A moment’s emotionalism proves surprising

Published October 1, 2001

Michael Peers

LAST month I wrote about one somewhat-anticipated joy of General Synod 2001.

That surprise was followed by another joy, this time utterly unanticipated.

One day of synod belonged completely to indigenous members and partners. It began with a re-telling of Canada’s history seen from the other side, the people who were here before the Europeans.

It ended with a healing service, familiar to me from such gatherings over the years, and always a source of profound help, even though not part of my experience before I became primate.

Gordon Beardy, Bishop of Keewatin and our first indigenous diocesan bishop, was to dismiss us in the classic words of the liturgy. Just before he did so, he addressed some words to me. He spoke not as a bishop but “as an Anishnawbe who went to a residential school.” He said, “I forgive you and ? your church which has become my church” and “your people who have become my people.”

He specifically accepted my apology of eight years ago “because you have worked so hard to break down the barriers.” He went on to say, “Today we are with you, as a friend, as a leader, as a brother.”

He prophesied, “My children will hear what I said. My grandchildren will hear. For it is in forgiving that we can find peace.”

All this was followed by a handshake that became an embrace.

I was so dumbfounded that I completely forgot what we were to do next, and just joined hands, weeping, eyes cast down, with the leaders in a slow circle at the centre of the room. I fretted because this walking was taking a long time, and after the emotion of the numbing words from Bishop Beardy, I only wanted to get away and be alone. We’d been dismissed! Why weren’t we leaving?

I looked up and saw the whole synod, out of their chairs and walking in a huge circle. There was traditional Ojibway music from a group from southern Ontario, but otherwise the entire synod was in silence. The same emotion that I had felt had spread through the synod.

This extraordinary gesture arises from many changes that have come about in the last few years, but one of them was the decision of our national council almost 10 years ago to ask me to issue an apology about the residential schools.

In our instant North American society we expect instant reactions, but in both the aboriginal communities and in the church things work differently. We are, as I so often say, “in for the long haul.”

Forgiveness does not follow instantaneously after an apology like cash after putting a card in a bank machine. Its sincerity must be tested by the results, and its integrity demonstrated over the years by “signs following.”

Jesus said that if, before we make a holy offering, we remember that we have offended another, we must first be reconciled with that person. I used to have an image of someone suddenly remembering a quarrel, rushing away, saying sorry and dashing back to the altar.

Well, it takes longer and it takes more than that. And we are learning that lesson the hard way in our church as we struggle to deal with the long history of the dominant society with the original society.

But it is true. Reconciliation is not the work of a moment, and this reconciliation is not one I shall see in my lifetime. But the surprising combination of my apology, Gordon’s forgiveness and our embrace, says to me that if, on all sides, we are committed to Jesus’ words, we’ll make it in the long haul.

Michael Peers is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


Keep on reading

Skip to content