History recorded that when Constantine ordered the building of a great church in Jerusalem, the labourers, in the course of digging to lay its foundation, found a large beam of wood. Said to have been from the cross on which Christ died, it was enshrined near the altar of the new church, which was dedicated on September 14 in the year 335. Ever since then, Christians have kept this date as Holy Cross Day.
This year, I will observe Holy Cross Day with a Eucharist in the chapel at Church House in Toronto, and then in a meeting with a number of folk who have been engaged in our church’s support of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandated to help the country address the legacy and intergenerational impact of the Indian residential schools, the commissioners have issued 94 Calls to Action.
Some are addressed to all the parties to the historic 2003 settlement agreement and some to various levels of government. Among those to the churches is a call to issue—by March 31, 2016—a statement as to how their practices will comply with the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. All 46 articles speak to language, culture, health, education, land claims, treaty rights and self-determination with respect to spiritual identity.
As I imagine our response, I have been thinking of the many projects supported by the Healing Fund and the work of the Primate’s Commission on the Doctrine of Discovery, Reconciliation and Justice. I am mindful of developments in self-determination as reflected in the creation of a new diocese—the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh—the ministry of the diocesan Indigenous bishop of Saskatchewan, the catechist program and the formation of a Youth Council and an Elders’ Council through the office of the national Indigenous bishop. I ponder the church’s response to the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples’ statement, “Where Are We Today: Twenty Years after the Covenant, an Indigenous Call to Church Leadership.” I think of institutions that could educate church leaders about the history of the residential schools and our own efforts in pressing ministries of education for the telling of that story in the history of Canada taught in our public schools; and finally, our own work with KAIROS and its Indigenous Circle.
Lest this sound at best like a “what more could we do than we are doing,” or at worst a boast, I remain humbled by the call of the commissioners.
While I know that in 2010 the General Synod endorsed the UN declaration, I wonder if it’s not time to incorporate it into the Handbook of the General Synod, as one of the historic and foundational documents guiding our church’s work in truth and reconciliation. I think it would be a very significant next entry in the timelines of an evolving relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Anglican Church of Canada.
What do you think?
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.