General Synod ponders shape of future Indigenous church

General Synod members share their thoughts about a document outlining Indigenous self-determination in the church. Photo: Art Babych
General Synod members share their thoughts about a document outlining Indigenous self-determination in the church. Photo: Art Babych
Published July 10, 2016

\Richmond Hill, Ont.
The shape the Indigenous Anglican church will take may vary in different parts of the country, members of General Synod heard Sunday, July 10.

“The way that the Inuit are in the North is very different than the way that the Blackfoot people are, and so on and so forth,” National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said. “It probably will take on a whole bunch of different forms as we go from nation to nation. So we can’t make something that will be one-size-fits-all.”

MacDonald was responding to a question from Bishop Jane Alexander, of the diocese of Edmonton. Like her fellow members of General Synod, Alexander had been asked to ponder Where We Are Today: Twenty Years after the Covenant, an Indigenous Call to the Wider Church, a statement released in 2014 by the Indigenous House of Bishops’ Leadership Circle. The statement, requested of the bishops by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), outlines what the bishops see as the next steps in the process of the self-determination of an Indigenous Anglican church in Canada.

On Sunday, the document was introduced to General Synod by ACIP member Archdeacon Sidney Black, of the diocese of Calgary. Black asked members, in their table groups, to consider two questions: What do you find exciting about this document? What do you find challenging about this document?

Alexander said she needed clarification on the document. At certain points, she said, it read as though it recommends an Indigenous church existing completely separately from the existing Anglican Church of Canada, and at other points, it seemed to envisage the Indigenous church as remaining part of the existing organization.

“Am I looking at…two parallel structures or institutions-and I hate to use those words; that’s not exactly what I mean-or is it a kind of nesting of Anglican Indigenous ministries inside the Anglican Church of Canada?” Alexander asked.

In response, apart from clarifying that the document envisaged an Indigenous church whose shape would vary across the country, MacDonald conceded there remain “grey areas” about the nature of the future church, and that remains to be worked out.

One possibility, he said, would be a relationship in many ways similar to that between the Canadian and Cuban Anglican churches.

Cuba, MacDonald said, “is in another nation, and so it has a certain amount of freedom to do things the way it wants to do, but it hopes to have a relationship of brotherly and sisterly love back and forth [with us] as close as can be. I think we want something that is not exactly like that, but that would be appreciated like that…But we’re going to work it out a piece at a time.”

There’s a wide range of opinions among Canadian Indigenous Anglicans about the nature of the relationship the two churches should have, he added.

“Some people are very much, ‘We should be as separate as possible,’ and other people are ‘as close as possible.’ We’re still working that out amongst ourselves.”

In an emotional address to General Synod, Archdeacon and ACIP member Larry Beardy voiced an urgency that Indigenous Anglicans determine the shape of their own church.

“I just want to stress we’re talking self-determination today, and hopefully partner[ship] will evolve from there…The declaration really pushes us to the limit that we have to do something now…We’re not talking about programs. We’re talking about self-determination in the Anglican Church of Canada for our people. It’s time.”

The suffering of Indigenous communities, and their need for more self-determination, was brought home in his own community this year, he said, when an 11-year-old boy committed suicide.

“We can’t stand back anymore, my friends, my brothers in Christ,” he said. “Our people have a vision.”


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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