By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
In recent days there has been some discussion about whether or not it is a good idea to offer the Canadian Citizenship ceremony as an online experience.
I am firmly of the belief that would deprive anyone seeking to become a citizen of Canada of an essential experience as their life’s journey takes a new and exciting direction. Raising your hand, swearing or affirming your allegiance to your new country of choice, is a crucial conclusion to the lengthy citizenship process. Standing up and declaring what it is that you believe, is not an unfamiliar experience for those who declare, in a public setting, each and every Sunday, that they are followers of Jesus Christ.
Sunday, July 2 of this year was in the midst of the Canada Day Weekend. As wildfires swept across the landscape, we were all invited to celebrate our identity as Canadians and give thanks that we live in this wonderful country. We prayed for the firefighters, those who were displaced from their homes and those who had lost everything because of the cataclysmic devastation of the wild.
As an immigrant, I truly value and appreciate the opportunities which this country has given to me for more than half a century. (I admit that statement sounds a bit dramatic, but it is legitimate, so why not?!?) I held a Bible firmly in my hand as I took the Oath of Citizenship and made my commitment to claim Canada as my home.
The Bible had been given to me at the time of my ordination as a priest. I had marked the place which had served as the inspiration for the motto for Canada which appears on the Canadian Coat of Arms.
(This is a quiz…the answer is at the end of this article.)
On that Sunday morning in July, it seemed to me, especially since the wording has changed in recent years, that as a community of faith we could also celebrate our identity as Canadian citizens by offering the Canadian Oath of Citizenship. We affirmed that part of our identity as we said together:
I swear (or affirm), that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Charles the Third, King of Canada, his Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and fulfil my duties as a Canadian Citizen.
An interesting result of that experience was that after the service, there were some members of the congregation who approached me to indicate that had been a meaningful moment for them, because, for whatever reason, that had been the first time they had ever been invited to celebrate their Canadian Citizenship by offering the Citizenship Oath.
Because I was going to be returning later on in the month, I also gave the congregation some homework. I asked them to find out what are the “duties” of a Canadian Citizen.
A couple of weeks later, I returned to the congregation to discover that a number of people had taken me seriously and had done their homework!
The duties of a Canadian Citizen include:
- Obeying the law
- Taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family
- Serving on a jury
- Voting in elections
- Helping others in the community
- Protecting and enjoying our heritage and environment
(Taken from a Government of Canada Citizenship website)
If all of this was a journey of exploration into the world of personal identity as a Canadian Citizen, it becomes important to compare and contrast that experience with what it means for us to declare our identity as people of faith. On a frequent basis we proclaim our identity as followers of Jesus when we boldly proclaim, ”I Believe”, as we worship. We have the opportunity from time to time to declare how we will put our faith into action when we state that, in the words of the Baptismal Covenant, that, with God’s help we will:
- Continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship
- Persevere in resisting evil
- Proclaim by word and example
- Seek and serve Christ
- Strive for justice and peace
- Respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth.
It is interesting to note the parallels and commonality of these two essential elements of our identity when we declare ourselves to be both a person of faith and a member of a national community. Each facet of our life needs to be a focus of regular review. Does our frequent declaration of our faith numb us to the expectations which a life of faith demands? Does the infrequency of our declaration of citizenship leave us in ignorance of what is expected of us as members of Canadian society?
There are many facets of our lives which serve to define how others see us. As we look into the mirror each day, we need to be comfortable with how we define ourselves.
By the way, I had promised you the answer to the question regarding Canada’s motto. It is ”From Sea to Sea”. (Psalm 72: 8)
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full-time parish ministry but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese.