Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Praying with icons

Posted on: March 30th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Praying with icons (link is external)

By Kathleen Hirsch
Crux: Praying with icons is a practice on the rise in the West, as Catholics and other Christians explore long-neglected means of whispering their longings to God.

 

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, March 18, 2015

Religion isn’t dying. It may be rising from the grave.

Posted on: March 30th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

Religion isn’t dying. It may be rising from the grave (link is external)

By Aaron Hutchins
Macleans: Religion in Canada isn’t declining nearly as fast as we think. A remarkable new survey finds out what Canadians really believe.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, March 26, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Palm Sunday Means: God’s Street Theatre Comes to Jerusalem

Posted on: March 30th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

 

By N.T. Wright 

ABC Religion and Ethics

 

One way in which mediaeval Britain learned the Christian story was through the Mystery Plays.

We used to live in Lichfield, where every three years they put on an all-day display in several locations round the town. There are twenty-seven plays in the Lichfield cycle, each about ten or fifteen minutes in length, each performed in three different locations.

The first one starts in the Market Place in mid-morning and then moves on to the other two locations, and the last one finishes outside the Cathedral shortly before sunset.

I remember joining the crowds in the narrow city streets and finding excited groups of players making their way between locations, so that at any moment one might come across Noah going one way, Joseph and Mary getting ready somewhere else, or even the stage-hands preparing for the crucifixion scene.

The whole city is swept along in a whirl of biblical narrative, with hundreds of people taking part in one way or another and many thousands coming to watch. The whole thing gives you the sense that we only ever see a little bit of God’s story but it’s going on anyway and we are caught up in it, like the city itself, whether we understand it or pick up the nuances or just catch odd bits here and there.

As the story sweeps on you feel that it is indeed bigger than any of us, a story about God and Jesus and the world and life and death and horror and joy and creation and redemption and tears and laughter – a story where everyone can find themselves somewhere, and perhaps catch a glimpse of what it might be like to be part of God’s own story.

And part of the fun was to guess, or to ask, as you saw this or that group hurrying by to a new location: Which story is that woman in? Which bit of the great narrative are those children putting on? Was that Moses I saw going by? Isn’t that Pontius Pilate over there? Was that Jesus himself?

Theatre tells the old stories in new ways, and it helps us find ourselves, or recognise things about the world we mightn’t otherwise have noticed.

I recently saw a performance of Macbeth, in which the hideous witches who start things off turned up in the crowd scenes too, giving a sense of evil brooding around the edges of the action. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus and Hippolyta, the main King and Queen, are often played by the same actors who then play Oberon and Titania, the Faery King and Queen. Shakespeare is inviting us to see in the dream-world the normally hidden darker sides of their character – and, as always with Shakespeare, to see too the darker sides of our own characters, and the disasters that lurk in the half-imagined world just under the surface of apparent normality.

Again the question comes: Which story are you in? The serene outer story, or the darker under-story where jealousy and suspicion and danger whisper and beckon from every corner? Which King is the real one, the pompous Theseus, or the troubling Oberon?

Street theatre is the best way to describe Jesus’s actions on the first Palm Sunday. It wasn’t entertainment, though people had a great day out. Jesus was saying something you couldn’t say any other way. Part of the question of Palm Sunday is what it all meant, what it all means today. Which story was he enacting? What sort of king was he becoming?

Jesus didn’t do a lot of this kind of thing. He clearly intended that these actions would resonate, sending echoes bouncing off the walls not only of Jerusalem but of the Scripture-soaked imaginations of the bystanders, particularly his disciples, who may have thought they were following a Theseus only to find that their king had turned into a stranger, darker monarch who they became afraid to know. Which story were they living in? Which king did they think they were following?

Jesus expected people to know the other plays that were on at the same time. Passover was approaching, and pilgrims were crowding the city. They would be telling the story of Moses and the Exodus, the plagues in Egypt, the Passover Lamb, the crossing of the Red Sea, the promise of freedom at last. Most of that retelling would happen in homes and inns, not on the street, but the large story would create a special atmosphere in the entire city.

This was God’s story and everyone was part of it. Nobody saw it as mere ancient history. This was their story, the freedom-story which they wanted to come true again in their own day. And Jesus had invented a new mini-play to disrupt, re-interpret and transform that story.

Some have speculated that there was another bit of street theatre going on at the same time on the other side of town. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, normally lived in Caesarea-by-the-Sea, with its temple to the divinized Emperor Augustus. But, for the great festivals, Pilate would come up to Jerusalem to prevent trouble. He would arrive, from the west, on a military horse with an armed escort.

We don’t know if Jesus timed his own mini-play, coming in from the east, to coincide with Pilate’s triumphant arrival, but people may have linked the two and would be asking themselves: Which story do we belong to? Which king do we belong to? Which is the reality, and which is the parody?

Some things would be clear. In a world of few books but many Scripture readings, the crowds would pick up Jesus’s reference to Zechariah’s prophecy about a king riding a donkey. But if that got them thinking about royal prophecies, they might get confused. The Psalms speak of God’s son, the coming king, bruising the nations with a rod of iron, and dashing them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

Was that the story they were living in? Was Jesus that sort of a king – making an apparently peaceful demonstration now, but getting ready for a sudden signal, a legion of angels, a surprise attack, and a fierce freedom like that won by Judas Maccabeus two centuries earlier? Everybody knew that story, too, and since Judas Maccabeus’s followers had waved palm branches when he entered the city perhaps they were hoping for a re-run, a sequel. Street theatre quickly becomes complicated. Which story are we living in? What sort of a king are we following?

We know, as they did not, how it would end. We wonder at the fickleness of the crowds – though anyone looking hard into the mirror would not wonder very long. The Western Christian tradition has easily imagined that the crowds got it wrong, because they were wanting a this-worldly freedom, but – so we have supposed – Jesus was offering spiritual freedom, a kingdom after death, way beyond the blue. Passover then becomes a metaphor; Pontius Pilate becomes irrelevant; and instead we have Plato.

But the Palm Sunday street theatre tugs at our elbow to make a different point. Psalm 72 speaks of the king who brings justice and peace, from sea to sea and away to the ends of the earth. He makes the poor his priority; he puts into practice the justice of God himself, and so he brings the peace of God himself.

As we hold that picture in our minds and look back at Luke’s telling of Palm Sunday (19:28-44), we realise why it is that, while the crowds are shouting Hosanna!, Jesus is sobbing his heart out. The sun is shining, the crowds are cheering, Jerusalem the golden is before him in all its majesty – but with his prophet’s eye he can see the disaster coming. He can hardly get the words out.

If only you’d known – yes, you, even now – the things that make for peace – but you’ve shut your eyes. And it’s too late. They are coming – Pilate is coming, the monsters are coming, the brutes and the beasts are taking over the garden, and they will trample everything in their path, because you didn’t know the moment of your visitation. You didn’t recognise the time. You didn’t understand the play. You were living in the wrong story. You were looking for the wrong sort of king. You wanted a Judas, and you got a Jesus. You wanted war and I was leading you to peace. In our case, you were wanting a kingdom in heaven, and I was offering you one on earth; and by opting for the heaven-only one, you have abandoned earth to the monarchs and the monsters who still take the sword and will perish by the sword.

And in the midst of it all, we should hear Isaiah 59. You didn’t know the time of your visitation – in other words, as some translations explain, your visitation by God himself. Jesus has just told a story about a nobleman who came back to see how his servants had got on. His audience must have heard this as a God-and-Israel story: Israel’s God, having long promised to return in glory, was doing so at last. This was the climax of the play they wanted to be part of. But nobody had imagined that when God came back he would look like a young prophet, in floods of tears, riding on a donkey.

Now all this leads, of course, into sermons that might be preached later during Holy Week. The extraordinary twist in this story is that, having announced judgment upon Jerusalem for refusing God’s way of peace, Jesus went ahead, embodying simultaneously the love and the judgment of God himself, to suffer the Roman horror he had predicted for his people.

That dark royal story lies at the heart of all subsequent Christian understanding of the cross, though it is a truth so strange that few hymns or liturgies plumb its depths. Theseus and Oberon are one and the same. Good Friday, itself a form of Roman street theatre, was taken up paradoxically within God’s street theatre, the play within the play within the play that explains everything else.

But, even without that sequel, the questions of Palm Sunday itself force themselves upon us.

First, the questions of which story we are living in, and which king we are following, remain urgent within our culture. As our public institutions are less trusted than ever, and our behaviour at home and abroad is more confused than ever, the stories which used to make sense of our lives have let us down.

We thought we knew how the play worked: get rid of tyrants, and people will embrace democracy, peace, love and flower-power. How quickly things have moved from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. The so-called Arab Spring has turned back to winter, as we have no idea what to do about Syria, about Israel/Palestine and, of course, about Ukraine. We have run out of stories, we have run out of kings of whatever kind; all we think we can do is trust the great god Mammon, as though our fragile economic half-recoveries would trickle out into the mountains of Syria or the deserts of South Sudan. Give me Psalm 72 any day.

But that’s where the second question comes in, a personal question. If the Palm Sunday street theatre means what Jesus meant, it challenges all his followers, then and now. The crowds may have been fickle, but they were not mistaken. The two on the road to Emmaus had hoped he would redeem Israel, and they were hoping for the right thing – God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven, a this-worldly reign of justice and peace – but they had not glimpsed the means by which Jesus would bring it about. Right story, wrong king.

Sooner or later, this happens to all of us. We start out following Jesus because we think we know the story, we know what sort of king we want him to be – and then things go badly wrong, he doesn’t give us what we wanted, and we are tempted to wonder if we’ve been standing on the wrong side of town, watching the wrong procession.

Jesus warned us this would happen: we all have to live through a Holy Week, a Gethsemane, a Good Friday of one sort or another. That happens in personal life, in vocational life, as well as in public life.

But we were not mistaken. The world today, never mind the church today, urgently needs people, young and old, who will follow Jesus through Holy Week and on into the new Mystery Play which our mediaeval ancestors never imagined, the story of his kingdom of love and peace and justice coming on earth as in heaven. That is the Story; he is the King; and he’s looking for recruits, young and old, for a new bit of theatre, coming to a street near you.

N.T. Wright is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity in the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. He is one of the world’s most distinguished and influential New Testament scholars. Among his many books are Jesus and the Victory of God, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Paul and the Faithfulness of God and, most recently, Surprised by Scripture.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, New & Ideas, March 27, 2015

Taking pride in the ‘mother church’ for Canadian Anglicans

Posted on: March 27th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Andrew Caddell 

 

(This article was first published in the March 25, 2015 edition of the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, entitled “An appreciation of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.”)

 

Although it has been three decades since I lived in Quebec City, and eight decades since my mother left her home there, I am and will always be a Quebecer, in the true sense of the word. I have family and friends whom I love to visit, and my parents and ancestors all found their final resting place at Mount Hermon Cemetery on the edge of the Saint Lawrence River in Sillery. I subscribe to the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, and read about people whom I barely know, or have never met, with great interest.

This is because I continue to feel part of the community. Every time I cross the river on my trips to or from my ancestral home in Kamouraska, 150 km east, there is a certain “frisson” in being back. I pass my ancestors’ homes, the schools they went to, and think about their wonderful childhood anecdotes, such as my grandfather’s stories of walking to school in winter from Lévis to Quebec over the “ice bridge” connecting the two cities in the late 19th century.

I also come to worship at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, my “mother church.” It is so referred because my great-great-grandfather Henry Andrews and his family were parishioners at the Cathedral soon after they arrived from England in the early 1800s, only a few years after the Cathedral was completed in 1805.

My great-grandmother Emily Andrews LeMesurier, although educated at École Les Ursulines, continued that tradition and worshipped there until she died in 1947 at 96 years old. Her daughter, Estelle LeMesurier Ramsey, married in Kamouraska in 1916, but also worshipped at the Cathedral. My mother, Elga Ramsey Caddell, was the product of a “mixed marriage”—Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican stock. She said among her favourite childhood memories was attending three Sunday School picnics each year. As a devout Christian, she maintained her Anglican roots, and practiced them in various parishes in Montreal. St. Philip’s in Montreal West seemed to be a “little Quebec,” as many of her former Quebec friends and classmates lived there.

This year, as I have done every year over the past decade, I ensure flowers are placed on the altar at the Cathedral in memory of my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother. I do it in appreciation of them and of the faith they have left to me as their legacy.

The Cathedral was my mom’s “mother church,” as it is for many thousands of others across the country, including such luminaries as Hazel McCallion, the Mayor of Mississauga and Rod Andrews, a distant cousin and former bishop of Saskatchewan. One could argue that all Canadian Anglicans are connected to the Cathedral, as it was the first parish to celebrate the Anglican Communion in Canada.

Although as Christians we are admonished not to focus too strongly on material things in favour of the spiritual, there is no question the spiritual manifests itself in great works of art, beautiful buildings, and inspiring institutions. It is also represented in the key elements of community: fellowship, kindness, communication, desire for social justice. Within our great buildings and institutions, we offer these principles a home.

For all Anglicans there should be a church, a “home,” to which we can go to worship. Hence the great value of the Cathedral and its family in the parish that is Canada.

There is no question that Quebec is among the most beautiful cities in North America. But too few Canadians think of it being their “Vielle capitale.” Too few of our fellow citizens from across the country visit Quebec City, to enjoy the qualities of our most historic of cities. And so, too few are able to enjoy the community that is the parish of the Holy Trinity.

I think there is a way for all Anglicans across Canada to connect better, to exchange and visit as frequently as possible. I have suggested to my own parish in Ottawa that we “twin” with the Cathedral, and develop exchanges with Holy Trinity parish, as well as others in Quebec. Although the normal protocol of these sorts of exchanges would be from Cathedral to Cathedral, I hope we might break down those barriers to allow any church to associate itself with the Holy Trinity. As they say, the more the merrier.

One by-product of this relationship would be financial support and increased church attendance from visitors from outside Quebec. But another would be the spiritual benefit of sharing communion at the Cathedral with the kind and generous members of the Holy Trinity family, in the historical setting of the Cathedral.

Through fellowship and sharing, we can build a strong home for the Anglican Church. It is the least we can do to strengthen our faith as Christians.

 

Andrew Caddell is a public servant and lives in Ottawa and Kamouraska, Que.

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Anglican Church of Canada, March 27, 2015

Anglican church transformed into homeless teen shelter

Posted on: March 23rd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

 

The site of a shuttered Anglican church in Saint John, N.B., is finding new life as a shelter for at-risk homeless youth in the city and region.

Safe Harbour Transitional Youth Services opened March 17 in the city’s south end. The land was home to the historic 140-year-old St. James Anglican Church on Broad Street—until, in 2005, the decision was made to close.

“The folks who worshipped at St. James, when their vestry decided to dissolve the corporation, one of their last requests was that the site, if possible, should be used for the benefit of the community,” said the bishop of Fredericton, David J. Edwards.

They hired the Rev. Paul Ranson, then an Anglican minister for the city’s south end, to see what that might look like.

Ranson said his instructions back in 2009 were to “go, speak with the people and listen to what God is doing, see where we can participate, but keep your mouth shut.”

“So I did,” he said, “for six months.”

Youth worker Colin McDonald, who moved to Saint John in 2007, grew frustrated with the lack of safe places to send young people in need of emergency housing. Other shelters were often full, and were focused on the adult population. There was no interest in creating a youth shelter, said McDonald, but he rallied the city’s high school students and tried to make as much noise about it as possible. In doing so, he met Ranson.

For Ranson, the moment arrived quickly for a decision to be made about the future of St. James.

“When the deadline started coming, I went down to the church building and I sat on the steps to pray,” said Ranson. “Lord, what do you want to do with this building? You name it, we’ll do it.”

McDonald, particularly upset that day, was driving along Broad Street. He noticed Ranson, and zipped into the church’s horseshoe driveway.

“I almost ran him over,” said McDonald. “And I unloaded on him all my frustration, anger, everything. Paul said, ‘What do you need from me?’ and I said, ‘I need someone to sit here and say, ‘Here’s a building, go use it.’ “

Ranson replied to McDonald: “Here’s a building, go use it.”

The St. James’ community quickly got on board with the idea. McDonald said the early buy-in gave the project the legitimacy and momentum it needed. It also gave the problem of youth homelessness visibility.

“Youth homelessness is hidden,” said Ranson, who now works as chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School. “They could be at home with an abusive parent. They could be living with pimps or drug dealers or both, or they could just be couch-surfing.”

Ashley, a Saint John young person, spent a lot of time couch-surfing as a teen, all while trying to stay in school.

“There was one night, I don’t remember where I had planned to go that night, I just hadn’t thought about it,” she said. “I’d been so good with keeping track, but I’d forgotten that I didn’t have a place to go that night.

“It was that point when I hit it: I don’t have a home.”

The need is real—in fact, an estimated 200 youth are in the same situation in the city.

As awareness grew, more community organizations and citizens got involved.

Brendan Bates, of design firm Toss Solutions, jumped in to help with managing the project and designing the new building.

“This being my home and my community, I certainly want to make sure the youth have a safe place to put their head at night,” said Bates.

Though the original building was demolished, the façade of the new structure retains the church’s silhouette—and will have the old stained glass installed in the top window.

Safe Harbour will serve youth from 16 to 24 years of age, who can stay for short-term emergencies, or up to six months, until they can find permanent housing. The 10-bed facility has an open kitchen, laundry facilities, a library and an art room. Rooms are private, each with a bed, sink, closet and window. Washrooms are shared between two rooms. Chores and cooking will be shared between staff—who will be on-site, 24-7—and the residents. Once the youth are settled after a few days, they can start meeting with a caseworker to make plans about their life.

The first residents were expected to arrive on opening day, March 17.

“In the continuum of youth services, this is what’s been missing,” said Lindsay Gallagher, Safe Harbour’s residential director. “There’s been nowhere for people to go other than to go right into independence. They don’t always have those skills.

“Where we see Safe Harbour fitting in is filling that gap. They can come here and learn things like budgeting, cooking, cleaning—all of the things they need to learn to be successful.”

McDonald, who now works as director of youth and intergenerational ministries for the diocese of Fredericton, expressed hope that community and church members will stay involved in the projects, and make youth, who have so much potential, “part of the family.”

“Yes, we’re talking about you blessing someone, but in truth, the blessing you’ll receive in return is significant.”

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Anglican Journal News, March 19, 2015

Holy laughter

Posted on: March 10th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

 

By Christopher C. Brittain

 

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A Sri-Lankan, an Arab, and a Canadian went into a mosque….

Perhaps an unpromising (even perilous) twist on the usual set-up for a bad ethnically-based joke; nevertheless, this past week I experienced exactly this scenario, and was struck by how much laughter was generated by the encounter.

Following a meeting with a Muslim imam and a Christian priest, one of the members of the mosque was asked to take a picture of us. But as we bantered amongst ourselves, and teased the photographer, he started laughing so hard that most of the pictures turned out blurred. As I looked at the result, I began to reflect on the fact that these images resonated with how I have recently been thinking about the nature of laughter.

In many Christian denominations, an issue of considerable concern is the burnout of Christian clergy. I have come to think that a good sense of humour is vital for those called to offer pastoral care to those in need. The ability to laugh—both at absurd situations, but also at one’s own limitations and failures—is, I think, a necessary resource when confronting the depths of human need for any sustained period of time.

When I recently mentioned this idea to a colleague, however, his response was illuminating: “Laughter really isn’t given very favourable treatment in the Bible.” Upon reflection, I had to agree.

For when do people laugh in the scriptures? Abraham and Sarah laugh when told that Sarah will bear a son (Genesis 17:17; 18:13), and Sarah fears that others will laugh at her should it come to pass (Genesis 21:6). In such cases, laughter is associated with cynicism in the first instance, and mockery in the second. In the Psalms, laughter is often directed at the wicked, at whom God laughs (2:2; 37:13); in Proverbs, the fool “rages and laughs” (29:9); and in Ecclesiastes, “the heart of fools is the house of mirth’” (7:4).

The New Testament offers little more regard for laughter. In the Letter of James, those who laugh are those who fail to draw near to God: “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy into dejection” (4:9). There is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth ever laughing. Granted, he does hold out the promise of future mirth—“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21)—but what about the place of humour in present life? One of the few hints that he and his followers sometimes lost themselves to laughter might be read into the accusations made against them by their enemies: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking,” and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard…!” (Luke 7:33–34).In such cases, however, one can only speculate.

I suppose a possible rebuttal might point to biblical texts that refer to singing songs of joy to God (for example, Psalm 47:1); yet such texts only countenance expressing happiness to God. What of the sharing of such experiences with our neighbours? But even if I grant this pushback, it does little to rebalance the scale of the Bible’s negative portrayal of laughter. When the prophet Elisha is teased about his physical appearance by some small boys—“Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!”—he curses them until two bears maul 42 of them to death (2 Kings 2:23–24). I might be prepared to ignore this grumpy tale if I hadn’t so often witnessed members of the clergy completely lose their cool when someone they were working with bruised their fragile ego.

These biblical texts are certainly correct to warn us against neglecting the harm that laughter can cause. Laughter can easily become entangled in relations of power. For example, the constant mocking of a younger sibling by an older sibling can be terribly damaging to the latter’s self-esteem. In the saying, “Can’t you take a joke?” lurks a sinister cruelty.

But we neglect the social benefits of laughter to our peril. While Thomas Aquinas agreed that some forms of laughter were cruel, while others merely frivolous, he also insisted that other expressions of humour contributed to rational thinking. He wrote in praise of “a pleasant person with a happy cast of mind who gives his words and deeds a cheerful turn.” This means more than simply the idea that it is nice to have happy people around.

Two decades ago, I was engaged in solidarity activism in refugee camps in southern Mexico. I recall how a number of the Guatemalan campesinos responded with embarrassment to my feeble attempts to interact with them in my limited Spanish. But their faces brightened immediately after I clumsily translated my first name into what I thought to be its obvious Spanish equivalent: Cristóbal. To my horror, they exclaimed with delight, “Cristóbal Colón!” (Christopher Columbus), and roared with laughter.

It took me some time to get over the embarrassment of being associated with a colonial oppressor. But then I was able to recognize that this opportunity to tease a naïve northern university student provided these campesinos with a way to begin to take down the many invisible walls between us. Laughter both illuminated the power inequality between us and began to counteract it (or at least prevent it from defining our relationship). They helped me recognize a part of my identity that I preferred to deny (the significance of the fact that I was a white, privileged male from the rich north) while also opening an opportunity to respond in a way that demonstrated how other elements of my identity made me quite distinct from Señor Colón.

An old story from my childhood church offers another way to illustrate the potential that laughter holds for interrupting our limited perceptions of others and ourselves. And it also highlights why I think clergy need a good sense of humour.

The first Anglican bishop of the Canadian province of New Brunswick was a man named John Medley. Medley was a privileged Englishman, educated at Oxford, and a zealous member of the High Church Oxford Movement in the Church of England. In 1845, however, he accepted the call to become the first bishop of Fredericton in a distant Canadian colony.

Soon after arriving, Medley decided he should familiarize himself with the people under his care. He had little preparation for what he would encounter. Passing a rural farmhouse, he knocked on the door. A young woman answered, and he said, “Good day. Can you tell me whether any Episcopalians live in the area?” The confused woman replied in a mix of English and French, “Ne c’est pas, mais mon pére, la, he killed something crawling under the porch last week…”

In such moments, one can despair, or laugh. Thankfully for Bishop Medley, he was prepared to opt for the latter.

The Rev. Dr. Christopher Brittain was ordained in the dioceses of Fredericton and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. He teaches theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

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Anglican Journal News, March 10, 2015

‘Relief & development work promotes inter-religious harmony’

Posted on: March 10th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By André Forget

 

 

“We realized that actually if we pooled our experience, we could start to develop what looked like the framework for quite a comprehensive strategy to respond as a Communion,” says Rachel Carnegie, co-director of the Anglican Alliance. Photo: André Forget


Rachel Carnegie is co-director of the Anglican Alliance, a position she has been in since 2014. Previously, she served as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s secretary for international development and as a parish priest. Before taking holy orders, she spent many years working in the international development world with organizations such as Save the Children and Unicef. The Anglican Journal had the opportunity to sit down with her while she was visiting the offices of the Anglican Church of Canada and talk about the purpose of the Anglican Alliance and its role in the Communion.

If you had to explain your work with the Anglican Alliance to a regular parishioner, what would you say?

Around the Anglican Communion, there is such extraordinary work happening in the church’s mission, including the work it’s doing on issues of poverty, and justice, and caring for the environment. But until the Alliance was imagined, and envisioned by the bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 2008, we actually didn’t have any formal way of connecting, sharing our skills, encouraging one another, praying for one another and working in a more connected way. At its heart, the Alliance is a way of looking at the gifts that the Communion has in its experience and vision of church and community transformation, and seeing how we can bring those gifts to each other to strengthen the work that we do in holistic mission. The Alliance is both about working across the Communion to see where we have really good practice, and where we can share and build on that, but also seeing what are the emerging issues that are really challenging the church, and where we need to learn from one another and from outside to strengthen our response.

 

You’ve been with the Alliance for a year now, and before that you were working at Lambeth, but you have also had an extensive career working in the secular international development world. What do you feel you bring to the Alliance and to your position?

I’ve lived in a number of countries, and worked and visited a number of countries as well—in Asia and Africa and also in the Pacific and Latin America. So I’ve had the privilege to live in and understand different societies and cultures, and the role of the church in those contexts. My work started in the secular development world, with Save the Children, Unicef and other organizations, and then increasingly I began to see that actually the development questions before us absolutely needed the faith communities, the churches, to be a part of the solution.

Through the ’90s, I was working on HIV/AIDS concerns and could see that churches and other faith communities engaged and transformed could be an extraordinary gift to actually producing a more just world, where we could talk about HIV, break through the stigma, own that all of us were affected. I became increasingly convinced about the role of faith in development, but also aware that there were sometimes challenges in that. A calling came to me at the end of the ’90s, and I was ordained at about that time, then carried on working in a local parish part-time and continued my work in development. That led ultimately to my working with the Archbishop of Canterbury as his secretary for international development.

I should mention as well that I came in just after the Lambeth Conference [of 2008], so in a sense [I] was part of the midwifery team for the Alliance. There were a number of us around the Conference who were charged with turning the vision of the bishops into a reality. In a sense, one of the main roles I had when I came in was to work on the consultation process for what the Alliance should look like. We launched it in 2011, with its first director Sally Keeble, who did a brilliant job establishing structures, governance and so on.

And then I was thrilled when, in a sense, the role became something that was waiting for a new director. I job-share with Andy Bowman, who has also worked in the development field for a long time. It’s kind of a model partnership, right at the heart of the Alliance, because we share the very job of looking after the directing of the Alliance.

 

The Alliance is a body that can see where good work is already being done, and possibly also see gaps that exist. What has that process looked like?

I’ll give you one example. Through the regional consultations, the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking arose as a primary concern, and the more we talked to provinces, they were saying, “we know there is human trafficking in our countries. We just don’t know how to respond.”

First of all, we were aware that other Christian denominations—the Salvation Army and the Roman Catholics, in particular—actually had a lot of experience in this field. Then we started digging down, and were astonished and delighted to find that we had an extraordinary wealth across the Communion of people who were responding in different ways, but had never been connected before. So we brought them together for a consultation on looking at different dimensions to the response to human trafficking, which would include the prevention work, protection for survivors of modern slavery, looking at prosecution, developing policy work in governments on good legislation, but also what participation of the church in partnership with others looks like.

We realized that actually if we pooled our experience, we could start to develop what looked like the framework for quite a comprehensive strategy to respond as a Communion, but also would be better able to work ecumenically to end modern-day slavery.

So I just had a conversation, funnily enough, with an emerging group in the church of Canada, looking at human trafficking here, to discuss that very issue and to understand what is the context—it always needs to be based on the local context—and what lessons can be learned from other parts of the Communion that could help us to shape what the strategy might look like in Canada.

 

Given that the Anglican Communion, globally, is so diverse, when it comes to things like advocacy—part of the mandate of the Alliance is to speak with one voice—how does that work?

The core mandate of the Alliance is about capacity-building, so to some extent our primary job is to help provinces, dioceses, to understand what effective advocacy is, because they will have their own priorities of things that they are called to work on in their own context. So the primary thing is to really enable people to think reflectively about how we as a church have a voice, and use that voice.

One of the pieces we often share is that the church doesn’t need to say that it is the voice of the voiceless—it has within its own congregations and communities people who are directly affected by these issues, so let’s see how we can bring the most vulnerable to speak alongside our leaders. But through the regional consultations we do have two particular issues, which have risen up, which people want to work on collectively. So one is: what’s the shape of the post-2015 development architecture and the discussion about the sustainable development goals that is coming out at the moment?

As a community, we’re encouraging and signposting people to engage with some ecumenical work on that. And because the Millennium Development Goals themselves were really embraced by so many of the provinces as a framework for engagement, I think they were actually quite electrified, some of the provinces, and the Communion as a whole. We hope there can be similar engagement post-2015.

The other one is, of course, around climate change…the eco-bishops are getting together. It’s not an initiative of the Alliance directly, but it’s something we really want to hold up and encourage. Those bishops are drawn from many different communities that are impacted directly by climate change. What we will do is learn from that, amplify what they have said, and allow others to listen in to the vision that they have expressed. What we’re hoping to do is each year take one example from around the Communion and feature it. One year I think it would be very important to look at the Arctic communities and look at the impact of climate change on them, because that is a voice that we rarely hear, globally. So it’s really to look at where in our Communion we have communities that are most impacted and how we can raise up that experience and those voices.

 

There are a lot of people who still insist that climate change isn’t happening, and some of those people are Anglicans. Does internal questioning about where the church should be putting its energy ever become an obstacle?

I don’t think it has been an obstacle, but I think what’s really interesting is that sometimes it can be easier to talk about injustices that are “out there.” But what’s really interesting about human trafficking as well as climate change is that it actually requires a change of heart and behaviour from each of us. Human trafficking, of course, is rather like the fair trade initiative—saying, you know, the goods that I buy, are they slave-free in their supply chain? Which is quite a searching question. Engaging with integrity on the climate change issue asks the same questions of us.

In a way, the churches are so well set up for this because repentance is already such a part of our discourse, and the most moving and powerful advocacy initiatives have actually come when the churches have owned a complicity or a silence on an issue of injustice, and then moved through that to hear the stories, hear from the survivors, and gotten really actively engaged.

 

When it comes to choosing issues to support—obviously in the Communion there are so many things happening—what are the criteria that you keep in mind when trying to put energy into an initiative?

Well, the agenda is set from the grassroots up, so it starts with consultations where people come together as a region, and they’ve been asked before they come to think about what the issues are and to talk to others in their home churches about what the most pressing issues are for them in their context. We’ve had a series of regional consultations around the world, which has filtered up regional priorities, and then the global advisory council has looked at those and then established which of the cross-cutting ones have emerged globally.

At this point, those are gender and youth empowerment (which includes gender-based violence but also economic empowerment); human trafficking, migration, and refugees; and finally climate change and food security. I’m really excited that we’re just on the verge of having a European regional consultation later this, which will start to surface what the issues in Europe are. And there is some overlap – human trafficking, modern slavery is certainly a key issue coming up – but in a sense it’s a kind of rolling discussion, and we’re constantly taking stock.

So two weeks ago we were in Nairobi with our global advisory council saying, “this is what we identified, but are there some other cross-cutting things coming up?” It turns out there were. One is the issue of social and financial inequality, within nations as well as across nations, that’s becoming starker and starker. The second thing that came up very strongly was how we ensure that our relief and development work promotes inter-religious harmony and promotes peace building.

 

What are the things that Alliance has been most successful with, and where is there room for learning?

The feedback we’re getting from the churches and partners is that the way that we [have been providing] a coordinating platform for relief and humanitarian responses has been helpful. Because the churches facing this crisis can articulate one response that everybody buys into – they have one reporting line, they can have accompaniment if they want it, to help with the delivery or the financial accounting. But essentially, through the conference calls and the reports, they only have to deal collectively with the group rather than in the past, when they may have had to work with 10, 15, 20 different partners.

I think that as we dig into this work we become aware that while the church has itself been an enormous humanitarian gift to the communities, the churches themselves are under extreme duress in these times of crisis. The Alliance has been able to look at that and see if there are any other funding streams that can come in to help the church itself with leadership so it can concentrate on what it is delivering.

The advocacy piece is still very much a work in progress. What we’re seeking to do is to lift up other people’s initiatives…But speaking as a Communion—as opposed to speaking regionally—is a really interesting issue, and I think we’re still working out what the means.

On the development side, I think that what we’re having to look at—and it’s still very much evolving—[is] how do we build the core competencies of churches? How do you manage development projects? How do you do the research? How do you make sure it’s consultative, inclusive, and so on? So there is a whole piece about what models work best for the church to express this, but keep the development work as an integral part of it’s mission in the church.

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Anglican Journal News, March 10, 2015

The flying bishop

Posted on: March 5th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By Shirley Byers


As he celebrates his 20th year as Country Guide columnist, Bishop Rodney Andrews remembers that he only ever wanted to be an Anglican priest. And a pilot. Photo: Dave Stobbe


(Reprinted with permission from Country Guide magazine, October 2014, pp. 62–5.)

Rod Andrews knows what it is to be forever connected to a chunk of land and a way of life. There’s a special quality in his voice when he talks about the family farm, on Alberta’s Coal Trail between Delburne and Red Deer.

“It was a magic place. I loved to go there,” Andrews says of the days when his grandparents still lived on the home ground. “On holidays and long weekends my family gravitated to the farm and I would go there on my own for a couple of weeks in the summer. I’d have my own calf and that was where I learned to drive a tractor.”

Farmers faced their share of challenges then as they do now—some similar, some quite different—but there was a strong sense of community and co-operation. The rural telephone line was just one example. Everyone worked together to set up a line in the district, and then everyone was expected to take their turn to help repair it if, and more likely when, need be.

Rod remembers the phone going down and his grandmother, unable to phone her grocery order in to town, saying to the men, “Well, it’s raining today, you can’t hay; you can fix the phone.” The men would go out and get the lines going.

“But it had to be a rainy day activity,” Rod chuckles. “Today, if our Internet doesn’t work for half an hour it’s a crisis. Think of what happens when Blackberry has a blackout…”

Born in Red Deer and raised in the little town of Delburne, Alberta, Rod was ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada in 1965 when he was 23. His first posting was to Lethbridge as the assistant priest. He loved his vocation, as he’d known he would, but he felt he lacked life experience. He’d gone directly from high school to seminary, and apart from one summer working on a survey crew, all of his summer jobs had been church related.

When it came to careers, he’d only ever wanted to be an Anglican priest. And, as you know by now, a pilot.

So, when his income tax refund was $550, the exact-same amount required to pay for flying lessons, he signed up and earned his private license at High River. And, as he’d hoped, he met many people outside the Church and began to make friends apart from Church association. Getting to know people from different backgrounds, and being in different circumstances and situations, enabled him to broaden his horizons and to learn from the experiences of others. It’s made him a better priest and a better person, he says.

Rod eventually attained his airline transport pilot’s license, and his own plane. He became a flight instructor and continues to teach to this day. In the Church, over the years, he’s served as rector, chaplain, archdeacon and Bishop of Saskatoon.

Today, retired from the Church, he’s the proud owner of a 1945 John Deere AR, identical to the one he learned to drive as a boy on his grandparents’ farm. When he’s not driving it at Saskatoon’s Pion-Era, the Borden Threshing Day and a few other events, he keeps it in his airplane hangar.

Rod took over the job of writing the Reflections column for the Country Guide 20 years ago, but his association with the magazine goes back sixty and more years to those long summer evenings on his grandparents’ farm when he would pore over the Guide’s ads for farm machinery and listen to his family talk about buying a new tractor. He wrote his first column in September 1994, and through 20 years and four editors, he’s never missed a deadline.

“Every now and then I go to garage sales and see somebody selling back issues of the Country Guide. I’ve collected a few,” Rod says. He’s also learned a bit about the history of the column.

Country Guide has been around since 1882 and has almost always had an inspirational column. Bishop Morse Goodman, who passed away on December 12, 1993, wrote it from 1961 to 1993. At that time the Reflections column was part of a Family Living section, which included recipes and articles on subjects such as canning and sewing.

Rod remembers Bishop Goodman, and remembers him jotting down notes on a sheet of foolscap at Church meetings, as he pondered an idea for his column. After Bishop Goodman passed away, Guide editor Colleen Armstrong reran some of his columns for a few months. That summer Rod contacted her and applied for the job. “I took the initiative,” he says. “I said this has been a good thing. I’m sure many people appreciate it. It seems to be an important part of the Country Guide.” She asked him to write a couple of sample columns, which he did, knowing that other writers were also on the short list. He was delighted when she called and offered him the job.

In writing the Reflections column. Rod’s goal is to focus on common human issues such as forgiveness and community and personal relationships. He often writes about the concerns of small churches. “Readers attend a variety of churches and many do not attend church at all,” he says. “I try to find themes that speak to real life for Country Guide readers.  I also try to expand those themes by touching on global issues.”

Over the years he’s written about everything from the existence of God to volunteering, from a visit to China to cussing, from enemies to healing.  He sometimes receives requests to copy his columns. He always says yes.

His editors have received the same request. One column, written over 10 years ago, was about gossip and the harm it does. An individual from a small town in Western Canada was moved to write to Rod’s editor about that particular column. He wanted permission to copy the article, and distribute it to every person in his town.

“Being able to write those monthly columns for Country Guide has been a tremendous experience,” Rod says. “As I travel about, I meet folk who seem to know me. People introduce me to other people almost as if I was their close friend…Maybe I’m writing something that’s touching a chord somewhere that someone can identify with.

“Religion and life need to be connected. I try to write about everyday events where that connection happens.  I hope to deal with questions people are asking, and I hope my short articles validate their feelings.”

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Anglican Journal News, February 27, 2015

Photo exhibit focuses on Ottawa’s homeless

Posted on: March 2nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Beatrice Paez


On why Centre 454 mounted the photo exhibit: “There are many smiles, many tears and most of all, so much hope and determination [among the homeless] to triumph over circumstance,” said Jennifer Crawford, executive director. Photo: Al Robinson


The homeless are largely invisible in society. Some are on the streets, but passersby rarely acknowledge them.

Centre 454, a community ministry of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa, and Ottawa photographer Onno Kremers hope to change this through photographs that show the faces and tell the stories of the city’s homeless.


Photographer Onno Kremers. Photo: Pete Boyd

“So often when we walk down the street, we close our hearts to people because it’s an easier thing to do,” said Kremers. “What I wanted to do was to strip away all the grittiness that you would associate with this community, their environment.”

Using the power of the lens to alter public perception, Kremers wanted the portraits of the homeless community and its support system to pay testament to the shared human condition—that we all seek to be seen and treated with dignity—and to elicit recognition that the faces staring back could belong to a friend, relative or neighbour.

“There are many smiles, many tears and most of all, so much hope and determination [among the homeless] to triumph over circumstance. It was these stories that moved us to create Illuminated,” said Jennifer Crawford, the executive director of Centre 454.

Illuminated, an exhibit of black-and-white photographs held at Ottawa City Hall on Feb. 10, capped the 60th anniversary celebration of Centre 454.

Centre 454 developed the project in collaboration with Kremers, who had been photographing the centre’s past charity concerts for about a year.


Ray. Photo: Onno Kremers

In the summer of 2014, Kremers diligently photographed participants for the exhibit. Earning their trust was important, he said, noting that for some, it meant getting comfortable in front of the camera.

To help ease the participants’ concerns, Kremers provided cameras for them to experiment with, and set up a wall where some of their photographs could be shared. “Once we started doing that, the demand really grew sky high…Everybody wanted their photo on the wall,” he said, adding that some wanted to send their photo to someone
they knew.

Their willingness to have their portraits and stories shared with the broader community, Crawford explained, is borne out of a desire to help break down stereotypes associated with the homeless. “A lot of our participants wanted to give back and help the centre raise awareness and help eliminate some of the stigma that surrounds [homelessness],” she said.

At every step of the process, Kremers and Crawford explained the exhibit’s intent to participants and encouraged them to stipulate the conditions of their involvement, making it possible to withdraw or limit their participation. Conscious of past projects that could be perceived as having exploited the homeless, Kremers said the centre is cautious about how the images can be used. Only two portraits—of a public health nurse and a homeless man who passed away—are available to the media to publish.

For the most part, Crawford said, “participants were excited to help us illuminate the faces that come through our doors.” In the end, she said, only two people declined to have their images featured in the exhibit.

Featured alongside photographs are snippets of the participant’ biographies as well as images of support workers.

“They were brutally frank about their circumstances and about how that had happened to them,” said Kremers about how much many were willing to share about their personal lives. “There’s a real understanding and awareness about their own condition.”

Kremers said he felt the exhibit was representative of the range of experiences the homeless face, such as coping with mental illness, family separation and the joy of securing a job.

If the photographs had been presented without any narrative to provide context, many told Kremers that the portraits of the homeless would have been indistinguishable from those of the ministry and support workers.

Public response to the exhibit has been significant, but what mattered most to the organizers was the positive response from participants themselves, said Crawford. “They could not believe how beautiful they looked. One person said, ‘Wow, that really shows me and I am gorgeous!’ ”

 

BY THE NUMBERS (Source: Centre 454)

6,705 men, women and families with children sought emergency shelter in Ottawa in 2013

11 per cent of Ottawa’s population (101,235) lived in poverty in 2010

9,717 households are on the waiting list for the city’s social housing

Beatrice Paez is a multi-media journalist whose reporting spans international development issues, politics and arts and culture. 

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Anglican Journal News, February 27, 2015

Church can help open up space for dialogue

Posted on: March 2nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Leigh Anne Williams


(A shorter version of this interview appeared in the March issue of the Anglican Journal.)

As the new director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, Stephen Toope stands at an interesting spot where academia intersects with the public square. This son of an Anglican priest arrived here by a fascinating road that took him from his hometown of Montreal, across Canada and around the world.

After graduating from Harvard, McGill and Cambridge as a lawyer, he helped to create the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in the 1990s, and later, to prove that Canadian citizen Maher Arar was unjustly tortured in a Syrian prison. From 2002 to 2007, he also represented Western Europe and North America at the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Most recently, he was president of the University of British Columbia. Toope has also devoted time to the Anglican Church of Canada as a member of a task force working with then primate Archbishop Michael Peers, considering the church’s future and relevance in an increasingly secular world, advising the diocese of New Westminster on canon law as it considered blessing same-sex unions, and as the chair of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) Committee.

 

How are you feeling about this new position?

I’m very excited by it. The more I learn about the Munk School, the more opportunity I think there is for it to really play a role as one of Canada’s principal interlocutors in global affairs, outside of government.

 

Are there new directions that you’d like to see for the school?

I’m always careful when I go into a new job not to purport to know more than I do before I get into it. I certainly wouldn’t want to say that things have to change radically. In fact, I think that this school is on a great trajectory. There is one program area where I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I was hired was to explore this further. There’s a program called Global Justice, and so far it’s focused a lot on international tribunals, criminal courts…There’s a shared desire to expand beyond that and to be thinking more expansively about what it means to try to conceptualize justice at a global level. Does that mean institutions? I think it does. But does it also mean policies that actually try to pursue more just outcomes for people who have been marginalized? There’s some real opportunity to think more creatively in that space. It relates to another question, which is religious intolerance, religious extremism. I would broaden that out to say deep cultural difference. How do we navigate in a world of extraordinary cultural chasms that have opened up? Do you simply accept that? It’s all very well to say we need more dialogue. But how do we accomplish that in an institutional sense at an international level? What are the roles that civil society organizations can play?

 

Is there a freedom being in the school, as opposed to the UN or a government body?

I remember Michael Peers used to describe the Anglican church as a place for people to be together. I think that’s true. What he was getting at was, “Well, we don’t all have to have exactly the same belief structure on every doctrinal issue.” You could have differences, but we wanted to be together. I think that a place like the Munk School is that, in a secular sense. It is a place…that can convene across great differences because we’re not representative of any particular ideological view; we don’t have a political position; we’re not a governmental organization.

 

Are there some big-picture things that you think are important for the church and organizations, like PWRDF, to think about now?

One of them is this question of how to facilitate cross-cultural connections. We are creating terrible divisions that seem quite impenetrable at a political level, so finding ways within civil society to create open spaces for people to connect [is vital]. I remember one of the first trips I did with PWRDF—there was a session in Thailand for Singhalese Buddhists and Tamils to get together in a safe space, partly supported by the Primate’s Fund—to be part of that creation of open space for some dialogue…Another area that strikes me as increasingly important is income inequality. How do we get societies to be thinking about the unfairness of ever-increasing Gini coefficients, where you’ve got the bottom part of the population having access to almost no resources and the top one per cent—10 per cent, 20 per cent—having access to almost all resources?

You helped advise the diocese of New Westminster on canon law as it considered allowing same-sex blessings. Now the national church is considering the question of allowing same-sex marriage. Would you have any advice for the church in terms of handling a potential conflict?

I was not, happily, involved so much in the small “p” politics of it because we were brought in to give our interpretation of what was allowed and what was not allowed under the rubric of the diocese, and what were the bishop’s powers, and all those things.

What I was struck by, and it made me quite sad, was the number of people who, I felt, exhibited no generosity of spirit. If I had any advice, it is to say that people can legitimately disagree on these issues…you can have a more fair-minded discussion if people enter not with the presumption that the other side has some evil intent, if I may put it that way…And maybe I’ll say something slightly provocative: I think that the bishops have a very important role. If [they] model discourse that is not exclusionary, I think we have a better chance.

 

Your father was an Anglican priest in Montreal?

He’s from Newfoundland, so he studied at Queen’s College and then came over to Bishop’s University to get his university degree, which is where he met my mother, who is from Montreal. They lived in Newfoundland for a number of years after they were married, on Change Island—which is a little island off the north coast of Newfoundland—and small places.

 

Did his influence or your family’s influence send you in the directions that you have gone in your career  [your interest in justice]?

I think so. They must have had an effect. It’s always hard to tease out where these things come from, but both of my parents—the church was their life. My mother was the parish secretary…I always sang in the choir; it was always part of daily life. The values you imbue, they become part of you.

 

You never considered becoming a priest?

No. If you listen to what’s said in church every week, the values around sharing, values around justice, values around inclusion seem to me to be pretty powerful.

 

Are there ways that you taken those values into the public square?

I’m very careful not to—I’ve always operated in secular institutions. I’ve been in public universities my whole life, so they’re not religious institutions, and I don’t think they should be. My own personal value sets, I think I bring to whatever I do, but I don’t articulate my engagements in terms of my religious sensibility.

 

What was your role in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples?

I actually worked in creating the Royal Commission. I was not part of the process. … I was working with former Chief Justice [Brian] Dickson who had been asked to do that by Prime Minister [Brian] Mulroney.  We met with indigenous leadership from across the country to find out what the major issues were that they believed had to be addressed by a royal commission. We also talked, obviously, to a lot of other people—experts, sociologists, legal experts, etc.—to shape the mandate so that the royal commission could be, we hoped, effective.

 

Looking back on it now, do you see progress?

Not enough. I find it shocking, I’ll be frank, that we have known of the issues for a long time. We know the sociological problems; we know the legal problems. I think we know the structural problems—the existence of the Indian Act is an anachronism today, and it’s been clear to most people who think about these things for a long time, and we seem incapable of making the decisions to move forward. I say publicly, internationally, that I think that the failure of Canada to create a relatively healthy environment for indigenous peoples is our great human rights failure. It’s important to acknowledge that, especially when we are in other parts of the world, critiquing the way people behave. We have to understand that we, too, have failed. It’s unacceptable, where we are.

 

What was your role in the Arar inquiry?

I was the fact-finder at the Arar inquiry. What that meant was I had to advise the commission on whether or not Mr. Arar was telling the truth about what had happened to him, which was absolutely…I mean, what an extraordinary privilege and also a great responsibility. That was one of the most moving things I’ve done. I had to meet with him, meet with his family and meet people who had worked with him. But I also had to interview other people who had been detained in Syria who had been treated very, very badly—tortured, in some cases. What I was trying to do was, in a sense, correlate—to be able to say, well, [what] Mr. Arar describes makes sense because I can say that five other people described the same sets of experiences with the same anecdote or the same memory of the physicality of the place or the people they dealt with.  It was very much really establishing credibility in Mr. Arar’s story.

I also had to go into a lot of top-secret material where people were asserting things that Mr. Arar may or may not have done. And then take all that and try to figure out what I did believe, what I didn’t believe, how credible Mr. Arar was ultimately.

And so I was able to determine that Mr. Arar was telling the truth, that he had indeed been tortured in Far’ Falastin, this particular prison in Syria. It was up to the commission to determine whether or not the Canadian government was in any way responsible for that and whether there should be any compensation. Ultimately he was awarded compensation. It was an extraordinary experience because I’ve done a lot of work in human rights over the years, but this was so visceral. It was also about my own country and what had happened to this person who, as we now know from the conclusions of this report and from the agreement that was reached with the federal government, really did not deserve to have this happen to him.

It’s a very instructive experience for a country like Canada or the United States, what we’ve just seen on this [CIA] report on torture—none of which was new, by the way; all of it had been revealed by good journalists over the last decade. But I think what it says is in times of fear, people will make bad public policy choices. We have to have systems that expose that and try to create some self-correcting mechanisms to override the fear. It’s not the first time it’s happened in Canadian history, right? Japanese internments. German internments. Ukrainian internments. There are lots of these moments in our history where we get nervous about something, and for good reason. And there’s good reason to be fearful of state-sponsored terrorism, absolutely. We’ve seen it and it’s horrible. What happened in Australia, what’s happened here, and even just individual people who take it upon themselves to behave in bad ways. So there’s a reality to the fear but you have to find ways of disciplining public policy so we don’t lose our own values in the times of fear.

 

How have these experiences changed you?

I’ve always thought of life being a constant time of learning. I think I’m being changed all the time by these experiences. I feel very privileged to have had some of these experiences; the Arar Commission [of Inquiry] was one.

When I was chairing a UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, we made a visit to Nepal, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We actually went into prisons and found people who had been disappeared for five years, seven years. Their families hadn’t known where they were. The prison services were disorganized; I was surprised they actually let us in, but they did. We were able to report on the fact that they were alive, because no one knew where they were, and then there was the possibility of seeing whether you could ultimately get them freed. They’re political detainees, in fact. It just struck me as an astonishing opportunity for any human being to be able to concretely do something that actually changed the course of someone’s life in front of you. That’s how remarkably much of a gift that is. That certainly changes the way you think about the world. For both good and ill, there’s something arbitrary about that. Yes, there was a whole system in place through the UN that allowed us to be there, and there was a lot of work in planning this, but then to actually have that moment in a prison in terrible conditions where you find someone and you say, “Are you so-and-so?” and the answer is a yes, and then you can do something about it. That’s also, however you want to describe it, God’s will, serendipity, luck. It’s not something you can plan.

 

Is forgiveness something that Christianity has a particular angle on to offer in the global realm in conflict?

I’d like the answer to be yes. I would hope so.

 

Not that the concept doesn’t exist in other religions, but in Christianity’s focus on it?

It is certainly a defining figure of the Christian story…The reason I hesitate is [that]…I think you have to go into a situation with a perspective of modesty in order to actually generate the possibility of forgiveness. Arguing for forgiveness from an immodest position strikes me as inauthentic. That’s a complicated way of saying it. What I mean is that I sometimes worry that we’re very good in the Christian world at saying that our message is one of forgiveness, that it has to be done, but if we go into situations believing in our superiority because of that message, I actually think the message loses its value and loses its ability to convince. So I do worry sometimes that we’re not so good at understanding that we do have something to offer, but it’s part of a richness that other people have things to offer as well. So yes, forgiveness [is] hugely important, but I go into the situation understanding that there are other gifts, too.

 

Desmond Tutu has talked about what a necessary ingredient it was in South Africa, though not necessarily only from a Christian perspective.

It’s a very complicated issue, as you well know, and there’s a lot of discussion, especially about truth and reconciliation. Yes, you have to expect people to forgive and hope that they will forgive, but there has to be some asking for forgiveness. If it’s just forgiveness and people haven’t understood that they have committed wrongs, you actually can be developing continuing tension in the society. I think that South Africa’s a pretty good example of getting it overall right, but there are other truth and reconciliation processes which haven’t gone so well, where essentially what we were doing was evading responsibility and saying that the people who are victims have to forgive. Fair enough, but the people who were perpetrators have to ask for forgiveness and understand that what they did was wrong. There was just a big report issued in Brazil coming out of the experience in the ’70s and ’80s with the military junta. The president, who was herself a victim of torture, received the report, obviously accepted in a somewhat tearful way. But it was really intriguing to me—I noticed that one of the major generals of that era came out with a statement in which he basically said there’s nothing here to be concerned about. He said, “We were fighting the terrorists, including the terrorist who is now our president.”  So I thought, “Okay, what is that telling you about the process?” It’s telling me that yes, we now know more. But there’s no reconciliation taking place.

What reconciliation looks like…I think this is going to be a really interesting question for Canadians if we take this seriously, because it’s not just a question of being guilt-ridden. It’s a question of accepting responsibility and then saying how do we move on, accepting the responsibility and how do we ask for forgiveness while acknowledging our failures?

 

Were you working with Michael Peers when he made an apology on behalf of the church for the harm that was done in residential schools?

I was around and I remember it, and I remember him preparing for it. It coincided with a meeting that we had with him. I remember…he felt so strongly that it had to be something he did not read. And so he worked incredibly hard—he was a guy who had a pretty big job and lots of things to think about—he worked for days to not just memorize it but make it a part of him, so when he uttered the apology [it] was heartfelt. It was meant to be, and it was also an acknowledgement of the oral tradition of aboriginal peoples because that’s how they would expect something like an apology to be performed. I think there are all sorts of cultural nuances around that that were important and I think very meaningful.

 

Did your faith help you cope with the loss of your parents? [Toope’s parents were killed in a violent home invasion in Montreal 20 years ago.]

Oh, sure. I can’t say that I become more or less committed from a faith perspective. I often say that one of the things that was most helpful to me during that time was having small children—very small children; my son was only two months old and my daughter was two—and so their life went on. My daughter was somewhat aware of what happened, although we shielded them quite a bit for quite a long time. But I remember thinking that it’s very much a gift that they’re there, partly because children are, of course, always about the future, and my parents were so loving towards my daughter. They never met my son really, not in a serious way. So I think that was very helpful, knowing day in and day out that they needed me to be for them, not with my own problems…And of course I have a very supportive wife, and her family, who were incredible during that period. I also had work that I cared about a lot.

People react differently, but I never wanted to feel…that I was going to be defined as a victim in that setting. My parents were victims of a terrible crime, but it wasn’t, for me, definitional. It was something terrible that happened, but it wasn’t going to be something that actually changed who I was. And here the faith piece is important, but it came out of my own experience with my family. They were extremely giving, kind, decent people. I thought to myself, and I remember very distinctly feeling this way, from the moment I learned that this happened, that I didn’t want it to be the definition of my parents, either. It wasn’t who they were at all. Violence? This is craziness. It wasn’t who they were at all.

 

You have talked about the signs that were missed to help the perpetrators…

I don’t know; maybe there are some people who are just bad for whatever reason or evil. Maybe. But it’s also the case that people can lead very, very disturbed lives, and it has to have an impact on how they relate to other people. I do think you have to care about those things.

It’s 20 years ago. It’s hard to believe.

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Anglican Journal News, March 02, 2015