The Anglican Church of Canada and other churches in Canada that are dealing with the painful legacy of the residential schools agreement have much to share with the rest of the ecumenical world about healing and reconciliation, according to Rev. Sam Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
“I think that Canadian Anglicans and other Canadian Christians are gaining a lot of insights in the art of forgiveness and repentance that they can contribute strongly to the rest of the world,” Mr. Kobia told church staff during a briefing Oct.1.
Mr. Kobia’s visit to Canada included a courtesy call to Archbishop Andrew Hutchison who, like him, was elected this year. It also included sitting in a sacred circle at a Winnipeg gathering and listening as aboriginal people talked about the abuse that they suffered in residential schools.
The Anglican Church of Canada operated 26 of 80 residential schools and later faced lawsuits from hundreds of natives who alleged sexual and physical abuse. In 1993, then-primate Archbishop Michael Peers offered an apology to native people for the harm done in the schools by the church.
“One of the three women who spoke up said, ‘I think there’s hope.’ Yes, there’s hope and we have to work out that hope,” said Mr. Kobia.
Mr. Kobia said that it was important to look at how Canadian Christians have dealt with the residential schools challenge because he is convinced that “we’ll have to deal with the legacy of missionary work and what it did to people.”
He added: “There’s no doubt that missionary work globalized Christianity. This was one of the most successful global projects in human history. But we have to address the other side of missionary work and to deal with the legacies of previous years, the empire-building years.”
He encouraged Canadian Christians to share their experiences during the WCC’s World Mission Conference to be held in Athens in May 2005. “The contribution of the Anglican Church of Canada to the ecumenical movement is something that we value tremendously,” he said, noting the legacy of the former primate Archbishop Edward (Ted) Scott, who led the WCC through a period of social and political activism as general secretary from 1975 to 1983. Archbishop Scott’s death last June 29 was “a huge loss to the ecumenical movement,” he said.
Mr. Kobia also said that one of the challenges that the WCC must address is the need to recapture the position it once had as a credible moral voice in the world. “The voice of the WCC on ethical issues needs to be sharpened,” he said, adding that even United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan had noted to him during a meeting this year that “there’s something missing from the ecumenical family of the world.”
“The position that (WCC) takes on global issues needs to be communicated… in a way that changes perspective,” he said, noting that when the WCC named apartheid in South Africa as a sin, it “transformed the context of what racism is.”
Asked about the state of ecumenism, Mr. Kobia said, “We’re struggling, really. The world has changed. Multi-faith living is a reality for most of us. We have to know how to relate to our neighbours and we have to learn how to live together.”