Slideshow image


By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt

Words have power.

This simple statement may not come as a revelation to many.

The words we use may generate feelings in others which cover the spectrum of emotions. Words which are intentionally offered to stir the heart and soul and mind in a very positive way, for some, may be heard as painful words by others. Words offered in a humorous way, may cause offence. Words which are spoken from the pulpit or on a one-to-one basis intended to comfort may cause unforeseen wounds and generate great distress.

In 2023 the Office of the Chaplain General of Canada circulated a document, outlining a policy which ”supersedes the 'Public prayer at military ceremonies' directive which was issued in 2013 by the Office of the Chaplain General.”

The end result of the document identifies the fact that the Chaplaincy Services ”affirms the value and importance of a variety of beliefs within Canadian society and in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

It calls upon all Chaplains within a public ceremony to be mindful of ”the principal of state religious neutrality as a Canadian public institution by not favouring one religious faith group or belief system over another, while still acknowledging and making certain to respect, in a holistic manner the spiritual dimension and needs of all persons.”

We all witnessed how that kind of policy directive gets translated into action when the Chaplain General of the Canadian Armed Forces spoke at the National War Memorial ceremony on November 11, 2023.

Brigadier General Guy Belisle prefaced his remarks by saying;

As we gather in this place of sacred memory may these words I share now be for some prayers of our heart, others a reflection of your heartfelt thanksgiving and for all, may these words speak to our duty to remember.

This level of sensitivity is generated by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling which states, in part:

The state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers in public life to the detriment of others.

(Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Mouvement laïque quebecois v. Saguenay (City) case)

The changing environment of society creates new challenges in which we express the faith we hold dear. If we have acknowledged that words have power, then we also need to affirm that how we use the words we claim are important, also needs our examination. At the very early stages of my ministry, I listened to colleagues share how quickly they could offer a mid-week Eucharist. Speeding through the liturgy seemed to generate a sense of accomplishment!

My Mother would sometimes listen to what I had to say and simply offer her critique by saying, in a very firm maternal way,” Tone”.

I have been present when words of the liturgy and the words of Scripture have been drained of their vitality as they are offered at a pace and with a tone that sounds like a dirge. A funeral becomes truly funereal, when offered in that tone, but are we not now using different words, which indicate that families and friends are gathering for a “Celebration of Life”?

As people of faith, we acknowledge that words have power. We value and appreciate that we have access to the words of the Gospel and words of worship which are transformative. How we use those words and where we seek to freely express our faith is unique to each of us and the setting in which we find ourselves.

There is another truth we need to acknowledge.

Actions speak louder than words. The actions of our daily lives are a true indicator of how much we are invested in achieving a particular goal or purpose. We may talk a good talk, yet not feel motivated to actually contribute to the process of turning a vision into reality.

A community of faith may seize upon some local social imbalance or cause and speak about the need for this challenge to be addressed, yet if they do not utilize their resources to resolve the matter, then, rest assured, the critique and criticism from society at large, will not be far behind.

As we engage with the gift of the year ahead of us, I invite you to use your words well and with sensitivity. I invite you to reflect on the time, talents, resources and energy you have and how you may use them as an expression of the faith you claim.

In years past, this experience used the Rule of Life form in the Book of Common Prayer (page 555). I invite you to use the newer words of our Baptismal Covenant for your reflection as you build the framework for your life in the year ahead.

- Will you continue in the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?

- Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord?

- Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?

- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

- Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s Creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?

Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full-time parish ministry but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese.