A new vision of what church can be’

Published June 10, 2010

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, Mark MacDonald, speaks after a resolution is passed creating a self-determining national indigenous ministry.Photo: Art Babych

HALIFAX—In what was described as an “historic moment,” the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada on June 9 approved the introduction of a new canon (church) law that firmly establishes a self-determining national indigenous ministry within the church.

“We want to say today, To God be the Glory. Great things he has done, because what has happened is nothing short of miraculous,” said a beaming National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, Mark MacDonald. He spoke shortly after the resolution was passed, along with one that repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery and another that established a National Aboriginal Day of Prayer.

“After decades of prayer, promises, covenants, declarations and careful thought, it is time to recognize the special place in our church for the hopes, dreams and unique ministries of indigenous Canadian Anglicans,” said the diocese of Kootenay’s Randall Fairey, member of the Governance Working Group and mover of the resolution.

The resolution provides canonical recognition for the roles of the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), and Sacred Circle – the key components of the national indigenous ministry.

The provision, known as Canon 22, establishes “recognition, jurisdiction and authority, within, not separate, and not parallel, but truly within” the church’s canons and constitution, said Fairey.

Archdeacon Sidney Black, diocese of Calgary, said the resolution placed the synod “at what I hold to be a sacred moment… a historic moment.” He added that the canon was intended to be “a descriptive framework for what now exists…the work and journey of what a truly indigenous Canadian Anglican church will look like is a journey just begun…”

The lack of specific details regarding the structures and framework for this ministry was “intentional,” explained Fairey, noting that when the first draft of the resolution was presented, “we were asked not to present another instance of non-indigenous Anglicans telling our indigenous brothers and sisters what they need.”

Except for a question about how ACIP members will be constituted and what the budget implications are of providing such canonical recognition, the resolution was approved swiftly. Several members stood up in support, including Bishop Don Phillips, diocese of Rupert’s Land, who called the resolution “very important” and “full of grace and partnership.”

After the resolution was passed, members of ACIP and other First Nations, Metis and Inuit members of General Synod-most dressed in traditional attire-made a presentation to synod.

Bishop MacDonald said until he began his job in 2007, he had “no idea about the kind of readiness there was” for fulfilling a vision long expressed by aboriginal elders for a self-determining native ministry in Canada.

“We stand here today through the mercy of God. We have reached a place of communion with each other..,” he said.

When renewed efforts were made to push for self-determination for native Anglicans “elders were concerned that everyone in church thought it would be a good effort but that it wouldn’t amount to much,” said Bishop MacDonald. “I had to say to them, over time that’s what colonialism does, people don’t expect much. But God has a different plan and what God has done is a testimony to the power of God.”

Bishop MacDonald said one of the key issues national native ministry will address is that of non-stipendiary priests. “So many of our clergy are working in marginal areas without any kind of stipend,” he said. But he added that the entire church has a problem. “We have become a church that the poor cannot afford. We need to become a church that can spread the Gospel in all marginalized areas in this land…. We will be trailblazers in that,” he said.

He also urged the church to address the needs of aboriginal people in urban areas.

“Over 60% of aboriginal people by some counts live in urban areas and it’s time that we provide a spiritual home that is indigenous in those areas,” he said.

One of the goals of native Canadian Anglicans would also be to “introduce Canada to Canada,” said Bishop MacDonald. For instance, he said, “it’s time we understand how important the North is to Canada, how important it is to our identity and our future.” He noted that many Canadians do not realize how the wealth of Canada is “over the lake.” And yet the North is suffering climate change “like no other place on earth. We don’t have to go to the southern hemisphere to find what human greed and over-use is producing,” he said.

Lydia Mamakwa, the first bishop of the newly created area mission in Northern Ontario, also addressed the synod, recalling that aboriginal clergy were first ordained in the church about 40 years ago. She called her election and the creation of the area mission “the first step towards self-determination.”

Archdeacon Larry Beardy, diocese of Keewatin, and Archdeacon Adam Halkett, diocese of Saskatchewan, talked about similar movements toward creating native area missions in their dioceses.

Archdeacon Beardy said “a new vision of what the church can be has began to emerge amongst my people.” He added that “the word of God is made more visible when a grassroots church is formed.” He assured synod that this was not meant to reject the non-indigenous Anglican church “but to help it become truly a church of the people.”

Symbolizing their continuing journey with the church, ACIP presented gifts of moccasins to members of the Governance Working Group who helped craft the resolution.


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