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Francis of Assisi: Evangelist and environmentalist

October 4, 2018 - 7:05pm

One of the most revered figures in the history of Christianity, St. Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226) lived a life that embodied some of the most deeply held values that we associate with the faith today. In the centuries since his death, successive generations of Christians have discovered their most cherished spiritual qualities reflected in Francis.

In recent decades, Francis has perhaps been most widely associated with the care of creation and the environment. In 1979, Pope John Paul II declared Francis the Patron Saint of Ecology. His association with the blessing of animals was popularized in 1985 by the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, with many congregations following its lead in blessing pets on Francis’s feast day. So closely is Francis identified with the environment that the annual Season of Creation celebrated by Christians around the world culminates on Oct. 4 with the Feast of St. Francis.

While the most common perception of Francis today evoke the fifth Mark of Mission—“to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth” —his earliest claim to fame reflects the first two: “to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom” and “to teach, baptize and nurture new believers.”

Francis “is first and foremost about evangelism,” says the Rev. Canon Dr. Lizette Larson-Miller, Huron-Lawson chair of moral and pastoral theology at Huron University College. “He’s about preaching the gospel, and preaching the gospel from a position of humility and poverty. […] Those are the things the Franciscans themselves remember, but that gets obscured.”

The Ven. Dr. Lynne McNaughton, Deputy Prolocutor for the Council of General Synod and rector of St. Clement’s Anglican Church in North Vancouver, led two pilgrimages to Assisi in 2009 and 2017, travelling to Francis’s home city with approximately 30 fellow Canadian pilgrims.

Echoing Larson-Miller’s view on the saint’s contributions to evangelism, McNaughton noted that Francis “went from town to town proclaiming the gospel.”

“Maybe it doesn’t sound as radical [today] as it would have been then,” she added. “But remember that most monastic orders of the time were Benedectine, which is a vow of stability. You stayed in one community for life. And Francis was a pretty restless soul.

“He loved to travel, meaning mostly by foot […] in a day and age when […] people weren’t used to hearing preaching at that level. He and his brothers preached the gospel. And they preached it by living it, not just the words.”

Originally from a wealthy merchant family, Francis took literally the exhortation of Jesus to his disciples to go out and preach the gospel and to relieve themselves of their possessions. The son of a cloth merchant, he gave away expensive cloth to the poor and, when publicly reprimanded by the local bishop, removed his clothes in the public square and gave everything back to his father.

“Most of us don’t have that dramatic a call to poverty,” McNaughton said. “But he embraced poverty as something joyful. He found a huge freedom in that.”

Though possibly ordained as a deacon, Francis was never ordained a priest. He went directly to the masses and found innovative methods for spreading the Good News among the people.

“I always think it’s so fascinating that he kept trying to find different ways to preach the gospel,” Larson-Miller said. “It’s to Francis that we owe the presepio, the crèche, at Christmas—the nativity scene, if you will—because for him it was a way of preaching to people who were illiterate and uneducated.

“He’s thinking in his mind, ‘OK, what’s going to make sense to them?’ So he develops the rosary as a prayer technique. He develops the crèche. He probably has some contribution to what are known as the Stations of the Cross, which are all kinesthetic ways for people to hear the gospel preached, not just with their ears.”

Peace and reconciliation are also values associated with Francis. In 1219, he travelled to Egypt in the midst of the Fifth Crusade and met with Sultan Al-Kamil, preaching the gospel.

Though Francis’s efforts to convert the sultan were unsuccessful, McNaughton suggested that in light of the friendly conversation between the two—a highly unusual occurrence at this time of bloody religious wars between Christians and Muslims—Francis might perhaps be considered “the patron saint of interfaith dialogue”.

The identification of Francis with nature and the environment stems in part from legendary stories of his evangelism as recounted in the Fioretti (Little Flowers”), such as when he preaches to the birds—the source of many statues that depict Francis holding a bird in his hand.

As the composer of the Canticle of the Sun (aka the Laudes Creaturarum, or Praise of the Creatures), a religious poem later set to music, Francis described his faith in God for the gift of the earth and all its creatures. He thanked God for creations using terms of close relationships, such as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, and Sister Water.

McNaughton recalled the example of one deacon in her home parish, who is of Cree background and ends all her prayers and sermons with “all my relations”. “That always reminds me of St. Francis,” McNaughton said, “speaking to the earth [as] Sister Earth.”

Such a close relationship with nature and creation, Larson-Miller noted, was something of a departure for medieval Christianity at the time of Francis.

“If you put him in his historical period in the 12th century, you’ve got a church that’s kind of turning away from anything that was good about the human body, anything that’s particularly good about creation, and turning more towards only what’s in heaven,” she said. “Only what is disembodied is good.

“And so here comes Francis, preaching really just the opposite and reminding people of what’s already there in Genesis—that God has created all things and created them good. I think what so grabs people’s attention today is that [notion of] all creation [being] with us. […] That’s not new with Francis; we have that in the early church. But in a sense, Francis brings that back in a century of his own life where it was not very prominent, and it grabs the attention of people today.”

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Diocesan environment network builds alliances in Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

October 2, 2018 - 9:11pm

Each year parishes and congregations across the Anglican Church of Canada observe the Season of Creation from Sept. 1 until Oct. 4. We join together with Christians around the world to pray and work for the care of creation and the environment.

For the Rev. Marian Lucas-Jefferies, coordinator of the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Environment Network, preparations for the Season of Creation begin each spring. She begins promoting the season by helping parishes and individuals across the diocese exchange liturgies.

“As soon as there’s a heads-up on it I’m disseminating this information. But I also try to help people connect with each other,” said Lucas-Jefferies, who is also a member of the Creation Matters working group.

“If somebody wants a good liturgy around the Blessing of the Animals, then I might connect them with a priest I know in the Parish of Blandford who has done a really extraordinary job on that, or … a priest in P.E.I. […] I connect them with people in the know. I don’t have to know everything. I just have to know who’s out there and how to support people in their call to caring for creation, and that I find really exciting.”

Sharing liturgies is just one of the activities carried out by the diocesan environment network, a body that has helped bring Anglicans in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to the forefront of local efforts to protect the environment.

Since its formation, the network has hosted a workshop on energy reduction. It has presented briefs to the Government of Nova Scotia, taking part in demonstrations and consultations around issues such as fracking. It has helped educate Anglicans in the diocese on environmental matters through presentations at synods, speaking to local congregations, social media posts on Facebook, and a regular email list.

Reaching out beyond the church, the network has also forged working relationships with secular groups such as the Ecology Action Centre, the largest organization around ecological concerns in Nova Scotia. It is also a member of the Nova Scotia Environment Network.

“What we discovered is that people who are passionate about the environment and are advocates can get burned out, and what they need is spiritual support and spiritual care,” Lucas-Jefferies said.

“It’s not coming at it from [an] ‘I’m an evangelist, I’m going to convert them’ approach. It’s coming at them from, ‘You’re from a secular group, but you still need some spiritual care. How do we support you and the incredible justice work you do around the environment?’”

‘A community development approach’

The origins of the environment network followed the 2011 diocesan synod, when Bishop Sue Moxley asked those in attendance what they considered to be the most important issue facing Anglicans in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Their number one response was the environment.

Bishop Moxley asked Lucas-Jefferies to form a task group, based on the latter’s experience as a community development worker. On the drive back to her home parish, Lucas-Jefferies developed the idea that rather than a church task force, it might be better to form a network that anyone could be a part of.

While the vast majority of those connected with the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Environment Network today are Anglicans from within the diocese, its supporters also include Anglicans from across Canada and abroad, as well as members of other denominations.

“It was a community development approach,” Lucas-Jefferies said. “Excite the people who are already excited about the issues. Support the people who are already excited about the issues. And connect the people to each other who are already excited about issues.”

That approach resulted in a flurry of activities and community outreach that helped draw in activists both inside and outside of the Anglican Church—consistently supported in these efforts by the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. and Archbishop Ron Cutler.

In May 2018, the diocese provided funding for the event Pause to Listen: A Spiritual Retreat for Environmentalists. Reflecting the ecumenical nature of the diocesan environment network, the retreat was held at the Tatamagouche Centre, a facility owned by the United Church of Canada.

Both the Anglican and United churches encouraged their own members to attend, with Archbishop Cutler among those present. The event also attracted people who were not connected to either church, such as members of local First Nations.

Lucas-Jefferies drew a connection between the care of creation and truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. She noted the support of the environment network for the Stop Alton Gas encampment—an effort by Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous allies opposing completion of the Alton Gas project near Stewiacke, N.S.. The project represents an expansion of the fossil fuel industry and threatens to release 10 million litres of brine into the Shubenacadie River system.

At the retreat, she said, “We had an incredible weekend where people who care for creation could connect with each other, connect with the environment […] and bring people together so that they left spiritually refreshed.”

Breaking down barriers

From September 2017 to May 2018, Suzanne McConnell—a master’s student in education and lifelong learning at Mount Saint Vincent University, and a member of St. John’s Anglican Church in Westphal—did her student practicum with the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Environment network.

Working closely with Lucas-Jefferies, she visited parishes across the province from Halifax to Cape Breton, connecting with church members and the wider community, planning and attending events, and giving presentations on topics related to the environment.

During her practicum, McConnell spoke to individual parishes about how their churches could become more green and environmentally friendly. She connected with KAIROS Canada and attended a local event on Reconciliation in the Watershed, which identifies local ecological justice issues and connects them with the struggle for Indigenous rights and justice issues nationally and internationally. She also attended a gathering with the Peace and Friendship Alliance, which seeks to honour treaties signed by Indigenous Peoples by upholding nation-to-nation relationships.

Reflecting on her experience, McConnell said that the diocesan environment network shows that the Anglican Church of Canada is committed to creation and has much in common with other churches in its interaction with the environment.

“I think that one of the things that I took away from it was some groups who were secular were surprised that the church cared that much, but were pleased and felt supported by that as well. […] Working in partnership with other community groups has been a really positive experience, and hopefully we’ll be able to do more of that.”

With so many environmental issues facing Nova Scotia and the world today—from fracking and water protection to protecting boreal forests, from fighting plastic pollution in the oceans to addressing the threat of climate change and rising sea levels—the need for community groups and activists to work together is increasingly clear.

“One of the things that really came up in one of the talking circles we had at the Peace and Friendship Alliance gathering was that if we’re all doing our own piece of work, that’s wonderful,” McConnell said. “But [if] the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing […] it’s not a concerted effort, and I think we do need to be all working together.

“I think we need to be working on plastics and oceans, recycling, oil, forests, air. We need to all be working together. If we’re not, it’s not going to be as effective, and we don’t have time to not be effective at this point.”

Lucas-Jefferies recalled her experience at a 2015 march in Halifax during the Paris climate talks, when organizers requested that she address the hundreds of people walking through the city streets.

“I ended up […] being asked to be the last speaker, because I was a priest and I could deliver a message of hope,” she said. “So there I was, just a block down from the cathedral at a park, leading 700 people in prayer in the middle of Halifax.”

By playing a leading role in community efforts to protect the environment, Lucas-Jefferies said, Anglicans can help tear down perceived divisions between religion and science.

“I was able to stand at a fracking forum in front of 350 people with my black shirt and white collar on, and say, ‘Hold it, just a minute, that’s not the real definition of the precautionary principle.’ I’m hearing scientists at this meeting … say, ‘And Anglicans want scientific evidence!’ So we can break down some of those barriers.”

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Giving Our Thanks and Praise delivers renewed stewardship model for parishes

September 25, 2018 - 6:05pm

A new parish giving program is receiving positive reviews from early adopters in the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia.

Giving Our Thanks and Praise (GOTP) is a program designed for clergy and lay people to help promote stewardship within the Anglican Church of Canada. It provides tools – such as a program guide and a planning workbook – that lay out different models of effective stewardship in parishes.

The program also supports key development areas such as putting together a giving team; inspiring and motivating parishes and congregations; and thanking and expressing gratitude to those that give their time, talent and treasure.

Susan Graham Walker, the General Synod stewardship ministry associate in Resources for Mission, has seen successful adoption of the program at the diocesan level, and the GOTP program is available online.

In June 2018, Walker travelled to the Diocese of British Columbia to lead a series of workshops on GOTP. Over the course of a week, she spoke to 150 people representing 90 per cent of parishes in the diocese, distributing copies of the GOTP program to each parish.

“What I’ve been trying to do is to work through diocese by diocese to establish [a custom] strategy for implementing [the program],” Walker said.

This fall, Walker will facilitate an upcoming conference on GOTP with a group of congregations from the Diocese of Ottawa, and in October will be presenting on GOTP at the synod of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land. Parishes in the Diocese of Huron have also begun using the program.

Brian Evans is the stewardship leader at the Diocese of British Columbia, and notes that many parishes appreciate the simplicity of the program.

“I would say the feedback at this time [among] the people who have started to seriously look at the program [is that] it’s a very positive response, and people are saying this can work,” Evans said.

“I’ve worked in stewardship for 25, 30 years in the church,” he added. “A lot of the programs I found were so detail-oriented […] There are so many steps, so many hoops to jump through, that [many parishes] look at it and say, ‘Well, we haven’t got that kind of time,’ or ‘We haven’t got the kind of personnel to lead all these steps.’”

By contrast, Evans said, “You can adjust the [GOTP] program to fit the parish and to fit the capability of the parish. And that, I think, is so important … This program gives you lots of options so that you can make it fit the community.”

One of the parishes that has embraced GOTP is St. Peter and St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C. The parish began by hosting a dessert evening at which its executive team made a presentation on stewardship, with the rector and two wardens describing their own faith journeys and the work of the parish.

Treasurer Lynn Schumacher then provided financial facts and details that broke down the impact of good stewardship on the church. For example, she informed those in attendance that an increase in giving by as little as $2 per month among 50 parishioners could pay the cost of a particular utility for one month.

“I was quite encouraged that a quick, relatively effortless attempt using the professional materials made available to us through GOTP brought positive results,” Schumacher said of her parish’s use of the program.

She described being “revitalized” after attending the training workshop with Graham Walker, and that St. Peter and St. Paul’s would “definitely” be using GOTP more in the future.

“We know our givings have to improve, but we also accepted that we need to say thank you more than we have done in past,” Schumacher said. “The smiles and appreciation a few thank-you cards produced was amazing. Now we need to build on that.”

At the end of September, the Diocese of B.C. will hold its diocesan synod, where it will look into the possibility of a new capital program in conjunction with using GOTP as an annual stewardship program.

“If we use the [GOTP] program the way it’s designed, I think it will bring positive results not just in the sense of raising money, but in the sense of raising awareness of stewardship and the old phrase we used to use, a ‘whole-life stewardship’,” Evans said. “I think that it will encourage people and strengthen people in the life of the church and in the life of their community and their personal lives.”

Resources for Giving Our Thanks and Praise are available free online and can be used by any diocese or parish.

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Isaiah Larry Beardy consecrated as Indigenous Suffragan Bishop of Northern Manitoba

September 24, 2018 - 2:27pm

The following is a portion of a letter from:

Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, Metropolitan of the Rupert’s Land Province
The Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa, Bishop of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh
The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop and Acting Area Bishop of Northern Manitoba; and
The Rev. Norman Meade, Chair of the Elder’s Committee

“To our dear relatives of the churches and communities of Northern Manitoba and Northern Saskatchewan and to our friends, partners, and relatives across the Land,

“We are writing to let you know about some important events and decisions that will impact our Sacred Assembly in Sagkeeng, September 21-23, 2018. As many of you know, people from all of our Anglican churches and communities across Northern Manitoba and Northern Saskatchewan were invited to 1) nominate candidates for the position of Area Bishop for Northern Manitoba and Northern Saskatchewan and to 2) send delegations to the Sacred Assembly to elect and ordain the Bishop. As we outlined in our Proposal to our congregations and to the Provincial Synod, if there was only one nominee or if the Elder’s Group, which acts as a search committee, only pass on one nominee, the bishop would be elected by acclamation when the Sacred Assembly gathers.

“There has only been one nominee for the position: the Rev. Isaiah Larry Johnson Beardy of Tataskweyak Cree Nation. The Elder’s Committee has decided to forward his name for acclamation, which they will speak to at the Sacred Assembly.”

On Sunday September 23 at the Minopimatizowin Treatment Centre at Sagkeeng First Nation, Isaiah Larry Johnson Beardy was consecrated as the Indigenous Suffragan Bishop of Northern Manitoba Area Mission of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh and Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Brandon and Missinipi Northern Saskatchewan in the Diocese of Saskatchewan.

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Canadian Council of Churches adopts Principles of Peace calling them the ‘heart of ecumenism’

September 20, 2018 - 3:16pm

On May 23, 2018, the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) governing board adopted the Principles of Peace, a document of shared values and principles that places peace at the very centre of its members’ work. The Canadian Council of Churches is the broadest and most inclusive ecumenical body in the world, whose churches represent 85 per cent of Canadian Christians including the Anglican Church of Canada.

CCC General Secretary Peter Noteboom said that peace is “core to the identity” of the CCC. The CCC was formed in 1944 in the midst of the Second World War. In 1976, the council established Project Ploughshares, which Noteboom described as “Canada’s leading peace and disarmament organization”.

“The pursuit of peace has always been central to the work of the council and [our] own identity […] But we felt, especially in the changing times that we’re in, [that] we needed a set of principles that could ground our thinking on peace as being at the heart of ecumenism,” Noteboom said.

“There’s an old challenge,” he added, “about whether or not churches should support war, and under what conditions; whether a just war is even possible, and other churches that think ‘absolutely not, we’re peace churches and there’s no place for war.’ The space in between is about the importance of building peace that everyone agrees to.

“In terms of the Canadian church consensus on how to respond to violence, this [document] captures actually 10, 15, 20 years of work on that topic, of a shared sense and understanding of the church’s role in peacemaking.”

Representatives of member churches helped craft the statements on peace, later collected by a small team tasked to refine the main principles. The council’s Commission on Justice and Peace wrote the first draft.

A lengthy review process followed to ensure the document faithfully represented all members of the council.

“The way that we work here at the council is that we’re not some separate organization from our member churches,” Noteboom said. “We embody what the churches together feel and believe, and so these are also Anglican principles of peace.”

The final product is a comprehensive statement of principles that grounds peace in our relationship with God, and peacemaking as the vocation of all Christians.

As written in the gospels, Jesus called on his followers to seek peace in the world: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) That mission includes inner peace and tranquility, as well as outward political engagement aimed at establishing justice among people and societies.

The Very. Rev. Peter Wall, one of three Anglican representatives on the CCC governing board along with the Ven. Michael Thompson and Canon Mary Conliffe, praised the Principles of Peace as “fairly concise”, “easily digested”, and “a good guiding document” ideal for posting in church bulletins or as a reference tool.

“I think it’s pretty clear that part of what the identity of a Christian is is someone who seeks and works for peace,” Wall said.

“Now, peace is a fairly broad term: peace at home, peace in our hearts, peace in our lives, peace abroad, peace in the church. The values of peace as a foundational mark of the church—particularly the way that this document outlines it, both in terms of scriptural understanding of peace and in terms of the history of the faith—I think it’s pretty central to our church.”

“I would hope that our church, the Anglican Church of Canada, would subscribe to all of the statements that this document makes and can agree with them all. That doesn’t mean that everybody in the church would agree on how we make peace, on what kind of peace really establishes justice, [or] what kind of peace is the peace of vocation. But that it is foundational, I think, is pretty indisputable.”

The Rev. Canon Jeffrey Metcalfe, canon theologian for the Diocese of Quebec, served for two years on the Commission of Justice and Peace. During his time, the commission was actively discerning its priorities—a process that has ultimately led to the Principles of Peace.

Metcalfe described the document as an example of “receptive ecumenism”, in which Christians approach ecumenical dialogue by focusing on what they can learn from others.

“I think that it’s impossible to a meaningful conception of salvation without also having some notion of peace; that salvation is linked inextricably to peace. […] That’s a thing that brings and necessarily brings all of us together as churches,” Metcalfe said.

“It’s at the same time also a potentially divisive one, because I don’t think there’s a single church that would disagree with the statement that God is wanting to bring peace and justice. No Christian person, I think, would disagree with that. The disagreements arise when we actually start unpacking what we mean by those words. And that’s where different Christian traditions offer different lenses of interpretation.”

As a shared statement, Metcalfe said, the Principles of Peace recognize the gifts brought by different Canadian churches in thinking and acting about peace. The challenge now is for Christians to consider how they will live out these principles in practice.

“How are we going to ensure that these principles leave the paper and enter into our everyday lives? […] How do we take these documents and ensure that they don’t just gather dust on a shelf, that they actually in some way help support the work of peace?”

Download the Principles of Peace.

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Primate invites the whole church to listen to its heartbeat with Heartbeat of the Church

September 18, 2018 - 3:00pm

September 2018 marks the 125th anniversary of the General Synod, and to commemorate this milestone, Archbishop Fred Hiltz is inviting Anglicans across the country to form conversation circles, and talk about their relationship with God and the church.

The Primate’s initiative is called Heartbeat of the Church, and is slated to run for eight months.

“What I really wanted to do was to give folks an opportunity to talk about their faith and to talk about their church,” Primate Hiltz says.

“Heartbeat is designed so that part of the conversation people will have will be an opportunity to talk about what their faith means to them; a time in their life when they felt very close to God; a time in their life when prayer was especially important to them; and a time in their life when they really felt that they were on a kind of growing edge in terms of their faith and commitment.”

Conversation format

Each conversation circle consists of a group of four or five Anglicans, and may be held at any location.

After an opening prayer, each member of the circle is invited to answer a few questions about their experiences of prayer, encounters with God, and times in which they felt close to Jesus. One person then reads aloud the gospel passage, John 15:12-17. Members reflect on this scripture and answer these three questions:

  • Describe a time when our church made your heart glad;
  • Describe a time when our church made your heart ache; and
  • Describe a time when our church gave you hope.

The conversation circle concludes with members composing a heartfelt prayer for the church, praying together, and exchanging the Peace.

The format for Heartbeat of the Church emerged from discussions between the Primate and close colleagues. These included staff members of General Synod, as well as Dean Shane Parker, who is from the Diocese of Ottawa, and has been serving as the project coordinator for this initiative.

Over a number of meetings and conversations, the group steadily refined their approach to realizing the Primate’s vision.

“This was an exercise of hearing one another’s voices,” Dean Parker said. “It was not a strategic planning exercise; it wasn’t a program to be implemented. It was really an opportunity to create some space for people to reflect on what it means to be an Anglican, what it means to be in mission, what it means to be a people of prayer.”

“The main thing we wanted to do was to have people speak from their hearts,” he added. “We didn’t want this to be a head exercise. We wanted it to be a heart exercise.”

Pilot project experiences

From May 15-23, six pretest conversation circles met for a run-through of the Heartbeat format in Ottawa and Smiths Falls. The pretest included 27 participants between the ages of 15 and 87 with a roughly equal divide between men and women, representing a range of backgrounds including Indigenous and non-Indigenous, members of the LGBTQ community, and different levels of experience within the church.

Reactions from participants were universally positive, with only minor tweaks suggested in terms of style and format. The general consensus was that the conversation circle was an enjoyable experience and provided an ideal format for meaningful and thought-provoking discussion.

Maya McDonald, a recent University of Ottawa graduate currently serving as a cathedral council member at Christ Church Cathedral, participated in one of the Ottawa pretests. She appreciated the fruitful discussion on different social issues confronting the church, such as same-sex marriage and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

“I think it really renewed my spirit for the church,” McDonald, 25, said of her own conversation circle.

“We really had to talk through some of those more difficult issues and try to figure out, well, why is this not working for everyone? It really gave us hope for our own little piece of the church—but also hope that if it’s something that we can do at a table between four people, that we can do this with virtually anyone and bring the spirit of Anglicanism to others.”

“We can say that the doors of the church are open, and people will choose to or not choose to enter those doors,” she added. “But Heartbeat really makes it possible to have those conversations anywhere. Although we have that conversation within the church walls, I totally think it’s possible to have those conversations outside and really make it more [about] being Anglican, versus just performing and doing Anglicanism.”

Noel Platte from Julian of Norwich Anglican Church in Ottawa, a member of the Council of General Synod from 2013-2016, said that participating in the Heartbeat of the Church pilot project helped him “appreciate the discerning power of prayer”, relating past experiences to his own hopes and dreams for the church.

“My own prayer for the church was hopeful,” said Platte, 30. “While not blind to the challenges we will face, I feel like the church is well-poised to cultivate and empower Anglicans to be among the hands and feet of God in the world. I am inspired by the faithful lives of Anglicans across the land, and the difference each and every one of us is making.

“I am encouraged by the consistent outpouring of generosity and the loving service offered by our church to the wider world. I am excited to witness the movements toward an Indigenous Anglican Church. And I am appreciative of the servant leadership offered by our diocesan, provincial, and national governance structures. […] Grounding this heartfelt prayer in Scripture helped me to anchor myself to those first principles of my faith, and to hold fast to God’s love for me and the world.”

Speaking from the heart

Conversation circle guides for Heartbeat of the Church are available online for easy download and printing. Participants are also encouraged to upload their circle’s prayer online.

Results of the conversations will be presented at the 42nd General Synod in July 2019, in Vancouver B.C.

This upcoming General Synod will take place at a transitional period for the church as Archbishop Hiltz will be stepping down and the synod will be looking to elect a new Primate. The gathering will also mark the first phase of discussion on how the church will approach its strategic planning post-Vision 2019.

Though the nature of those experiences may vary, the Primate hopes that Anglicans will deeply and truthfully express their feelings about the church and its ministry.

“What I’m hoping is that people are going to speak from the heart … that we’re going to really get some heartfelt expressions of moments when [people thought], ‘Wow, I am really proud to be an Anglican’, or ‘I am just so frustrated with our church’, or ‘I am so heartbroken’, or ‘You know what? What I see happening on this particular front makes me feel really hopeful as an Anglican, and I want to belong to this church.’”

Read the Primate’s letter on the Heartbeat of the Church.

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The Heartbeat of the Church: A letter from the Primate

September 18, 2018 - 1:00pm

September 2018

Dear Friends in Christ,

This month marks the 125th anniversary of the formation of the General Synod of our beloved Church. It was a coming together of dioceses across Canada in the spirit of partnership in God’s mission in Christ.

In marking this milestone in our history, I am inviting our entire Church to listen to its heartbeat through conversation circles in parishes, deaneries and dioceses—in homes, church halls, outdoors, or even online!

We will be aided in our conversations by a “Conversation Circle Guide” that will help us reflect on our personal faith journeys, and invite us to share with one another moments when our Church makes our hearts glad, causes them to ache or gives them hope.

The Guide is grounded in the conversation Jesus had with the disciples in the Upper Room and his prayer to the Father on the eve of his Passion, Death and Resurrection, as told in the Gospel of John. I hope our conversations can be focussed on the very things of which he spoke – the disciples’ life in Him, their work in his name, and their trust in the coming of the Holy Spirit to strengthen, lead and guide them.

This time of sharing in conversation circles will lead us to consider our “heartfelt” prayers for the Church, and to share our prayers with our sisters and brothers across the country.

Our conversations will take place until May 7, 2019, the Feast of St John, Apostle and Evangelist, in anticipation of the meeting of the General Synod in Vancouver in July 2019. The Heartbeat of the Church website page will provide everything you need to set up a conversation circle and to share your prayers for the Church.

As you have opportunity, I encourage you to participate in a conversation circle, and to renew our call to be faithful and fruitful in our ministries and united in our resolve to be the Church in and for the world.

With the assurance of my prayers,

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate

This letter in PDF format

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Inuit cohort graduates from Arthur Turner Training School

August 28, 2018 - 1:30pm

The first new graduating class of the Arthur Turner Training School (ATTS) is ready to begin its ministry.

Since the Iqaluit-based school—located in the Diocese of the Arctic—reopened its doors in 2016, this class of ministers has been highly anticipated by both the diocese and their communities. This is partly because each of the new graduates is Inuit and bilingual, speaking Inuktitut as well as English. Bilingualism in both of these languages is highly advantageous for the graduates as they prepare for their ministry throughout the north.

“It’s a big deal, [for] a couple reasons,” ATTS director the Rev. Joseph Royal said of the new graduating class. “First of all, we just don’t have enough ministers in the diocese. There are parishes all over the north that want a minister and can’t get one.

“But also, all the graduates are Inuit. They’re bilingual. So they’re going to go to a community in the north, and unlike someone coming from the south, they don’t have to learn a new culture or language. They have that already.”

“Not only do we have new ministers,” he added. “We have really good ones who are trained well, but who also know the culture. It’s their culture and language.”

Ordination of the graduates. Submitted photo

The new graduates include Sarassie Arragutainaq, from the community of Sanikiluaq; the Rev. Annie Keenainak, from Pangnirtung; the Rev. Martha Kunuk, from Iqaluit; the Rev. Esau Tatatoapik, from Arctic Bay; and the Rev. Manasee Ulayuk, from Hall Beach. Arragutainaq received a Certificate in Bible and Theology, while each of the other four graduated with a Diploma in Arctic Ministry, offered jointly through ATTS and Trinity School for Ministry.

During their time at ATTS, each of the alumni learned through a combination of classroom study and practical parish ministry. Consistent throughout the program was a resolute focus on Christian discipleship.

Currently serving as a pastoral assistant at St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Ulayuk plans to move to northern Quebec for his placement and will be appointed to a community as soon as housing is available. Limited housing is a common issue throughout northern communities.

“I believe it was my call to come into this college and learn the biblical, to be part of the ministry,” Ulayuk said.

He described his time at ATTS as a positive experience, though not without its initial difficulties.

“The first year was really challenging for myself,” Ulayuk said. “I had to think twice as much, [in terms of both] my language/culture and the southern culture. So I had to try and balance that, [which] was one of the challenges.”

ATTS students and faculty hold up the Nunavut flag during a trip to Israel-Palestine in May and June 2018. Submitted photo

Besides Royal, who taught the core curriculum, course instructors included a number of individuals who traveled to the school from outside Iqaluit.

Among the latter were National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, retired Arctic bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk, and current Arctic bishop David Parsons; Prof. Wanda Malcolm of Wycliffe College, who taught a course on self-care and pastoral psychology; Associate Prof. Ian Henderson, who teaches New Testament Studies at McGill University; and the Rev. David Luckman, Ireland team leader for the international mission agency Crosslinks.

“I enjoy so much that I made a good relationship with the people coming from the south and also from the north to teach us,” Ulayuk said. “It was really helpful.”

Supplements to the core curriculum focused on community outreach, ministry to youth and children, pastoral psychology, counselling, and navigating various crises and emotional problems that may occur within communities.

All practical experience took place in St. Jude Cathedral or at a small Inuktitut-speaking church in a nearby community. The bulk of practical ministry experience was done in the Inuktitut language.

“The demands of the north for ministry are unique,” Royal said. “Communities are isolated, and compared to the south, they’re smaller. […] The northern context was always the focus in our curriculum.”

Classes for the next cohort are expected to begin in January.

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Understanding organizational structures in the church: Book offers resource for clergy and laity

August 23, 2018 - 5:49pm

First published in 2016, The Church as a Volunteer Organization: Common Sense Approaches to Creating Structure is a small book that has had a big effect on at least one influential reader.

The book was written by Mary L. (Bunny) Stewart, a life-promised oblate of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine and a former consultant in volunteer services and pastoral services for the Ontario Hospital Association. An early draft was used by Dr. Walter Deller of Trinity College for his classes on congregational administration, and has since become required reading for the course.

This year, The Church as a Volunteer Organization will see its third printing.

Though the title of the book may suggest a work that is primarily about volunteers, its author is quick to correct that misconception.

Volunteers and organizational structures are “really two sides of the same coin, but I want to make sure that both sides of the coin get recognized,” Stewart said. “You can’t talk about organizational structure without the people who make up that structure, and for the most part, the people who make up that structure are volunteers.

“But I don’t want to risk the book being thought about as ‘the care and feeding of volunteers’. It isn’t. It’s a book about organizational structure in the church and how important that is for the clergy, especially, to understand and know about, as well as laity in leadership positions.”

Among many metaphors and analogies used in the book to describe organizational structures, Stewart at one point compares disconnected or uncoordinated church structures to a jigsaw puzzle.

In order to “solve the puzzle”, she outlines four major steps:

  • Identify the pieces already in place;
  • Imagine what the picture looks like;
  • Determine the missing pieces; and
  • Complete the picture.

Stewart is wary of suggesting any “one-size-fits-all” model for effective church structures, due to the fact that individual parishes will face different situations. However, she highlights one approach to organizing as rooting the church’s activities in baptismal vows or in the Marks of Mission. For example, in relation to each baptismal vow outlined in the Book of Alternative Services, such as “Seeking and serving Christ in all persons; loving our neighbours as ourselves”, clergy and laity might ask themselves which committees, groups, activities, or positions currently exist to help carry out that vow.

Mary L. Stewart

Another major aspect of enhancing community that Stewart highlights is communication. Through discussion and study groups, regular newsletters, social events and projects, and websites, members of parishes and congregations can find opportunities to share their own views on church life and how their involvements contribute to spiritual journeys.

The challenges of volunteer administration and management are a broad area of study—one that Stewart believes does not receive sufficient attention in seminary training.

“The phrase I’ve come to use is it seems like clergy are being trained far more for Sunday mornings than they are for handling the rest of the week,” she said.

“My concern is for the clergy […] [W]ith so many demands [now] being made on churches, and especially on clergy, to do this and cover that and fill in this gap, it’s like sending them out to the wolves ill-prepared. […] If churches are wondering how they should be structured especially in this day and age, where I think churches are trying or being asked to do far more than what they are resourced to do, I think that they have to focus more on what it is they really can do without burning themselves out, especially the clergy.”

In his foreword to The Church as a Volunteer Organization, Deller describes the book as an engaging work rooted in long personal experience that invites readers to “think beyond the box of [their] assumptions”, while offering practical tools for supporting the life of church communities with volunteers.

After his own students at Trinity College had read the book, Deller writes, “They told me they wished they had had a simple straightforward handbook like this in congregations where they had held leadership positions, in non-profit organizations they had been part of, and in their own previous professional work. This book will continue to enrich the thinking of future generations of students and clergy.”

Copies of The Church as a Volunteer Organization cost $12. To order the book, contact:

The Hutch Publishing
1093 Kingston Road #803
Toronto, Ontario M1N 4E2

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Diocese of Huron hosts Ninth Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue

August 21, 2018 - 5:50pm

“Constancy” is defined as both the quality of being faithful and dependable, and of being unwavering and unchanging. After nearly a decade’s worth of meetings, all of these qualities have come to accurately summarize the annual Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue.

The ninth Consultation of Anglican Bishops took place from July 18-22 in London, Ontario at the Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre. Bishop Linda Nicholls and the Diocese of Huron hosted the gathering. As they have each year, the bishops released a testimony after the meeting laying out the content of their discussions.

This year’s document was entitled A Testimony of Constancy in Faith, Hope and Love. That focus on constancy reflected the spirit of perseverance that guided many of the bishops as they made their way to the gathering from across Africa, Canada, and the United States, often encountering many obstacles along the way.

“As the host, it was a good experience, but challenging, because there’s always logistical glitches that you hadn’t anticipated—people’s luggage that frankly never did arrive, and people missing flights and things like that,” Bishop Nicholls said.

“But the consultation itself, it’s the opportunity to sit down and talk with people whom you would never have that opportunity with otherwise—bishops and archbishops from all across the [worldwide Anglican] Communion that come together and sit down and talk over meals, talk over coffee breaks, and be part of the conversation.”

The consultations initially emerged out of dialogue at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. Since the first gathering in 2010, bishops have steadily grown in their understanding of each other and the culture and contexts that surround their respective ministries.

The testimony for the ninth consultation uses the metaphor of a tree to describe that growth of the consultations over time, beginning “as a seedling begins: first small, hidden, and unseen; then pushing through sometimes crusty soil to reach the light, establishing roots and a strong central direction.”

Bishop John Chapman of the Diocese of Ottawa has attended eight of the nine consultations. He described the annual gathering as “always the highlight of my year … I think collectively, we recognize the fact that we have been called by the Spirit to model reconciliation, mutual care, and shared faith in the life-giving spirit that fills our church.”

Much of the focus of this year’s consultation was in preparing for the Lambeth 2020 conference, where members of the dialogue will present some of the fruits of their experience together over the previous decade.

One of the major lessons is the importance of dialogue during times of tension. Much of the initial disagreement that led to the consultations after Lambeth 2008 lay in differing views over same-sex marriage.

Though differences still remain, the experience of meeting and talking with each other regularly has greatly affected how bishops from different parts of the Anglican Communion engage in that conversation.

Bishop Nicholls recalled being struck by the words of one African bishop who said that “the dialogue had helped him to see that there were gay and lesbian people in his community.”

“Our core purpose and our core as a church is around the gospel,” Bishop Nicholls said. “What we discover when we sit down and talk to one another is that we’re dealing with exactly the same kinds of issues in how we live the gospel. It’s just different in different contexts. And we’ve also been clear that we would be open and honest with one another about what our churches are doing and struggling with.”

Colonialism and reconciliation

A recurring theme in recent consultations has been collectively dealing with the history and legacy of colonialism that binds together Europe, Africa, and North America. During their meetings together, bishops have often visited sites on each other’s continents that have historical links to the slave trade—places where Africans were forcibly taken from their homelands, put aboard ships, and sailed across the ocean into slavery.

Bishop Paul Bayes, who will be hosting next year’s consultation in the Diocese of Liverpool in England and first began attending the dialogue at the invitation of the bishop of Virginia, said that the Diocese of Virginia, the Diocese of Liverpool, and the Diocese of Kumasi in Ghana “have a three-way relationship which replicates the old and dreadful slave triangle.”

“We call ours the Triangle of Hope,” he added. “Because we were in Ghana [during the seventh consultation in 2016], we were able to visit some of the so-called castles where slaves were kept before they were shipped across to the New World. It was just very special for me to be able to relate to those bishops in that context.”

This focus on colonialism has also helped Canadian bishops draw a connection to the ongoing work of the Anglican Church of Canada around reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. While meeting in the Diocese of Huron, the bishops acknowledged that the land on which they were gathered on is the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron (Neutral), and Wendat peoples.

In a theological reflection, the Rev. Canon Dr. Todd Townshend touched on the subject of reconciliation, which he described as a core “thesis statement” of the New Testament. He cited a representative passage from Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians:

…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against him, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:19)

The Rev. Rosalyn Elm, an Anglican priest from the Oneida Nation, spoke to the gathering about the impact of European colonialism on Canada’s Indigenous population. Using both words and images, she detailed stories of forced migration and the removal of Indigenous people from their land. But Elm also shared wisdom from the Dish With One Spoon treaty, an agreement originally made between the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee that binds all to shared stewardship of the land, and to reconciliation with each other, with creation, and with the Creator.

Lessons for the Anglican Communion

Attending the latest consultation left participants with a sense of hope and optimism for the Anglican Communion as they look ahead to Lambeth 2020.

Bishop Chapman said that the biggest lesson of the consultations is that “we can walk together in difference, and it works. And we have been doing that.”

“Unanimity of thought is not the goal of the church,” he added. “I think when we learn to walk together in difference, then we tend to listen to each other more acutely. We tend to be more generous in understanding diverse context and conditions.”

Bishop Bayes suggested that the experience of the Anglican Bishops in Dialogue offered an antidote to pessimistic views of the Anglican Communion that focus on disagreements rather than continuing shared values.

“The Consultation of Bishops gives exactly the opposite message,” he said. “It indicates that we’ve got a huge amount in common—that with the levels of respect and mutual learning that we’ve got together, the Anglican Communion really does have a future.”

Read A Testimony of Constancy in Faith, Hope and Love.

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General Synod now offers resource support to dioceses that need better websites

August 16, 2018 - 4:51pm

An informal lunch meeting during the Road to Warm Springs National Church Gathering in Pinawa, Manitoba, has paved the way for a web development partnership model between the General Synod’s Communications Department and Anglican dioceses across Canada.

Bishop Bruce Myers of Quebec was chatting with Meghan Kilty, Director of Communications and Information Resources for the Anglican Church of Canada, when the conversation turned to the unsatisfactory nature of his diocese’s official website.

The website needed an update—badly. In addition, most of its content was available only in English—a disservice to the francophone community that the diocese is rooted in.  However, the diocese’s limited resources made it difficult to implement the necessary changes.

“We’re a small diocese in terms of numbers and resources, and are always looking for a helping hand for projects like this,” Bishop Myers said.

Could the General Synod lend a hand?

According to Kilty, the General Synod’s Communications Department is ready to work with any diocese that needs support in improving its online presence.

“We developed a model in which we can help a diocese develop a website, and we can hand it off at the end of that development,” Kilty said. While the diocese “holds the keys” to its website, covering necessary costs and providing content, the General Synod can offer the time and expertise of its communications team to help develop the site, ensure optimal design and execution, and provide training for the diocese to update it effectively.

That model, she added, “is repeatable for any diocese that is seeking help to develop a site that is clean and modern—that’s mobile-friendly and meets all professional standards—up and running.”

Creation and development

Myers soon began working with the General Synod’s National Web Manager, Brian Bukowski, ushering in an exciting and new partnership between the General Synod’s Communications Team and Anglican Dioceses across Canada.

Bukowski worked closely with Bishop Myers on the design and structure of the new website. He also helped move content from the old website to the new one.  It was important for the new website to have a platform that could accommodate at least three languages: English, French, and Naskapi – the language spoken by Indigenous people in the region. In order to do this, Bukowski looked at a number of multilingual plugin platforms before suggesting Voog, a tool that can provide easy toggling between languages, while also being able to accommodate syllabic characters.

While the vendor provides the first level of web support to dioceses, the General Synod’s Communications team can provide a secondary level of support in the event that dioceses wish to add new sections to the website.

“It’s a site that is hosted with the vendor, versus one where [the diocese has] to own a posting space and put the application on and manage the databases and everything,” Bukowski said. “Someone else is handling all that—the company—and it’s developing the system.”

Enhanced web presence

Feedback on the new website has been overwhelmingly positive; in particular, over the new French content.

“There was a sense that finally, there’s an almost fully bilingual web presence for the Anglican Church in this part of Quebec,” Myers said.

“Even if the majority of Anglicans in the diocese we serve are Anglophone, all of our neighbours and the air we breathe and the waters in which we swim are French-speaking. If we’re going to have any kind of meaningful public face and relationship with the dominant culture in which we exist, it needs to be in French. That’s one of the huge steps forward with our diocese’s web presence thanks to this new website.”

Moving forward, Myers hopes to continue expanding the website, with all online content ultimately being available in English, French, and Naskapi.

“Having a website these days is as basic as having a phone number was … 20, 30 years ago,” Bishop Myers said.

“It’s as basic as having a sign outside your church. The first place people go looking for information about your church is the Internet. They’re going to hit a search engine and go looking for you. So we’re glad that when people go into a search engine and look for ‘Anglican Church Quebec’, hopefully the first hit they’re going to get is our Diocesan website.”

New partnerships emerge

Weeks before the new website for the Diocese of Quebec had gone live, news of this initiative was already spreading across other areas of the Church. Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh in Northern Manitoba and Ontario, reached out to Kilty and had begun consulting with Bukowski on how to develop a site for her ministry area.

Although approval is still pending for the new site, the website for the Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh will be very similar to that of the Diocese of Quebec. Both dioceses will take advantage of multilingual platforms—in this case, one for supporting content in both English and Oji-Cree.

“I think this is really an interesting model in the sense that we’re always here for [the diocese],” Bukowski said. “If they get into a pickle or if they can’t figure out something, or if they need to bring someone else on to do training, we’re here for them and we can get them off the ground.”

Dioceses interested in working with General Synod to develop or update a website are invited to contact Meghan Kilty at

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Day Four at Sacred Circle 2018: Keeping the covenant

August 13, 2018 - 4:51pm

On the morning of Friday, August 10, we pondered what it meant to be a disciple of Christ. By the end of the day we saw what it meant through the example of our fellow church members.

The Ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle opened with an opening Eucharist where Primate Fred Hiltz preached and looked back to the 25th anniversary of the acceptance of the apology by then-Primate Michael Peers. This Sacred Circle closed with a closing Eucharist and homily by the Primate that looked ahead to another milestone: the 25th anniversary of the 1994 covenant, which called for a new relationship between the Anglican Church of Canada and  Indigenous people across the church based on self-determination.

When reflecting on how far the church had come in advancing the goals laid out in the covenant, Archbishop Hiltz was frank about the opportunities that are alive, the obstacles that remain and the challenges that still face Indigenous communities. But he also detailed a substantial record of discipleship that has laid the foundation for a truly Indigenous expression of the Church, and helping us all grow into the church that God is calling us to be.

‘Take up your cross and follow me’

The impact that gospel-based discipleship has in creating disciples had become clear to me by the time I attended my final talking circle on the last full day of Sacred Circle.

Each day, the practice of reading a gospel passage three times with others, and posing the same three questions of the text, had brought the Bible to life in a way I had rarely experienced before. It was in many ways the opposite of a standard homily, where one preacher stands at the front of the room and expounds on the day’s gospel reading. The exchange with others in a talking circle—a format more reflective of Indigenous cultures—helped us continually uncover new meanings in the text, apply it to our own life experiences, and leave the circle with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.

In Friday’s reading from Matthew 16:24-28, Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” We all had our own interpretations. But among the recurrent themes was the need to focus on our spiritual health and not on material things. There emerged a renewed emphasis on the importance of perseverance, self-sacrifice, and faith through all the difficulties we encounter in life.

Partner moments and focus group recommendations

Reminding us of the importance of friends and fellow travellers in our spiritual journeys, after gospel-based discipleship the members of Sacred Circle heard partner reflections from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the United Church of Canada.

National Bishop Susan Johnson brought greetings on behalf of the ELCIC, and assurance of their prayers. Attending her third Sacred Circle, the National Bishop said that the gathering for her had come to feel like a family reunion.

Johnson expressed the support of Lutherans as their Anglican full communion partners continues the journey towards a self-determining Indigenous expression of the Church. Moved by the practice of gospel-based discipleship, she noted that she would be taking it back to her church, not just as a tool for deepening their own discipleship, but as a reminder of the ELCIC’s ongoing partnership with the Anglican Church of Canada and the two churches’ shared commitment to Indigenous self-determination.

Ray Jones, hereditary chief of the Fireweed/Grouse clan in Gitsegukla, B.C., offered greetings from the United Church of Canada. He detailed the history of Indigenous ministry in his church; his experiences in residential school, where all students had “three companions: hunger, loneliness, and fear”; and his journey back to Christianity. Ray Aldred, director of the Indigenous Studies program at the Vancouver School of Theology, presented to Sacred Circle and described the vision for his program: “We train Indigenous people for the Indigenous church in Indigenous communities.”

After these reflections, representatives from the focus/working groups earlier in the week came to offer summaries of their discussions and recommendations for action.

Youth and young adults lead a song following their joint presentation. Photo by Matt Gardner

A common thread connecting topics such as the opioid crisis, suicide prevention, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls was the continuing intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system, which often manifested itself in poverty and addictions. Speakers urged the church to help communities by building relationships with families who are struggling and being a voice for them.

The focus group on the marriage canon wondered might happen to a self-determining Indigenous church in the event that proposed changes to the marriage canon allowing for same-sex marriage are passed at General Synod 2019.

In relation to how they might move together in the event of a decision that will be hurtful to some parties, the presenters recalled a “profound statement” from their discussions: “How can you ask us how we can walk together after our people have already suffered great wounds, and yet here we are?” The presenters also pointed to the need to translate the marriage canon into Indigenous languages to help people make decisions based on understanding rather than fear.

The focus group on governance for self-determination set a long-term goal of looking for Sacred Circle to have a voice and vote at General Synod, while expressing a desire to move away from the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop being a “program manager”. They planned to recommend to the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) that Sacred Circle sponsor a national gathering of praise, worship, and spiritual renewal.

Young people speak out

Youth and young adult members of Sacred Circle were the next presenters. Each spoke to issues of importance to them that they hoped Sacred Circle would take up as priorities, and ultimately the wider Anglican Church of Canada. These included:

  • Learning more stories and traditional teachings from elders;
  • Adding more interactive events and workshops at Sacred Circle and in parishes to impart skills such as drum making, crafts, learning songs, and making food;
  • Creating safe LGBTQ2S+ spaces to make all youth feel welcome;
  • Continuing to open spaces in the church to encourage community engagement with all, but especially to draw in youth;
  • Meeting more with elders to learn from them and share respective experiences together, perhaps by having a rotating guest elder to speak and meet with youth;
  • Supporting those in prisons through an increased commitment to prison ministry and greater funding for chaplaincy, which has been heavily privatized in recent years; and
  • Hosting a youth gathering to focus on issues such as poverty, abuse, and healing, and to learn more about youth from all corners of Turtle Island.

Taking up their drums, presenters Danielle Black and the Rev. Leigh Kern led the other young members and Sacred Circle in singing “The Strong Woman Song” and the “Ancestors Song”, which they dedicated to Indigenous people who attended residential schools and those who have died in prisons. 

Sowing seeds and watering those already planted

The hymn that started the closing Eucharist, “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, included verses sung in six languages: English, Naskapi, Plains Cree, Oji-Cree, Inuktitut, and Moose Cree. Both the first and last verses were sung in English.

As a non-Indigenous person whose first language is English, I was used to the luxury of being able to sing, read, and pray in my own language. With the lyrics in Indigenous languages spelled out phonetically on the page, I attempted to sing along, but to my frustration found it difficult to pronounce the words. Did others share the same feeling? Our collective singing in the room became noticeably quieter, shakier, less confident when the verses were sung in Indigenous languages, before swelling again in volume during the last verse in English. In that moment, it seemed as if our hopes and actions could not always match the height of our ambitions, but clarified our deep yearning for a brighter future.

Fittingly, the Primate’s homily seemed to reflect these concerns. Archbishop Hiltz honoured the “holy men and holy women”, the “faithful disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ” who had signed the 1994 covenant—many of whom were still with us in that room in Prince George. He described the tears that had been shed on that momentous day: “Tears for the sad state of affairs of the people whom these leaders represented. Tears for the overwhelming poverty and despair in their communities. But tears, too, for the wonder and grace and power of God in that moment.” He evoked the spirit of hope and encouragement that swept through Indigenous Anglicans as they called their people into unity and a self-determining community within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Twenty years after signing the covenant, Indigenous leaders gathered again to discuss what had changed since then. They noted with sadness, the Primate said, that “the overwhelming poverty and despair that had prompted the covenant in first place had not lifted. In fact, it was feeling heavier.” Yet as more tears were shed, they continued to plant the seeds for what has been called a “church of living hope”.

Primate Fred Hiltz and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald commission new members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. Photo by Matt Gardner

Last year, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglicans gathered for the Road to Warm Springs in Pinawa, Manitoba. At that gathering, the Primate recalled, he and the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop had learned a great deal about “the spirit of partnership that the 1994 covenant continues to call us” to.

In relating the events of the past four days as Sacred Circle drew to a close, the Primate described that spirit of partnership infusing all the members and guests of Sacred Circle as they continued to walk together on the journey towards self-determination. He quoted the words of a prayer often attributed to the slain archbishop Oscar Romero:

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.

These words, Archbishop Hiltz said, captured what had been accomplished at the current Sacred Circle. “We are but labourers, watering seeds planted by others … looking together for growth that God alone can give, looking together for that day of reaping with its songs of joy.”

The Primate saw sowers in Indigenous Ministries Coordinator Ginny Doctor and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, who believed the best days of Indigenous ministries in the church were ahead of us. He saw them in ACIP; in the work of the Indigenous House of Bishops Leadership Circle; in the diocesan bishops; in the men and women who facilitate community programs, language revitalization, and suicide prevention. He saw it in the offices of the General Synod; in the work of the Anglican Healing Fund, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and the Anglican Foundation. And he saw it in the rising generation of young people who had laid out plans for a future with hope.


Later that evening, after the Eucharist had ended, members of Sacred Circle honoured individuals including Healing Fund Coordinator Esther Wesley; General Synod Archivist Nancy Hurn; Lisa Barry, Becky Boucher, and Scott Brown of Anglican Video; and Program Associate Teresa Mandricks, Secretariat of the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop.

The biggest tribute, however, came to Archbishop and Primate Fred Hiltz, who will be resigning as Primate at the end of next year’s meeting of General Synod in Vancouver. A special video included wishes of farewell from Sacred Circle members, many speaking in their traditional languages, while gifts were also bestowed upon the Primate.

Though Archbishop Hiltz was not the only staff member at Sacred Circle who faced impending retirement, he was emblematic of the crossroads that the church finds itself in as it prepares to pass the torch to new generations of leaders. Yet for all the bittersweet emotions in seeing the departure of beloved leaders of the church, the occasion was marked equally by that very hope for the future that the Primate had described in his homily.

The next morning, the Sacred Fire was extinguished. The members of Sacred Circle departed for home. But the fire in our hearts would continue to burn, as we sought to share with others the same warmth and light it had brought us during our time together in Prince George, B.C.

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Day Three at Sacred Circle 2018: New representation, new voices

August 10, 2018 - 7:11pm

The morning of Thursday, Aug. 9 began with another round of gospel-based discipleship, a practice I have come to appreciate more and more at the Ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle. In plenary the previous day, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald described the growing spiritual support that GBD has come to provide many Indigenous communities, inviting people to let Jesus into their lives by going straight to the source.

In the view of one member in my talking circle, today’s gospel reading from Matthew 16:13-23 spoke to the faith journey of each person. When Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” they say others have suggested John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or other prophets. Jesus’ response redirects the focus to each disciple’s own thoughts and experiences: “But who do you say that I am?”

For modern disciples of Jesus, one’s personal faith journey can lead to surprising places as we strive to discern what God is telling us. Such was the case for a number of delegates at Sacred Circle who, over the course of a day, unexpectedly found themselves elected to serve as new members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP).

Latest ACIP roster includes enhanced Inuit presence

With this year’s Sacred Circle marking the second elections to ACIP under Canon XXII, Bishop MacDonald acknowledged one major deficiency the last time around in the lack of any Inuit representation.

This time, that flaw would be remedied. Declaring that “Inuit representation is absolutely essential for us,” the bishop said the current elections included three slots for Inuit representation, prompting enthusiastic applause from delegates.

One of those Inuit representatives who would be elected to ACIP was Martha Kunuk. A resident of Iqualuit, Nunavut in the Diocese of the Arctic, Kunuk is a mother and grandmother whose first language is Inuktitut.

Delegates from the Diocese of the Arctic confer during the Provincial Caucus to elect ACIP representatives for Rupert’s Land. Photo by Matt Gardner

“I think our part of the Arctic needs new representation,” Kunuk said. “I woke up this morning not knowing that I would take on a new position. But when the nominations started taking place … When God steps in, you no longer control your feet, where you’re going … You no longer have your own voice, and your heart is no longer yours when God takes over. That is where I believe I stand. This is [what], I believe, God also wants me to take part in.”

“ACIP also needs representation from the Inuit, and God answered our prayers,” she added. “God is in control, so he will further guide us into this.”

Besides the new Inuit members on the council, the revamped membership of ACIP also included representatives from the younger generation of Indigenous Anglicans.

Sheba McKay, 33, is the new representative the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. Hailing from the northern Ontario community of Kingfisher Lake, she is Oji-Cree.

Like Kunuk, McKay was not expecting to run for ACIP when she woke up that morning. But when the time for nominations came around, she decided to give it a try by “just letting God work”.

As a new member of the council, McKay said, “I feel like I have big shoes to fill. That’s how I feel right now. But my hope is that we will carry on the work of ACIP, and that will continue to get to where we want to go in our life in the church.”

Primate’s Commission and Vision Keepers

Earlier in the day, we heard updates from General Synod staff members and representatives of other church bodies advancing reconciliation on various fronts.

Archivist Nancy Hurn gave a presentation on how to search online through church archives for material related to the residential school system. In recognition of her services towards reconciliation and her upcoming retirement, Hurn was honoured with a friendship blanket and received a standing ovation from members of Sacred Circle.

General Synod Web Manager Brian Bukowski guided Sacred Circle members through components related to Indigenous Ministries on the Anglican Church of Canada website. He also gave them a preview of a new bilingual website in the works for the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh. The display of the proposed Mishamikoweesh website with text in Oji-Cree led to another round of applause.

The Rev. Canon Andrew Wesley and the Rt. Rev. Riscylla Shaw offered an update on behalf of the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice. Detailing its work since the last Sacred Circle in 2015, they highlighted:

  • The General Synod’s hiring of Melanie Delva as the church’s national reconciliation animator;
  • Meetings with Delva and the Vision Keepers Council to coordinate work together; and
  • Collaboration with General Synod communications to produce a video on the Doctrine of Discovery, which they presented to members of Sacred Circle.

They also shared the latest work of the formation of a Jubilee Commission which was affirmed by the Council of General Synod in June 2018. This Commission would propose a funding base for a self-determining Indigenous church and address inequalities such as the rates of stipendiary ministry and the concentration of the church’s wealth and resources.

L-R: Aaron Sault, Leigh Kern, and Danielle Black report on the work of the Vision Keepers Council. Photo by Matt Gardner

Updates on the work of the Vision Keepers Council, were also provided from members Laverne Jacobs, Judith Moses, Leigh Kern, Danielle Black, and Aaron Sault. Currently focused on monitoring and supporting the Anglican Church of Canada in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Vision Keepers have suggested a range of tools to help realize UNDRIP throughout the wider church.

To implement the UN document, they said, the church would require tools such as:

  • Information sheets to help non-Indigenous communities build meaningful relationships across cultures and become knowledgeable about traditional Indigenous territories and treaties;
  • Mandatory anti-racism and cultural sensitivity training;
  • Plans for every diocese on how their churches would respond to the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and
  • The larger goal of Indigenous governance for a self-determining Indigenous church.

Maori perspectives

At the end of the day, Thursday’s agenda brought to Sacred Circle representatives from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, one of three tikanga or groups alongside New Zealand and Polynesia that collectively serve as a province of the Anglican Communion.

Members of Sacred Circle join in singing a Maori song during the evening partner reflection. Photo by Matt Gardner

Bishop Richard Wallace, Archdeacon Mere Wallace, and Bishop TeKitohi Wiremu Pikaahu shared songs, language, and the history of their own Maori people. Recognition of faith through different cultural expressions is officially enshrined in the church in this region, to the point where its leadership is based on three primates who share authority equally, each representing a different tikanga.

Mere Wallace said that the church constitution in their province includes provision to allow their people to express their vote as Maori—reflecting their traditional culture, values, and language, organizing ourselves as they deem appropriate, and participating as equal partners.

“Our cultural practices, our expression of our faith through our language and through song, through stories and how we worship, reflect our own Indigeneity,” the archdeacon said.

Sacred Circle continues until Friday, August 10.

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Day Two at Sacred Circle 2018: ‘Jesus is our liberator’

August 9, 2018 - 7:19pm

As the Ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle entered its second full day, the universal nature of Jesus’s message, and its connection to global struggles for justice encompassing those of Indigenous Peoples in Canada surrounded our day.

The gospel-based discipleship reading for the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 8 was Matthew 15:21-28, the faith of a Canaanite woman.

In this passage, Jesus encounters the woman in the district of Tyre and Sidon who begs him to help her daughter, who is tormented by a demon. The disciples urge Jesus to “send her away, for she keeps shouting at us.” After initially answering that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the children of Israel,” Jesus comes to recognize the woman’s faith, and her daughter is healed instantly.

As the listener and note-taker within our talking circle, I listened to members of my group read and reflect upon the passage. Some common themes emerged in the group’s interpretations. One was the need for persistence in prayer and in asking for things. Another was the importance of helping those who require it. And a third was that through Jesus, all are the children of God, regardless of background or ethnicity, and all may come to the table. Christ helped the woman even though she was a Canaanite and not a Jew. As one group member observed, “Jesus came not only for Jews, not only for white people, but also for all of us. He can help us all if we pray to him.” And Jesus calls us to listen to each other.

Back in plenary, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald expanded on the concept of discipleship, and how centering discipleship on the gospels and on “allowing Jesus into our lives” had facilitated a sustained pastoral presence in Indigenous communities.

Ongoing work by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) was the subject of a presentation by executive director Will Postma and board member Judith Moses, the latter a representative of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP). They discussed current initiatives such as the clean water project in Pikangikum, Ont., youth and economic development through the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation in Port Alberni, B.C., and Indigenous midwifery in Canada, Peru, and Mexico.

The PWRDF representatives also asked for feedback and guidance from ACIP and Sacred Circle on future program design. Sacred Circle members brought up many of the issues affecting northern Indigenous communities, such as a severe lack of housing and the need to fund community gardens to address high food prices. A bishop raised the possibility of an “Indigenous PWRDF” that would specifically look after the needs of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. As a separately incorporated entity, it wasn’t clear what the relationship would be with national Indigenous ministries.

Resource extraction and climate change

After lunch and before we broke into our focus/working groups, I went out for a brief stroll to enjoy some sunshine and explore the University of Northern British Columbia campus. The sky was hazy and I detected the smell of smoke in the air.

Hazy skies overlook the David Douglas Botanical Garden at UNBC as the air quality warning takes effect. Photo by Matt Gardner

Upon returning to the Conference Centre for the afternoon, I was informed along with the rest of Sacred Circle that Prince George was officially under an air quality advisory due to wildfire smoke. Later that afternoon, the advisory was upgraded to a warning. We were instructed to stay inside, particularly those of us with respiratory issues or pre-existing health conditions.

The afternoon session provided some choice and we selected a topic that we were passionate about. Each of the groups addressed an issue of concern to Indigenous communities: the opioid crisis, governance for self-determination, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, changes to the marriage canon, suicide prevention, and PWRDF. For me, the air quality warning solidified my original choice: climate change and resource extraction.

The summer of 2018 has been dominated by record-breaking heat waves around the world, amidst a variety of other extreme weather events. Having travelled to Sacred Circle from Toronto, I learned that the city had experienced flooding the previous night after receiving a month’s rainfall in less than three hours. Meanwhile, the wildfires ravaging British Columbia had been exacerbated by hot, dry conditions.

In our working group on resource extraction and climate change, members emotionally detailed the destructive impact of climate change on their traditional way of life.

Lorraine Netro, a delegate from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon, has spent 20 years fighting for protection of the land in the north, and noted that things are only getting worse. She pointed to a provision in the recent tax bill passed by U.S. President Donald Trump that opens up the Arctic national wildlife refuge for oil and gas drilling.

Having fought for so many years to protect her land, she expressed exasperation with the lack of response from those in authority and from constantly having to explain the same issues.

“We’re fighting for our life,” Netro said. “Always, it’s life-threatening. How much more serious is it going to get? A good example is to look at what we’re dealing with today—the quality of air. We can’t go outside. […] Everything that we do is related to our land and our waters and our animals.”

Climate change, she noted, is exacerbating food insecurity for northern communities. Hunters and trappers who used to read the ice and snow now find it dangerous for them to go out. Traditional weather knowledge is faltering in the face of unprecedented changes in seasonal temperatures and weather patterns.

Discussion of the resource extraction and climate change working group. Photo by Matt Gardner

“When we’re talking about climate change, it impacts every aspect of our life, even our spirituality,” Netro said. “It breaks down everything. We have our own way of being in our own communities.”

Her own grandson, “who should be learning about hunting and trapping and fishing”, has never been to a fishing camp because there are no more salmon in his area.

Ingrid Johnson, a member of the Teslin Tlingit Council in Yukon, lives in the same area. Besides salmon, the main staple food there has traditionally been moose. This year, the council made a voluntary decision to shut down all moose hunting due to the low numbers.

“I worry because in our town this year, we usually have snow in late October, November, and then gradual cooling until the cold winter; we have spring coming in the end of April,” Johnson said.

“This year … I was standing at my window just desperate because snow was melting in front of my eyes in December. I was so scared … Our temperature in Yukon north of 60 has risen two degrees. This is supposed to be a tipping point for the world, but it’s happening north of 60 now … It is absolutely immoral that governments don’t pay attention to this.”

Tentatively volunteering my own opinion, I suggested that the elephant in the room was capitalism and its incentive to maximize profits at all costs. That need to prioritize short-term profits over the long-term well-being of future generations prevents governments and businesses from adequately responding to climate change, or quickly transitioning away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable forms of energy.

In the face of such obstacles, our group suggested that the only recourses were education, building a broad-based movement, taking part in acts of civil disobedience—which Indigenous groups in B.C. and Anglicans such as the Rev. Emilie Smith were already engaged in to stop construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline—and political stances in favour of measures such as the expropriation and nationalization of energy companies under workers’ ownership and control.

Social justice central to evangelism

The evening session saw two partner reflections from the Rev. Malcolm Chun, of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, and the Rev. Dr. Brad Hauff, Missioner for Indigenous Ministries in The Episcopal Church. Leading Sacred Circle in singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, Chun laid out what he described as “God’s vision of globalization” in bringing distant peoples closer together.

Hauff focused on current conditions facing Indigenous ministry in the United States through The Episcopal Church. He was blunt in his assessment of the challenges posed by the Trump presidency.

“In the past, Indigenous people have not had the best relationships with presidents of the United States because of our history and the tension that’s been there—the treaty violations, the war and the genocide,” Hauff said. “Some presidents are better than others. But currently we are faced with the reality as we see it that we have an adversary in the Oval Office.”

“Our national parks are being whittled away, sacrificed for private development and abuse of resources, and we ask ourselves, what’s next?” he added. “There are some who even have nightmares about the possibility of tribes having their status revoked and having their lands being taken away completely. A few years ago, I would have said that’s unthinkable … but in the United States now we find the unthinkable is happening.”

While asking for prayers and support, Hauff also noted a number of positive developments for Indigenous ministry in the United States. At its General Convention last summer in Austin, Texas, The Episcopal Church created a new full-time permanent position of Indigenous Theological Education Coordinator—a “huge” development that would help Indigenous people reclaim their own theological narrative.

The Rev. Dr. Brad Hauff offers a partner reflection from the United States. Photo by Matt Gardner

Another resolution that passed made teaching about the Doctrine of Discovery mandatory for all those who undergo the ordination process in The Episcopal Church. Hauff expressed his gratitude to the work of Bishop MacDonald for bringing the Doctrine of Discovery to the attention of the wider church.

Discussing the topic of evangelism, he described social justice as central to Indigenous conceptions of the term.

“When the first missionaries came to this continent to ‘evangelize’ Indigenous people, they weren’t bringing us anything that we didn’t already know. […] If evangelism is going to be done in an Indigenous context, it must have a social justice aspect to it,” Hauff said. “It must be about righting the wrongs of the past, many of which the church created and perpetrated.”

He described “authentic Christianity” as “loving, liberating, and life-giving”. Liberation serves as a release from myriad forms of oppression, whether that is being oppressed through addictions, self-hatred, low self-esteem, racism, or any other issue.

‘Jesus is our liberator,” Hauff said. “The early missionaries when they came here were not liberation-minded. They were oppression-minded, and that has to change.

“That is changing in the church … We will make a change.”

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Day One at Sacred Circle 2018: Being the church God is calling us to be

August 8, 2018 - 7:22pm

In order to pass the torch, one must first light the fire.

The Ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle began, as had many of its predecessors, with the lighting of the Sacred Fire. As the sun dawned over the University of North British Columbia campus in Prince George, B.C., delegates gathered in the cool morning air to witness the symbolic opening of their meeting, embodied in the flame that served as a reminder of the presence of God—and of the mission that brought them there.

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald speaks during the lighting of the Sacred Fire. Photo by Matt Gardner

The dream of a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada is closer than ever to becoming a reality. With the Sacred Fire burning bright and the sounds of songs and drums inspiring those gathered, a procession of delegates, partners, bishops, and youth moved from the fire outside into the university Conference Centre, where the work of realizing the vision of the elders continues.

In his sermon at the opening Eucharist, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, recalled a significant anniversary. On that very day 25 years earlier, Vi Smith, “a great Indigenous woman who was a faithful follower of Jesus”, stood up at the closing Eucharist of the National Native Convocation and accepted the apology of then-Primate Michael Peers for the church’s role in administering the residential school system.

As I listened to Archbishop Hiltz recite words from the apology detailing the horrors of the residential schools, I experienced a familiar surge of emotion. Three years ago, in my capacity as web writer for the Anglican Church of Canada, I attended the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Ottawa, Ont., where I spoke to residential school survivors and was moved to tears by their stories. The accounts of children torn from their families, subjected to rampant physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and the attempted destruction of their language and culture, reflect unspeakable trauma, but also the strength and resilience of survivors.

Now, invoking the gospel and his predecessor’s words from the apology, “more than I can say”, Archbishop Hiltz suggested a new phrase underscoring the continuing relevance of Archbishop Peers’ apology in 2018: “more than ever”.

“More than ever,” the Primate said, “let us persevere in showing that the church’s apology remains a living text. […] Let us be unwavering in our resolve to spot and stomp racism in the church, and in this country […] to strive for right relationships among the children of God from all four directions […] More than ever, let us remain committed to paths of healing and reconciliation upon which the apology set our feet.”

Archbishop and Primate Fred Hiltz delivers the homily at the opening Eucharist. Photo by Matt Gardner

The Primate urged Anglicans to be determined in their efforts to educate the church about the lingering impact of the Doctrine of Discovery, to honour the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to make good on our church’s public pledge to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He gave thanks and prayed for continued support to the Anglican Healing Fund. He asked members of the church to turn their hearts and minds to the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and to rid Canada of the crime of human trafficking.

Yet even as the Primate drew attention to these issues, he grounded them and the larger journey towards Indigenous self-determination in that day’s Bible readings, making clear their inseparability from the life and teachings of Jesus.

“More than ever, may we be as those of whom [Jesus] says, ‘Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the ones who show mercy, and blessed are the ones who hunger and thirst after right relationships with God and one another. […] More than ever, let us be obedient to the call of the father, ‘This is my beloved son, listen to him.’”

Equipping a new generation of leaders

Reports from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and Indigenous Ministries that followed lunch were full of updates detailing new developments, such as the hiring of two part-time youth workers and two full-time suicide prevention workers.

Suicide prevention had made major strides with the release of the video and booklet Suicide in Our Land. Meanwhile, various translation projects, such as the translation of the 2015 Sacred Circle video into Oji-Cree, reiterated the high priority of the revitalization of Indigenous languages.

However, one of the recurring themes during this segment of the day’s agenda was the impending retirement of some key staff members. In the midst of her own report, Indigenous Ministries Coordinator Ginny Doctor indicated that she would transition to part-time as of Sept. 1, after which plans would begin to find her replacement.

Declaring that it was “time to pass it on,” Doctor pointed to the need to pass the torch of leadership. “We have young people here, and we have to equip them to do this ministry,” she said. However, she intended to continue supporting the work of ACIP and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald: “I’m going to stick around, because I believe that we can be self-determining, and I want to be a part of that.”

As he prepared to share a document on self-determination with Sacred Circle members, Bishop MacDonald recounted some of the successes that early Indigenous ministers such as Henry Budd accomplished in the 1800s in baptizing thousands of Indigenous people, before his efforts were quashed by the church sending in ministers from England who did not understand the needs of Indigenous communities.

Representing one bridge from the past of Indigenous Anglicans to the future, Bishop MacDonald described himself as “a transitional National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, meaning I am going from whatever the old system was to the new system we’re giving birth to.” Looking ahead to a self-determining Indigenous church, he said, “I believe the best days of Indigenous ministries are ahead of us.”

‘Becoming what God intends us to be’

In the late afternoon, Sacred Circle received a draft version of the document An Indigenous Spiritual Movement: Becoming What God Intends Us to Be, which laid out the goals of self-determination, its meaning and guiding principles. Delegates and bishops separated into breakout groups.

Taking notes for one of the breakout groups, I listened to delegates discuss their thoughts about the document. Overall reception was positive, but there was a concern about some vestiges of colonial language, which to the untrained eye might have seemed so subtle as to have gone unnoticed.

For example, one passage read that “The full humanity of Indigenous Peoples cannot be respected, inside or outside of the Church, unless the full authority of their right to exist as self-determining peoples is affirmed.” A delegate raised the question: Affirmed by who? “As long as colonial language is there,” she said, “we’re not going anywhere.”’

Others in my group raised concerns about continuing resistance to self-determination within the institutional levels of the church, such as bishops who were worried about how it might affect the existing division of authority among ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses. Similarly, allocation of funding might be complicated by new jurisdictions.

A consensus among my group was that bridging the gap with those who were skeptical of self-determination was a major goal. They noted that familiarity with the conditions faced by Indigenous people on reserves can breed understanding, which in turn can generate a desire to help.

Sacred Circle members pray together at the opening Eucharist. Photo by Matt Gardner

They highlighted the need to emphasize our common humanity as described in the Bible, in which all are created with equal worth by God. And they pointed out that the current conversation was happening in large part because of the growing strength through unity of Indigenous Peoples and the recognition of their rights to exist in their own way with their own language and culture, including by external organizations such as the United Nations.

Though I took notes, listening intently and quietly, one passage above all in the document stood out to me: “We believe that Self-determination has the potential to deepen the unity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Christians”. In context of the church’s historic responsibility for colonial policies, the residential school system, and the resulting intergenerational trauma, these words clarified that the right to self-determination is essential for any long-term rebuilding of trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglicans.

While expressing some concerns in their own discussion, another group I listened to also indicated their desire to support the document on the basis that it would benefit the church as a whole. “The Indigenous church will be the church that God is calling us to be,” said one bishop participant, “but will also help the whole of the Anglican Church of Canada be the church that God is calling us to be.”

The spirituality of self-determination

The final item in the day’s agenda was a presentation by Dr. Martin Brokenleg, The Spirituality of Self-Determination. Retelling a creation myth of the Lakota, Dr. Brokenleg said that moving into an Indigenous Anglican church would be “as big a challenge as coming into this world was for the Lakota”.

Drawing upon his experience as a psychologist, he noted that pushback or resistance can be a natural reaction to change even when the change is desired. When Moses was leading children of Israel out of Egypt to freedom into their own country—to use a biblical example—the hardships of the journey caused some of the Israelites to complain that they wanted to go back, even if it was to slavery.

History has given each Indigenous person some level of trauma related to the colonial past and its continuing intergenerational effects today, Dr. Brokenleg said. But, he added, an Indigenous Anglican church cannot be based on emotions of trauma. Rather, Indigenous people can heal their emotional selves by relating to one another with the love and respect God gave to their ancestors.

“An Indigenous Anglican church uses its strength as a community to love Indigenous peoples enough to begin to heal their trauma … We use our ceremony of holy communion to nourish spiritually our new relatives and ourselves,” he said. “All of these ceremonies teach us how much we are loved by God, and how we can then love others.”

Despite all the attempts to eradicate their cultures, Dr. Brokenleg said, Indigenous people are still here. In choosing these words, he echoed the language of the youth group from the previous session, who in the summary of their own discussion noted, “We are a strong people. We were self-determined. It’s been thousands of years, and we’re still here!”

The richness and resilience of Indigenous cultures can provide unique gifts to the church. Dr. Brokenleg painted a vibrant picture of a future Anglican Church of Canada that has found its true foundation and is made stronger and more colourful, with good music and beautiful clothes in its celebrations.

Even beyond the church, he said, Canadian culture as a whole has become “less and less religious and more embarrassed about spiritual matters … An Indigenous Anglican church can help Canadian culture recover its spiritual side.” By looking to their ancestors and to Jesus, self-determining Indigenous people could share many blessings with all.

A lengthy and enthusiastic applause followed Dr. Brokenleg’s presentation. Closing the day’s session before the evening gospel jam, Bishop MacDonald noted that Doctor had joked to him, “How do you follow that?”

In the days to come, the members of Sacred Circle would seek to answer that question.

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‘This is a spiritual movement’: Discipleship and self-determination drive upcoming Sacred Circle

July 27, 2018 - 4:19pm

On Aug. 6-11, the Ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle will take place at the University of Northern British Columbia campus in Prince George, B.C.

The latest gathering of the national decision-making body of Indigenous Anglicans will mark another step forward in the journey towards a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada. The theme of the event, Making and Strengthening Disciples: Reborn by Water and Spirit, reflects the key role of discipleship in achieving this long-cherished vision, guided by baptism in water and the Holy Spirit.

“The theme was chosen to mark our progress towards a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church,” co-chair Caroline Chum said. “We are all disciples, and we all need to be strong and reborn in water and spirit. This is a spiritual movement.”

The focus on discipleship developed in the course of the February meeting of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and subsequent discussions among the planning team, but received a significant boost in March when National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald attended the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania.

The conference included a heavy emphasis on transforming discipleship, which Bishop MacDonald connected to the agenda for the upcoming Sacred Circle—in particular its work to advance self-determination.

“Over time, Indigenous people have experienced calls for them to be members of an institutional church, and it is very critical, I think, to the health and well-being of our churches, and also critical for self-determination, that we begin to develop discipleship,” Bishop MacDonald said.

“We often refer to it as gospel-based discipleship, contrasting that to institutional-based membership … We see this as a critical factor in the well-being of individual Indigenous people and their families, but also the foundation and cornerstone of our leadership development.”

Meeting details and agenda

This year’s gathering marks the first time that a Sacred Circle has taken place in British Columbia. Until this year, Lethbridge, Alta., host of the third Sacred Circle in 1997, was the furthest west the event had been held

Though ACIP had decided on 92 delegates at its February meeting, Indigenous Ministries coordinator Ginny Doctor said that the number of delegates was “way over 92 now … We have a full house.” Most of the proceedings will be in English, but tools will be available for any delegate who requires translation.

With self-determination being one of the main agenda items, Doctor said that a key priority would be “getting everyone onboard and making sure people understand what that means for us as an Indigenous church,” as well as developing a constitution for the Indigenous church.

“Lots of people still think [self-determination] means separation, but it doesn’t,” Doctor said. “I think it’s going to be a much stronger partnership with the Anglican Church than what we’ve had in the past.

“If you go way back, our Indigenous people were always looked upon as being like children and had to be taken care of. But now what we’re really saying is we can take care of our own, we can take care of our ministry, just let us do it and give us the opportunity. And there are some people who are afraid of that. But we’ll see what happens.”

Urgent items for discussion at Sacred Circle include proposed changes to Canon XXI on marriage and Canon XXII on Indigenous ministry, to be moved forward for General Synod 2019.

A range of other issues will be addressed through several focus groups, based on topics that have frequently come under discussion in the last one or two years. For example, one focus group, originally planned to concentrate on the opioid crisis, has been expanded to include all forms of substance abuse.

Delegates will be able to self-select which focus groups they wish to attend. Each focus group is a “real working group”, Doctor said, and will be expected to come out with proposed actions for ACIP, the General Synod, or the office of the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop.

New this year: Livestreaming

Anglicans who wish to follow proceedings at Sacred Circle may view the event through livestreaming video on the Anglican Church of Canada website and Facebook page. In addition, comprehensive coverage will be provided through daily reports on and the Anglican Journal.

Above all, members of the church are encouraged to pray for delegates as they attempt to discern the movement of the Spirit at what the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop said would be a “very consequential meeting.”

“We certainly hope people will pray for us … There will be a lot of consequences of this,” Bishop MacDonald said. “We pray for God’s guidance and wisdom in moving ahead.

“We are constantly aware of the challenges in our communities, both those on reserve and also urban areas as well. And we hope to see this emphasis on discipleship make a positive contribution to the health and well-being of the larger communities that we’re a part of.”

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Mary Magdalene: Witness of the resurrection

July 23, 2018 - 5:32pm

July 22 traditionally marks the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, observed by Anglicans as well as Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches.

In 2018, Mary’s feast day falls on Monday, July 23. The date transfer reflects the custom that feasts celebrating saints cannot take the place of a Sunday liturgy, unless that saint is the patron of a parish or one of the apostles of Jesus. Yet in the case of Mary Magdalene, that distinction is a subject of growing debate.

At a time when the role of women in the church has never been more prominent, changing views of the unique witness and discipleship of Mary Magdalene—her close relationship with Jesus, her financial support for his ministry with the apostles, and her witness of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection—mirror the change in perceptions of women within the church and in society as a whole.

Different perspectives: Eastern and Western Christian traditions

The Rev. Canon Dr. Lizette Larson-Miller, Huron-Lawson chair of moral and pastoral theology at Huron University College, said that views of Mary Magdalene have historically diverged between the Western and Eastern Christian traditions. She pointed to words from the Anglican collect for Mary’s feast day:

Almighty God,
whose Son restored Mary Magdalene
to health of mind and body
and called her to be a witness of his resurrection,
forgive us and heal us by your grace […]

“It’s interesting that the focus is still on healing and sin, rather than what you would find in Eastern Christianity,” Larson-Miller said. The latter tradition, she noted, has “three names for her: apostle to the apostles, equal to the apostles, and a myrrh-bearer, which is actually an important classification.”

In contrast to these prestigious titles, Western Christian views starting in the fifth century A.D. suffered from confusion over different Marys in the New Testament, in which Mary Magdalene was conflated with other women such as a prostitute and a “sinful woman”.

Reflecting on how these views shaped perceptions of Mary in the Western Christian tradition, Suzanne Rumsey—public engagement program coordinator for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and a master’s of theology student at Trinity College—drew a comparison with traditional portrayals of the Virgin Mary.

In each case, Rumsey suggested, each woman was largely reduced to a stereotype. Where Mary, the mother of Jesus, was portrayed in the patriarchal church tradition as “the perfect virgin”, Mary Magdalene was viewed as “the reformed prostitute, the fallen woman who Jesus saves.”

She added, “I think what has been happening, but I think needs to happen more still, is saying to ourselves: how do we go beyond the stereotypes?”

A shift in understanding

The rise of second-wave feminism led to a sea change in views of women and their role in society. Among Christians, the most visible expression of this change was the growing conversation around the ordination of women.

In 1969, the Anglican Church of Canada began to ordain women as deacons. In 1975, General Synod approved the ordination of women as priests, and in 1986 it signaled its support for the ordination of women as bishops.

The growing presence of women in church leadership positions coincided with a gradual reassessment of Mary Magdalene and the role she played in Jesus’s ministry. Larson-Miller pointed to the increasing phenomenon of women gathering around July 22, often with ecumenical evening prayers, which she herself has participated in for years.

She also recalled attending an opera in 2013 by Mark Adamo, entitled The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. In particular, she remembered the excited conversations from audience members, especially women, about the contributions of Mary.

Mary Magdalene “was there at the crucifixion,” Larson-Miller said. “She clearly accompanies Jesus. After this healing encounter with Jesus […] she clearly goes along with the disciples. She’s using her money to support them. She was there in Jerusalem. She’s the one that runs to the tomb and then goes and tells the others … In [eastern] prayers, it says, ‘Christ received you as a true disciple.’”

“I’m not sure that these kinds of celebrations and the shift in understanding have made huge changes in the role of women in the church,” the scholar added. “But it’s not a complete coincidence that all of this is happening in the 1970s. It becomes a part of a larger movement towards a greater inclusion of women and a stronger voice of women, so that they can point back and go, ‘It’s not just Peter, [and] it’s not just those [male disciples]. There is this woman who also played this role.’”

‘You are my witness’: Mary Magdalene and the #MeToo movement

Earlier this year, the film Mary Magdalene was released starring Rooney Mara as Mary and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. In the trailer for the film, Jesus tells Mary, “You are my witness” —a phrase that evokes “You Are My Witnesses”, the theme of the 2016 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the 2016-2019 triennium.

In March 2018, it was announced that the film would no longer be distributed in the United States and Canada by its original partner, The Weinstein Company, following allegations of sexual abuse against the company’s co-founder and chief executive Harvey Weinstein. Those allegations would go on to spark the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault.

For Rumsey, the witness of women against sexual misconduct through #MeToo has parallels in the biblical witness of women to the resurrection of Christ after seeing his empty tomb:

Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (Luke 24:11-12)

“You’ve got these women witnesses, and the men in the crowds don’t believe them,” Rumsey said.

“I think that rings so many bells, or it should ring so many bells for us in this time about the #MeToo movement as it’s impacting the church … We need to believe women, and we need to believe what they’re telling us.”

View prayers and readings for the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene.

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Sacred Circle 2015 video translated into Oji-Cree

July 19, 2018 - 1:30pm

A feature-length video documenting the eighth national Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle is now available online in Oji-Cree.

The translation marks the first time that a Sacred Circle video has been translated in its entirety into an Indigenous language. Though translators have been onsite during previous Sacred Circles, the translation of the 2015 Sacred Circle—which took place in Port Elgin, Ont. and was built around the theme Lifted on the Wings of Faith: Heeding the Indigenous Call—represents a major stride forward in the official oral history of the gathering available in a traditional language.

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa and Ruth Kitchekesik, deacon of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Kingfisher Lake, translated the video into Oji-Cree, the predominant language spoken in the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh (ISMM).

“The discussions [at Sacred Circle] are very relevant to our people, and not all of [our people] speak English,” Bishop Mamakwa said.

“Typically, in Mishamikoweesh and northern Ontario, they speak only Oji-Cree and read and write Oji-Cree only, some of our priests and others. So we felt that it was very important for them to know what happened and what was discussed at Sacred Circle.”

Requests to translate Sacred Circle resources into Oji-Cree have been made for many years, but a lack of available resources had precluded any such translations being done.

In the wake of Sacred Circle 2015, an application for funding resulting in grants being provided by the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Foundation, which allowed the long-awaited translation to take place. With the grants providing the necessary funds for travel costs, Bishop Mamakwa and Kitchekesik were able to travel to Toronto and complete the translations.

Various delays caused by health issues, crises in their home communities, and competing responsibilities— Kitchekesik is also working on other translation projects in the ISMM—meant that the overall process took three years, but the majority of the work was done on two separate trips to Toronto.

During each of these visits, the translators spent days at Church House, painstakingly going through the Sacred Circle video and translating the words into Oji-Cree. One of the challenges was translating certain words, such as “canon”, that do not have an equivalent in the Oji-Cree language, and required building in new sections to define them.

To make the process more manageable, Kitchekesik and Bishop Mamakwa divided the work into segments and took turns, alternating every few hours. In translating the feature, they worked closely with members of the General Synod communications team: senior producer Lisa Barry, production coordinator Becky Boucher, and freelancer Scott Brown, who helped match their spoken words to the video footage.

“Scott, our cameraman, took it on, and had to work very closely with Bishop Lydia,” Barry said. “It was a lot of back and forth because we don’t speak Oji-Cree, to understand that we’re actually putting the correct line over every line that’s being said. It took him a few hundred hours to do … Becky worked very closely with him as well.”

The labourious process paid off and the complete video of Sacred Circle 2015 in Oji-Cree is now available free at the Anglican Church of Canada website. Discussions are currently underway as to possible alternative methods of distributing the video, such as on flash drives and DVDs.

Though Indigenous Ministries is hopeful that such translations will continue for Sacred Circle 2018 and beyond, whether or not that occurs depends largely on the will of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and whether enough money is available to cover the costs.

“We’re in discussions about it now as to how much and how much translation we can do, and when things need to be translated,” Indigenous Ministries coordinator Ginny Doctor said.

“As we gear up for this Sacred Circle [2018], it’s a concern, because what happens at Sacred Circle needs to be taken home to the Indigenous communities. But if it’s not translated properly to that community, then we lose the message, and there may be misunderstanding or people may not know. That’s the kind of thing we get all the time, ‘I don’t know anything about this’, and it’s really frustrating because it seems like we haven’t done our work. It’s just one of those things that we have to keep working at in order to make it better.”

While unclear whether video of Sacred Circle 2018 would be translated into Indigenous languages, Bishop Mamakwa welcomed more of such translations in the future.

“Personally, I’d like to see that happen again,” the bishop said.

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Bound to the Word unites preaching and music

July 17, 2018 - 1:30pm

In the beginning was the Word. Then there was the Music.

Bound to the Word is an innovative experiment within the Anglican Church of Canada that made its debut last Advent in the Diocese of Huron. It is a “call-and-response” style of worship that brings together spoken homilies and musical accompaniment.

Now its chief architect, the Rev. Steve Greene, is hoping to see congregations across the country—particularly youth—try out this different form of worship, tinkering as necessary to suit their own contexts.

“The whole goal is for the priest in each church to say, ‘Hey, yeah, I’ll try this out,’” Greene said. “‘Yeah, my youth like spoken word, they like music, so let’s incorporate both and therefore challenge the congregation to hear differently on the preaching of the Word.’”

Inspired by his love of the call-and-response African-American preaching style, Greene organized a pair of events in December 2017 that brought together four preachers from different denominations with pianist Angus Sinclair, first affiliate cathedral organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Ont. and backing musician for The Three Cantors. In addition to Greene, the preachers included Andrew Rampton, a deacon and graduate student in the master’s of theology program at Huron University College; Pastor Susan Boddaert of Hillsburgh Baptist Church in Toronto; and Pastor Karl Thomas of Impact Community Church in London.

The Bound to the Word events took place in two locations, one at Trivitt Memorial Anglican Church in Exeter, Ont., where Greene serves as assistant curate to the rector, and the other at Bishop Cronyn Memorial Church in London. Each preacher was given a scripture passage for a different week of Advent. After lighting a candle, each built a homily around that week’s gospel reading, connecting it to an Advent theme such as hope or love.

Throughout each homily, Sinclair would play music to complement the preacher’s words and individual style. For example, when Rampton spoke, the pianist would respond by playing traditional English Advent hymns. During Greene’s homily, his playing took on a more energetic gospel style.

“I can recall a particularly great improvisation on ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ toward the end of my sermon, which was really splendid, whereas when Steve was preaching—as is totally appropriate to Steve’s style—the improvisation from Angus had a much more jazzy and gospel feel,” Rampton recalled.

“Pastor Karl was preaching, and his preaching style relies a lot on weaving the theology in with fairly colloquial stories. He spent a lot of time preaching about a dog that he owned— and so Angus’s style of music went back and forth between a sort of classical piano style of improvisation, and a much more sort of illustrative musical commentary on the life of this dog and what was happening in the story.”

While Rampton would preach and stop, allowing Sinclair to respond with musical commentary, Greene and Thomas gave the pianist free rein to improvise under them throughout their homilies. Pastor Boddaert, in the intervening time, adopted something of a halfway approach, referencing specific pieces of music during her homily for Sinclair to play while he was able to improvise in between.

Along with dialogue between preachers and musician, the call-and-response also extended to those sitting in the pews. In both Exeter and London, members of the community who had accepted the invitation to attend regularly chimed in to affirm the preacher’s message.

“I’d have some questions and have a response to them and say an ‘Amen’, or whatever it is in their hearts to speak and proclaim,” Greene said. “It was always a constant dialogue. The community with me, the community with Angus, Angus with me—it was a constant dialogue with all three parties.”

Reactions to Bound to the Word were largely positive, from both the preachers and the congregations.

“The commentary from the congregation in both sessions was that they were really interested to hear different preachers, especially from different churches, and to be exposed one after the other to different styles, different traditions, different ideas, and that it was interesting to hear homilies with a shared theme of Advent one after the other, and to be able to put them in conversation with each other,” Rampton said.

“They all commented on how interesting it was to have a musician work with the preacher as part of the preaching, rather than one happening and then the other happening […] There was a good-natured affection to the thing from the start.”

Speaking personally, he added, “I thought it was a lot of fun. […] I enjoy preaching and I always look forward to doing it, but I also really enjoy hearing preaching. […] I don’t think many preachers get to work as part of a team of preachers very often, and that was a really interesting, rewarding experience.”

With a successful trial run under his belt, Greene is now looking to encourage other congregations to try the Bound to the World format.

As the official storyweaver at the upcoming Canadian Lutheran-Anglican Youth (CLAY) gathering in Thunder Bay, he is pondering the idea of incorporating Bound to the Word in some way (registration is still open for CLAY, which runs from August 15-19). However, Greene makes it clear that much of the success relies on the presence of a talented musician of Sinclair’s calibre.

“To have Angus is critical for the event and for the ministry. […] I’d love to do it in CLAY,” Greene said. “It’d be a great opportunity to have 800 kids and youth there to hear it, but we’ll see. I do want to bring it. It is on my radar.”

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Religious Social Action Coalition strives to end poverty in Newfoundland

July 12, 2018 - 5:11pm

The elimination of poverty is a bold goal, but it is the driving force behind every act of the Religious Social Action Coalition in Newfoundland (RSACNL).

An alliance of faith organizations based primarily in Greater St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula, the RSACNL seeks to achieve a living wage for workers and the adoption by government of a “fairness prism”, in which all proposed legislation and policy is evaluated on the basis of whether it is fair to all members of society, from the richest to the poorest. Establishing a higher minimum wage is a key component towards its goal of a living wage.

The coalition aims to attain these goals by championing its policies of economic justice to government officials from all political parties, as well as municipalities, businesses, labour unions, and other advocacy groups. Their chief means for doing so are through knowledge sharing, public advocacy, and engaging with the wider community.

“We talk all about the elimination of poverty, rather than the alleviation of poverty,” said the Rev. Canon David Burrows, coordinator of the RSACNL.

“We don’t want to see less people poor at the same levels. Instead, we want to see an overall lessening of poverty, with the hope that it becomes the elimination of poverty, and that that gap no longer exists between the poor and the rest of us.”

The RSACNL has existed since 2007, emerging from annual interfaith dialogues in St. John’s between various faith groups. A particularly prominent topic of discussion was the shared concern of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus around issues of poverty.

One of the founding members of the RSACNL was Arnold Bennett, an activist and former advisor on health care to U.S. President Bill Clinton, who had started a Jewish community havura (group) in St. John’s. As Burrows explained, Bennett “suggested that the faith community should put their money where their mouth is and take some action rather than just chatting about things”.

The formation of the RSACNL aimed to make the elimination of poverty a permanent agenda item for governments in Newfoundland and beyond. In 2010, Burrows was appointed by the three Anglican bishops in Newfoundland and Labrador to the RSACNL as its Anglican representative.. He was appointed coordinator in 2012 following the death of Bennett.

Efforts to eliminate poverty have deep roots in the Christian tradition, Burrows noted.

“Jesus talks about money more than he talks about pretty much anything else, but we as Christian preachers sometimes ignore that fact,” he said. “But there are underlying themes within the scriptures and within the gospels, particularly around the difference between those who have and those who have not. Sometimes it has to do more with faith and understanding, or being at one with God. But a lot of it comes to do with socioeconomic challenges.

“It’s the people who are ignored in Luke’s gospel—those who are socially disadvantaged, like children and women, or who are pushed outside of the community, like lepers or people who have a job as a sex worker for example, and are ostracized by the Pharisees and others. For me, scripture’s focus on socioeconomic justice is an important piece, one that we need to translate and to integrate into our daily living as we live out our faith in the things that we do.”

The concern for economic justice is also a value shared by many different faiths. Those shared values made the elimination of poverty a natural focal point for the RSACNL.

Economic justice “is something common to all religions,” said RSACNL director Mohammed Nazir, a volunteer with the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. “Whether it’s Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Pentecostals, Muslims, Hindus, Jews—every religion has certain values, and not only these. There are other values.

“For example, [we] all believe in charity. [We] all believe in equality. [We] all believe in human dignity. [We] all believe in human rights. So we are trying to pick up things which are common to the religions […] [We] have a lot more in common than … differences. And out of these, we felt that this [economic justice] is something which deserves our attention.”

Fighting poverty is an interfaith endeavor

Each fall, the RSACNL organized a symposium and invites various speakers to discuss how to engage municipalities, provincial and federal governments on justice issues related to poverty. Past speakers have included professors from Memorial University and members of the group Citizens for Public Justice.

Throughout the rest of the year, members of the RSACNL research and engage in dialogue with government officials and community groups to advance its goals of establishing a living wage for Newfoundland and Labrador as well as a fairness prism for public policy.

The RSACNL has what Burrows described as an “ongoing open dialogue” with the province, meeting with government officials twice per year to discuss their concerns. In May, they met with then-Speaker of the House of Assembly Tom Osborne and interested MHAs.

The coalition has written two letters to the provincial government over the past four years, during which the minimum wage has increased from under $10 to its current level of $11.15. Its ongoing relationship with the government has also given the RSACNL access to the statistics agency of Newfoundland and Labrador, providing the coalition with information for specific municipalities around the cost of living and wage variance.

Through their shared work, members of different faith organizations in the RSACNL have drawn closer together. As a friend of the Muslim Association, Burrows attends Muslim prayers four times per year.

He often shares ideas and offers suggestions on how Anglicans might be able to support them in their own projects. For example, with the Muslim Association currently working on establishing the first Muslim cemetery in Newfoundland and Labrador, its members have approached Burrows with questions on how Anglicans have dealt with funeral processes and cemetery regulations.

“We see a lot more humanity and a lot more common themes among our differing faiths because of the concerns that we have, and the care that we have for each other,” Burrows said.

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