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Those who honour me I will honour

Address to St. Andrew's Presbyterian Congregation on their 175th Anniversary

by David Kilgour

National Arts Centre,

Ottawa , September 27, 2003

Friends of St. Andrew's,

Thank you Andrew Johnson and everyone who spent so much time preparing for this evening. Actually, I'd like to thank all of you who are part of the St. Andrew's family. What a point of inspiration your congregation is for the capital!

It's a great pleasure for Laura and me to join you tonight. If things had been a bit different, we and our four children  might have become members of your congregation. When we first came to Ottawa, we were impressed by the beautiful architecture of St. Andrew's. At that time, however, we lived in Quebec across the Champlain Bridge from Westminster Presbyterian, had met their minister, and were so warmly greeted on our first visit that we have been there for 24 years.

Looking at St. Andrew's lifts my spirits each time I pass by. I"m sure you all know the story of how the church managed to escape the expropriation that befell eventually the rest of Wellington Street through a fortuitous intersection of politics and religion. Evidently, the order to seize went forward until officials discovered that then Prime Minister Mackenzie King was an elder in the congregation. That was apparently enough to stop them in their tracks - and for that we are all most grateful.

175 years

How does anyone, even with the best of intentions, talk briefly-especially after a very good dinner-.about a church which has flourished for 175 years. An historical survey might put you to sleep even before I could even reach Confederation. If I focussed only on your 13 ministers-with due attention to the incumbent- my time would soon  be gone.. Permit me therefore to go in a different direction. We served a great God in 1828 when St Andrew's was built; we serve a great God today.

First and foremost, I want to say as someone who travels a lot across Canada that spirituality is thriving many parts of this country, including the national capital region, and making a very positive difference in millions of Canadian lives.

Despite the various naysayers of the century we just left, it is the "death-of-God" movement, certainly not God, which is on life support today. In his book, Restless Gods, the Canadian sociologist Reg Bibby notes that for the first time in decades church attendance is on the rise among teenagers.

Spiritual Activists'

Research on religious observance across Canada also indicates:

  • Canadians who attend weekly religious services report having happier and less stressful lives than others,
  • Regular attendees are more likely to volunteer time and to establish charities  (Among the approximately 70,000 registered charities across Canada today, by the way, more than 32,000-40%-are faith-based.).
  • Regular goers to religious services account for about half of all hours volunteered across the land, and,
  • Equally encouraging is that those who regularly attend spiritual services provide 42% of the donations received by direct giving to non-religious charities.

In short, the work and witness of congregations like St Andrew's have a great deal to do with these numbers. One thinks of the refugees who were able to come to our country because this congregation sponsored them. I think of the Daybreak housing program to provide affordable housing for low-income singles. What of your support for the Mission for homeless men, Operation Go Home and a womens' community centre in rural Newfoundland?

Presbyterian Sharing

It has been my good fortune to visit Presbyterian centres in developing countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. In Kinshasha, for example, I recall attending a service at a huge church, which also provided school for thousands of boys and girls during the week. No-one here needs to be told how much good "Presbyterians Sharing" is doing around the so-called developing world-from Africa to the Americas to North Korea.

I understand that Dr. - Moir has recently written a fascinating book about St Andrew's, which will shortly be out. Evidently, it describes in detail the community-building contributions of this congregation since St Andrew"s first opened its doors. They opened, I was interested to learn, because Thomas Mackay caused the building to be constructed in part to create work for Scottish stone masons who were unemployed because of construction delays on the Rideau canal. (Thank God  for that government delay!) The church's records  since reveal thousands upon thousands of volunteer hours -and much money going to persons in need in both Ottawa and well beyond.

Spiritual Diversity

Our diverse faith communities in Canada are an example-perhaps the most beautiful one--of our country's much-discussed mosaic. The contemporary openness and variety of spiritual life in Canada owes a lot to the leadership of congregations like this one.

We have the fruits of this everywhere. Look at Queen's University or Mount Allison-or the many education institutions founded by our Catholic sisters and brothers. Or our Jewish organizations dedicated to eradicating all forms of racism. Muslim and Sikh schools are springing up across Canada- as are Hindu and Buddhist community associations. In Ottawa or Edmonton, you have Sikh and Muslim congregations flourishing alongside Protestant churches - and all of them are giving back to their communities in myriad ways. One study last year found that the average North American congregation contributes over $300,000 worth of social services to its community each year through counselling, clothing banks, food programs, and more. Most communities across Canada are benefiting enormously because of the civic involvement of faith communities like this one.

And what is happening across Canada is going on around much of the post cold war world. This week in Montreal, I spoke a conference on Canada and Islam in Asia. It was organized in part because the Department of Foreign Affairs now  recognizes that we in the North have a tendency to forget that for billions of people around the world faith is at the very core of every relationship and every aspect of life. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and so many others are being motivated by their faith commitments to build hospitals and schools and all kinds of communal associations. In short, the fabric of civil society that political scientists tell us is so important to the spread of democracy is being woven in very significant ways by peoples of faith.

Eric Liddell

You all know the story of Eric Liddell -- how the man they called the "flying Scotsman" gave up a virtually sure win for himself in the 100 yard dash because the race was held on a Sunday. He would not run on the Sabbath. Most also know that he then entered the very different 440 yard race and won it. Asked by journalists afterwards how he did it, he opened his hand. On a crumpled piece of paper in it were the words: "Them that honour Me, I will honour." Another runner, impressed with Liddell's principles, had handed it to him just before the race. The future missionary in China had given up a clear shot at an Olympic medal for which he had longed trained because he put God first in his life. He took to his creed the truth that God will honour those that honour Him. I believe that all over the world today, there are new Eric Liddells, building democracy in Haiti, caring for refugees in Cambodia, working to support the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan, getting food to North Koreans, and so on..

The same God that motivated Georgina Pearly to found the hospital for incurables, and earlier Presbyterians to establish Queens University, and Pauline Brown, an Ottawan Presbyterian, to work in a hospital in India for over 52 years, is still sending out his calls around the world! He has not given up on us yet.

While some have been predicting the extinction of religion, God has been up to some amazing things. It barely registered in Western consciousness until recently that Christianity is growing with phenomenal speed in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Africa, according to the World Christian Encyclopaedia, the present net increase of Christians on the continent is an astounding 8.4 million a year, or 23,000 persons a day. Put another way, there were about ten million African Christians in 1900; in 2000 there were 360 million. My friend, Sam Okoro, from Nigeria, asked why, says it's partly because Africans have lost confidence in governments. Only faith in God provides hope.

Global Christianity

Phillip Jenkins, a professor at Penn State University, wrote recently in The Next Christendom that "By 2025, 50 percent of the Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America and another 17 percent in Asia" In other words, the centre of gravity in the Christian world will be deep in the southern hemisphere, creating new pockets of influence and power. Until now, the foolish stereotype of the North was, as Jenkins says, that Christians are "un-black, un-poor and un-young". In fact, before too long, the phrase "white Christian" may be something of an oxymoron.

The same phenomenon is happening in the Presbyterian Church, which is growing by leaps and bounds in such places as Haiti, Malawi and Botswana. The Presbyterian congregation I attended in Korea this spring has about 7000 members and they offer five or six services each Sunday. A friend of mine, Dr. Anu Bose, recently said  that she can see that Presbyterianism is alive and well in St. Andrew's because the people who worship here come from all over the world - Malawi, Haiti, Borneo, Ghana, Nigeria and India, to name just a few.

Romeo Dallaire

Finally, I want to remind you that this work we are called to do for God is very serious business. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian General who spoke and acted heroicly in Rwanda when most of the world gazed on, experienced things that made this truth appallingly clear. From time to time, Dallaire would send platoons into the countryside to provide help and obtain information. One came upon a village whose inhabitants had recently been slaughtered by one of the marauding militias. It was a scene from the apocalypse - people were dead or dying, lying in ditches , children decapitated. It was well known that this village had a high incidence of AIDS, and if the soldiers helped the wounded and dying they would face the risk of exposing themselves to harm.

The dilemma for the platoon leader was whether he and his troops should get out of their vehicles, get down in the ditches and help those who could be helped - at real risk to their own safety. Or should they just move on to the next village, and see if they could be of some assistance there? They did.

Later, the platoon leader reported this to Dallaire. The general called the troop leaders from the 26 countries under his UN command into his office. He told each of them the story and asked, "Would you get down in the ditch, and help out, risking your own well-being, or would you move on to the next village?" Twenty-three of the twenty-six replied that they would move on. Three, however, said they would stay and help:- Ghana, Belgium and Canada.


Dallaire, who recounted this incident  to a prayer breakfast, then asked the audience a question: "Where do you get your values?" The question is as relevant in Canada as it is in Rwanda, because the values we have really do shape the choices we make. If you were to ask many of the great men and women who built Ottawa and this nation where they got their values, they would tell you they learned them at St. Andrew's and in other churches, mosques, synagogues and temples across the country and abroad.

The historian Robert Conquest has written that the survival of pluralism, change without chaos, free discussion, political compromise and market economies across the planet was a near thing in the 20th century. He thinks that laziness and impatience could threaten these and other good features of civilization in the 21st century. I believe that God is inviting all of us to join Him in the holy adventure that is having daily impact on the world around us.

Dennis Ignatious, the present High Commissioner for Malaysia to Canada,  said the following on the eve of this year's National Prayer Breakfast on Parliament hill. I think that it's appropriate for us tonight as well.

"My heart cry to you tonight, as you gather in your Nation's capital and on this most historic hill, is please don't let your great freedoms and your prodigious abundance of every good thing, diminish your passion and commitment to God. With all my heart, I believe that God is calling this nation back to Him and to His purpose. He has blessed you far above many other nations of the world. You have a sensitive and caring heart for the needy and the desperate. You have welcomed the dispossessed and the oppressed from all the nations of the earth. And you have a well deserved reputation as peace-keepers. But your destiny is not yet complete for you were also called to the service of the Prince of Peace, that all nations may know peace with God. You are called to be a light on the hill. I beg you, please don't allow that light to be extinguished because the world desperately needs to see that light."

Like all nations, Canada needs God's light daily. Canada needs women and men who are convinced that what God has to say to them is important and who will go out into their jobs and communities with this message of truth, hope and transformation: We serve a great God.

God bless St Andrew's Church for the next 175 years!

Thank you

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