In September I was privileged to attend a historic Anglican Church of Canada gathering in Pinawa, Manitoba, called The Road to Warm Springs: The National Consultation on Indigenous Anglican Self-Determination. Coverage of that consultation, including excellent videos of key presentations, can be found at www.anglican.ca/im/rws/.
The weather was cool, with soft grey skies and sporadic rainfall. There was a pathway along the waterfront and it was good to walk there, looking out across the lake at the small islands and the soft colours of the far shore. It had been years since I spent time in that part of Canada, and many memories of my life as prairie boy came to mind amidst the pungent-sweet smells of early autumn among the trembling aspen, white birch and balsam poplar trees.
The gathering was convened by our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, with National Indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald. Sixty-eight indigenous and non-indigenous Anglicans met concerning The Covenant of 1994 promise to build a truly indigenous Anglican Church. The consultation concluded with a “Call to the Church” which was signed by all participants. Part of the text says:
With eyes wide open we are looking to the future with great hope and we hereby renew our commitment to The Covenant of 1994 and the vision of a truly Indigenous Anglican Church. We commit ourselves to all the work necessary to bring this vision to its full flowering. In the spirit of our Church’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples we call all our bishops, clergy and all the baptized to stand in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples in their quest for self-determination.
Much of the time was spent in careful listening. It was profoundly moving to hear and see indigenous Anglicans speak about the faith we share—and about the suppression of their traditional spirituality by our non-indigenous Anglican forebears. The Gospel of Christ’s reconciling love is so evident in the hearts and minds of indigenous Anglican clergy and lay leaders—who possess great wisdom and skill. And it is so very evident that their right to govern their lives in faith as a new body within the Anglican Church of Canada is an imperative for them. It is a healing imperative for our whole church.
As we listened to teaching about traditional indigenous ways, it became easy to see why the Gospel of Christ’s reconciling love was so readily grasped by indigenous communities from the time of the earliest missionaries: traditional indigenous spirituality clearly resonates with the core spirituality of both the Old and New testaments. Traditional western ways, which were layered upon the Gospel and tragically forced upon indigenous children in Canadian Residential Schools, are often distant from the teaching of Jesus, who spoke from middle-eastern traditional ways. It is always good to recall that Jesus of Nazareth was an indigenous person, whose understanding of Creation was not linear and deductive. And certainly not layered with the cultural or structural ideas of England—including its language, ideologies and manner of dress.
European Christians were profoundly misguided when they referred to the traditional indigenous ways as “paganism” or superstition, and when they forbade them or ordered the people to destroy their symbols and rituals. The truth is that the God of Jesus, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was already in this land and in the hearts of its original people long before western missionaries came here. It is time to honour that truth.
I close with a prayer based on the First Nations practice of praying to the four directions. This is based a Cree adaptation from the Indigenous Ministries of the Anglican Church of Canada.
In it you can feel how the wisdom of traditional indigenous ways deeply grounds our understanding of God’s reconciling love. You can also see how the Indigenous Anglican community in Canada shapes its prayers—as Anglicans have done in different contexts for centuries:
Come Great Spirit, as we gather in your name.
We face East: To your symbol colour Red, the hue of revelation. To your animal symbol the Eagle, strong and nurturing. To your lessons calling us to the balance of your Spirit in harmony with brothers and sisters. To invoke your wisdom and grace, the goodness of the ages.
We turn to face South: To your symbol colour Gold, for the morning star. To your symbol Brother Sun that enlightens our intellect and brings light on our path to live responsibly. To your lessons calling us to balance of mind in the spirit of humility. To invoke your spirit of illumination and far sighted vision. Help us to love you and one another with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole soul.
We turn to face West: To your symbol colour Black, still and quiet. To your animal symbol the Thunderbird. To your symbol the thunder, mighty and purposeful. To your lessons calling us to balance our emotions in the spirit of gentleness and honesty. To invoke your spirit of introspection, seeing within. Give us your strength and the courage to endure.
We turn to face North: To your symbol colour White, of clarity and brightness. To your animal symbol the Swan which brings us in touch with Mother Earth and growing things. To your lessons calling us to balance of body in the spirit of good humor. To invoke your spirit of innocence, trust and love. Help us to open our eyes to the sacredness of every living thing.
We turn to complete the circle and look: to God our Creator who cleanses our Mother Earth with snow, wind and rain; to Jesus Christ the Peacemaker who fills us with the wideness of mercy and lovingly embraces all; and to the Holy Spirit who inspires us to action. Amen.