Some of the church actions and documents aimed at reconciliation after past wrongs – like those associated with Canada’s residential schools – already have the characteristics of liturgy, the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, told an international gathering of specialists on liturgy on August 4.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz suggested the church take another step and make liturgy out of them. For example, he said, a timeline poster almost seven feet long available from the national church, which details the evolving history of relations between the Anglican church and Indigenous peoples between 1452 and 2014 does not just tell a story.
“It prays a prayer. It sings a song,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be marvelous to create a liturgy around this timeline? You could share an incredible litany of reconciliation around this timeline.”
Speaking to about 40 priests, scholars and other liturgy specialists from such places as Canada, the United States, Britain, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Uruguay and the South Pacific, at a gathering called the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, the primate said he himself has used the timeline as an aid in prayer.
He mentioned other gestures with liturgical quality, among them the 1993 apology to Native people by then primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, the Covenant for self-determination adopted by Indigenous Anglican leaders in 1994 and the emotional acceptance by Bishop Gordon Beardy of Keewatin, the church’s first Indigenous bishop, of the 1993 apology at the 2001 General Synod in Waterloo, Ont.
Hiltz said these and other developments were part of “a long litany of embracing, healing, reconciliation and new life.” He noted, “Michael Peers set this church on a path from which we cannot and never will turn back.”
Among other things, Hiltz said, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (of which he is president of the board of directors) “has realized that it has work to do not just around the world but right here in Canada.”
At the same time, Hiltz warned against premature gestures of reconciliation. A gesture before the time is right can “feel kind of presumptuous,” he said. “Reconciliation cannot be imposed. A gesture of reconciliation is something that has to emerge. My word of apology is insufficient in and of itself. I have to be comfortable that once I’ve said, ‘I’m sorry,’ I may have to wait until the other party is able to hear it.”
Others also sounded notes of caution. The Rev. Eileen Scully, director of faith, worship and ministry for the Anglican Church of Canada and chair of the liturgical consultation, said there has been something of a consensus in that body to “continue to talk about reconciliation and not rush to a statement.”
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said he is convinced that it is in liturgy that issues like reconciliation “become real in the life of the church.”
He said the work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission shows the churches “that we have insufficient theological or liturgical resources to deal with these dilemmas.”
When people in Western society encounter evil, they look for a villain, he said. There are meagre theological resources to deal with systemic evil. “We are beginning to understand how deeply oppressors (as well as the oppressed) are hurt by their oppression.”
MacDonald said the church “does not know how to repent as a church” and still fails to recognize, for example, that it was at one point a willing participant in a system that aimed to make Indigenous people disappear as a people.
Anglicans do not sufficiently recognize that the victims in residential schools administered by Anglicans were mostly baptized Anglicans, he said.
He said the Anglican church is beginning to recognize that the residential schools issue “will shape our identity for the rest of time.”
The Rev. Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest and social justice activist in South Africa, who lost both hands and was blinded in one eye in 1990 by a letter bomb, also warned against hasty approaches to forgiveness in a talk Wednesday, August 8.
“I don’t know who made the bomb or who wrote my name on the envelope. I don’t know what it means to forgive an abstraction.”
He said he believes in “a justice of restoration rather than a justice of punishment.”
“We often reduce forgiveness to saying we’re sorry. Reality is much more messy and ambiguous.”
Harvey Shepherd is the editor of the Anglican Montreal.