Archbishop Hiltz, former bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, has stepped up to lead a wide range of meetings.

Now he chairs meetings of separately incorporated entities--the Anglican Foundation, the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund--in addition to the usual, required meetings such as Leadership Circle and the House of Bishops.

The latter, a twice-yearly gathering of Canadian Anglican bishops is one of the livelier meetings the Primate chairs. The house has seen hot conflict over theological issues, especially same-sex blessings and scriptural interpretation.

Hiltz has worked to cool the mood. As chair and liturgical leader, he's given the bishops more time for quiet and theological reflection. He's said his goal is to ensure that bishops do not leave these meetings more tired than when they came.

Yet some view this new civility as a kind of "silencing," says Hiltz. Heading into a new triennium, he wonders how the bishops should balance personal reflection with the need to discuss hard topics and make clear, public statements to the church.

In the meantime, spiritual care is central. Hiltz is pastor to all bishops, regardless of theological differences. At meetings of the house, he frequently seeks "one-on-ones" when he perceives a need for personal, human contact. …

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