The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) presented proposed steps for creating self-determining Indigenous ministries within the Anglican Church of Canada, such as creating a fifth ecclesiastical province, to the Council of General Synod (CoGS) at its May 1 to 3 meeting. Their ideas met with a mixture of excitement, some concern and lots of questions.
CoGS members offered their thoughts after they were asked to discuss the proposals in groups, specifically identifying areas for clarification or concern and ideas they found exciting. Other proposals put forward by ACIP include establishing training and ordination programs with Indigenous guidance, provisions for urban ministry, creating Indigenous religious communities within non-Indigenous dioceses and alternate Indigenous organizations, “where necessary and appropriate,” such as an Indigenous liturgical commission.
Despite assurances given following the release of ACIP’s call to the wider church last November, new questions about whether ACIP’s call for self-determination represented a desire to establish a separate church still arose. “Is this two churches perhaps working in parallel or is this a church within the Anglican Church of Canada?” asked James Sweeny. a lay member of CoGS from the province of Canada.
“We have never considered separation because that would totally offend the wisdom and advice of our elders,” responded ACIP co-chair Archdeacon Sidney Black. “In this journey we want to acknowledge our indigenous roots, revive them, to remember who we are,” he added.
Deputy prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner said that National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald had also made it clear that ACIP’s intent is to have self-determining Indigenous ministries within the Anglican Church of Canada. Questions now are, “how does that work and what does that look like?” she said. “This has been a long time coming, and it feels like a natural, obvious next step, and that’s exciting.” But because “there is some uncertainty, that’s where the fear comes in,” she said, noting that her discussion group also had questions about what it would mean to have a separate province.
Tannis Webster, of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, also voiced questions from her discussion group about how the new Indigenous church would fit with existing church structure: what would be the relationship with the primate? Also, could CoGS be incorporated into the Sacred Circle? Could the Sacred Circle be incorporated into CoGS?” [Sacred Circle is a national gathering of Indigenous peoples from across the Anglican Church of Canada and beyond.]
Although he didn’t address the potential relationship between Sacred Circle and CoGS specifically, MacDonald offered more assurances that Indigenous Anglicans “wish to be a part of General Synod and the primate is our primate. Our commitment is to be a part of that.”
Another one of the proposals was a provision for urban Indigenous ministries. “How do you see the ministry in urban Canada? …What would be the relationship in that regard with the diocesan bishop?” Webster asked.
Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of Mishamikoweesh said, “We’re not planning to dismantle what’s already there but to enhance it because a lot of our people are in cities [and they have] a hard time connecting to the church.” She noted that there are services to help new immigrants to Canada adjust when they move to Canadian cities, but despite similar challenges, often including the need to learn English as a second language, such services are not there for aboriginal people moving to cities from reserves and remote communities.
Marion Jenkins, from the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land, said that her group affirmed and commended ACIP’s work. But noting that two of those at her table were from Council of the North dioceses, she asked how parishes would be chosen to be part of a new province. She said they were particularly concerned for assisted dioceses that are currently in the Council of the North but are not necessarily or primarily Indigenous. “What happens to them and how do we as a church continue to care for and assist them?” she asked. “We have whole areas of the country where it is a mixture of native and non-native [people] in parishes and … how does that get worked out?”
MacDonald said that ACIP’s principle is that every congregation would have the right to choose if it wanted to belong to the new province or a confederation of Indigenous ministries. He noted that when the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh was created, people were “really surprised and hurt” that congregations in Thompson and Churchill, Man. decided not to be part of the new Indigenous diocese. He added that ACIP envisions that “there will be multiple forms of association and that we will be very inclusive and broad in terms of allowing congregations to be a part of us and to join with us. We can imagine all kinds of configurations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous.”
Bishop Larry Robertson of the diocese of the Yukon, said that when he heard about the idea for a fifth ecclesiastical province, “my heart leapt with joy because I see the possibilities there. And as a bishop of the diocese in the North, I could see a whole diocese being part of it.” But he also had a question about how race would be handled in the new entity. “The current bishop of the Yukon happens to be a white guy,” he said with a smile, “and many of the parishes are mixed and have white clergy, and so question of leadership is a big thing and how do you choose? …Will there be a requirement for Indigenous leadership?” he asked.
In response, MacDonald said, “We don’t really think very much in racial categories, like ?We don’t want to have a white person doing this or doing that,’ but the power [imbalance] has been so unequal, so great, so tremendous, and we still have a difficult time explaining that many questions assume that our ministries are the same and the way we do things are the same,” he said. “We are very different culturally and we still want to be a part of you with the freedom to do culturally what is different.
Speaking more broadly of the indigenous context in Canada, MacDonald added: “We are really talking about the rebuilding of nations within a nation, …[but] we are trying to rebuild nations in a hostile environment, with a hostile government in a hostile system.” Then, refocusing on Robertson’s question he said, “We are hoping the church will go along with us, but I think you will be very surprised as this works itself out at how inclusive our communities are.”