As the one-year anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s release of its 94 Calls to Action approaches this June 2, some Anglican dioceses and parishes are finding their own ways of recognizing the church’s role in the Indian residential school system and striving for reconciliation with the victims of that system.
On April 18, Bishop Michael Bird of the diocese of Niagara announced the appointment of Canon Valerie Kerr, rector of St. John the Evangelist in Niagara Falls, Ont., to a new position: archdeacon for truth, reconciliation and Indigenous ministry.
In a prepared statement, the bishop’s office said Kerr would be tasked with “helping the Bishop implement the Anglican Church of Canada’s commitment to truth and reconciliation in the Diocese of Niagara” and that this ministry would include “teaching, building relationships and fostering healing and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.”
Kerr, a Mohawk woman who has served as an Anglican priest for more than a decade, told a Niagara Falls newspaper that Bird’s offer of the appointment had left her without words.
“I said, ‘Bishop, not very often I’m speechless, but I don’t know what to say,’ ” Kerr said.
“It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s also a passion for me,” she added.
Meanwhile, across Canada dioceses are using funds returned to them under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) for a number of initiatives, according to a statement released April 29 by the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office. The diocese of Toronto, for example, is beginning a new endowment fund to support Indigenous ministry; the diocese of Central Newfoundland is funding research into the early history of Beothuk people and the Anglican church; and the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island has returned the funds it received back to the national office, to be used by the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation.
Not all of this reconciliation work is being done at the national and diocesan levels. Since a service this March, at All Saints Anglican Church in Erin, Ont., the entire 94 Calls to Action are being read aloud during worship, and prayers offered “for those in leadership to respond faithfully to the Calls,” says Canon Susan Wilson, rector at All Saints.
The idea, Wilson says, came from a parishioner who asked what All Saints was doing in response to the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report.
Others have responded positively to the public reading of the Calls to Action, Wilson says. “Some parishioners have expressed their gratitude for the increased awareness this is creating. There have been numerous overheard discussions at coffee hour about the Calls to Action and our response to them.”
As well, the parish is planning to publicly read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Wilson says she also hopes to host a blanket exercise—an interactive tool intended for teaching the history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Canada—in the community.
“It may be a small thing that we are doing in our small church, but I believe that it is touching lives and changing hearts,” she says.
Since last fall, most of the $2.8 million that the Anglican Church of Canada’s national office had set aside for healing under the IRSSA has been returned to the dioceses that originally contributed the money, under the terms of the agreement. This is because, under that agreement, the national office would need that money to partially match funds raised by Roman Catholic Church entities if those entities raised $1l.08 million by September 2014. However, the Roman Catholic fundraising campaign fell far short of this goal.
The national office earmarked its contribution to the $2.8 reserve fund—$324,834—for the Anglican Fund for Healing and Reconciliation.
According to the national office statement, “in most of the dioceses that receive a return of the funds they created, those funds are being used to boost the local church’s capacity to respond to the challenge of justice and right relations among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, or to support the continuing national initiative of the Healing Fund.”
The $2.8 million, which was the subject of national news media coverage, is part of a total settlement package of $15.7 million reached between the Anglican Church of Canada and other parties to the IRSSA.