Being different together: Anglicans and Lutherans share journey of reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination

National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald, left, chats by video with Lutheran scholar Matthew Anderson. Photo: Matt Gardner
Published October 1, 2021

This is the second in a series of seven, Companions of Faith, in which Matt Gardner, Anglican Journal staff writer, presents Anglican and Lutheran perspectives about matters of mutual importance.

If a frequent metaphor for reconciliation in Canada is Indigenous and non- Indigenous people walking together, Anglicans and Lutherans are sharing that journey as full communion partners—and playing a complementary role in each other’s work.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s relatively large number of Indigenous Anglicans and its historic role in the residential school system both inform its approach to reconciliation, says National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald. He characterizes the Anglican church’s work as twofold: “The Indigenous part of our church is focused on self-determination, and … the non-Indigenous part of it is at some level responding to that.” (The emerging Indigenous church is currently in the process of writing foundational documents, A Covenant and Our Way of Life, similar to a constitution and canons.)

Matthew Anderson, a Lutheran and affiliate professor of theological studies at Concordia University, says the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) is dominated by a non- Indigenous or “settler” perspective.

“There have certainly been involvements and ministry opportunities together with Indigenous Christians,” Anderson says. “But there isn’t an Indigenous Lutheran church.… It’s interesting because full communion has worked so well in many ways for Lutherans and Anglicans because we’re so similar. But when it comes to this issue, our histories are not particularly similar.”

While Lutherans were involved in the colonial project—Anderson cites the example of his grandfather, who immigrated to Canada from Norway and was given a homestead on Treaty 4 territory—“we weren’t important enough to have residential schools or to be co-opted by the government in the same way.”

Through full communion, Anderson says, the ELCIC has learned much from Indigenous Anglicans. Non-Indigenous Lutherans also feel solidarity with non- Indigenous Anglicans in that “we’re settlers struggling to figure out how to respond to a destruction of a sense of who we are as Canadians.”

Lutheran support has helped advance reconciliation within the Anglican Church of Canada, MacDonald says.

“The Lutheran leadership has often been much more enthusiastically receptive of reconciliation and supportive of Indigenous issues and self-determination than Anglican leadership has been,” the archbishop says. “It’s been easier for us to talk with them about Indigenous issues oftentimes, I think because our relationships haven’t been so interwoven and difficult,” he adds.

MacDonald highlights the value of Lutheran theology, particularly its view of baptism. Lutherans, he says, have emphasized, especially in the modern era, the graceful transformation associated with baptism—and this has implications for reconciliation. Indigenous peoples, he says, have seen treaties as closer to covenants in the biblical sense—similar to baptism—than mere agreements over the ceding of law and territory.

“The understanding of what baptism means about a transformed humanity is also, I think, what Indigenous people were trying to say the impact of treaty points towards,” MacDonald adds. “They were trying to say, ‘We are going to be different human beings together, and we are going to make a new humanity.’”

The archbishop points out that children found in unmarked graves on residential school sites were all baptized. Yet for school authorities, baptism “didn’t make them human enough to even get put in a register,” he says. “This is the basis of genocide.”

Though Lutherans did not run residential schools, Anderson and MacDonald draw parallels with the Lutheran experience of the Second World War, when many church members in Germany supported the Nazi regime. “We do have an experience of being co-opted completely by a state structure for, frankly, evil ends,” Anderson says.

The combined experience of Anglicans and Lutherans and their approaches to theology, MacDonald suggests, offer potential for a shared path to overcome trauma.

“The full communion relationship and the Lutheran understanding of baptism will not only help us to explore what happened [in the residential schools],” MacDonald says. “It will also point towards the future…. I think we might be able to say something good about what this country will be, what this land will be, if we could begin to see this through [that] lens.”


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister (aka Matt Gardner) is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

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