Fourth instalment of Hearing the Lambeth Calls, a 10-part series on the calls to the global Anglican Communion made at the 2022 Lambeth Conference. This month’s call: Reconciliation.
The idea of reconciliation has been attracting a lot of attention in theological circles in recent years, says the Rev. Chris Brittain, dean of divinity at Trinity College. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote a book on it (The Power of Reconciliation), he notes, and generally reconciliation is “in the air.” So it should come as no surprise, he says, that reconciliation was singled out as a priority by the Anglican Communion’s bishops at the Lambeth Conference last summer.
The conference’s fourth call to the church deals with reconciliation, and it begins by stating that God’s reconciling mission is “central to the ministry of the Church today.”
But reconciliation means different things to different people, and the call’s scope is broad. For the Anglican Church of Canada, reconciliation in recent decades has meant addressing the history of colonization of Indigenous peoples in Canada and the church’s own role in the residential school system. But the bishops’ call begins by talking about reconciling difference generally. “We live with difference, and it is difficult and demanding,” it states. “Let us practice the habits of being curious, being present and reimagining.”
Some of the call (which, like the other ten Lambeth calls, is subject to change depending on feedback provided during and after the conference) addresses differences within the Anglican Communion itself, which it describes as having the potential to “challenge and deepen our experience of God in the other.” It calls for the Archbishop of Canterbury and/or the Anglican Communion’s standing committee to “renew and refresh the conversation with the Churches of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda seeking a full life together as an Anglican family of churches”; and it also repeats a request, also made in the call on Anglican identity, for an Anglican Congress, “to be held outside the U.S. or U.K.,” and to include clergy and lay people as well as bishops.
The call requests bishops to provide opportunities for young people to take part in reconciliation projects; for Anglican seminaries to “create spaces for training and dialogue on reconciliation as a fundamental part of our identity as followers of Christ”; and inviting each Anglican province to self-examination and reflection, “listening respectfully to the experiences of those who have historically been, and continue to be, marginalized in their contexts and in their church.” At the same time, the call asks for “work to be done on deconstructing the historic legacy of colonialism.”
National Indigenous Archbishop Chris Harper describes reconciliation as “an invitation to peace” and to “walk together.” Within Canada, he emphasizes the continuing need for education to acknowledge Canada’s history of colonization and the church’s own role.
Harper cites persistent denial of the harm caused by Canada’s residential school system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has called residential schools an act of “cultural genocide” in which Indigenous children were taken from their families and prevented from speaking their own languages or learning their own traditions, and where mental, physical, and sexual abuse were rampant.
“Reconciliation is about individuals … We as Canadians, we as Anglicans within the Canadian context, still have denial that there was anything that was done wrong,” Harper says. “Especially when we use those words, ‘Well, it was started and done with good intentions’—that really motivates us to examine ourselves, to look within, and to listen.”
“We’re in the listening phase,” he adds. “But we’re still very much grounded in recognizing that we need to educate Canadians within the church.” That process in the Anglican Church of Canada, Harper says, goes back to former primate Michael Peers’s apology for the residential schools in 1993. “When you apologize, then comes the vessel of forgiveness,” Harper says.
Bishop Isaiah Larry Beardy, suffragan bishop for the Northern Manitoba Area Mission in the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, experienced firsthand the power of apology last summer when the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Canada. Beardy, who attended residential school as a child in Dauphin, Man. and currently resides in Split Lake (Tataskwayak), was part of the Indigenous delegation at James Smith Cree Nation where Welby apologized for the Anglican church’s allowing a “terrible crime” to occur at residential schools.
“I was there and I listened, and it was a very emotional and very difficult time, especially coming from the perspective of a survivor of residential school,” Beardy says.
“The archbishop said it’s good to apologize, but we need to put some action into it,” he adds. “Today, I’m sad to say, I’m still waiting for that.”
Beardy says he wrote a letter to Welby in November alleging that the 1908 treaty in which 34 million hectares of Split Lake title lands were surrendered to the Crown was fraudulent. The letter called for immediate settlement discussions before the end of 2022 and for the Church of England to donate $20 million to a trust Beardy is director of—as well as an additional $2 million for Pitching Our Tent, an appeal by the Northern Manitoba Area Mission to support Indigenous Christian ministry. The letter also sought assistance in “coordinating a peaceful talk with the King of England to discuss wrongs that were done” and pledged to bring “prosperity and wealth back to Northern Manitoba.”
Beardy sent similar letters to the governments of Manitoba and Canada. At the time this article was written, Beardy said he had received acknowledgement of his letter from the Manitoba government, but not from Welby or the federal government.
Asked for a response to Beardy’s letter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office was not able to confirm it had received the letter by the time this issue went to press.
Beardy says that for him, reconciliation requires action to address the legacy of “colonial trauma.” Indigenous Anglicans described many of these effects in the 1994 Covenant, pointing to “broken homes and lives; sexual and family violence; high recidivism and incarceration rates; high chemical abuse” and “loss of cultures, languages and traditions” among other issues. He cites a recent apartment fire in Split Lake that left almost 50 people homeless, in a community where Beardy says there is already a lack of housing.
Of the claims made in his letter to Welby, Beardy says, “I think that’s what calls for action and reconciliation [are] all about. I cannot, as a bishop, be silent when my people are experiencing shortage of housing. People are homeless. We can go back to the Covenant of ’94. It’s still happening … My letter’s calling for action.”
His letter cites the wealth of the Church of England, which according to a report by church commissioners had an endowment fund in 2022 worth £9 billion, or nearly $15 billion (Canadian).
“The Church of England is not poor,” Beardy says. “It has accumulated wealth around the world and the wealth off the backs of our people. I think it’s time to share that wealth so we can start building healthy communities.”
Beardy notes high rates of chronic illness in Indigenous communities and high rates of youth suicide, while Indigenous priests often go unpaid. Recently, Beardy says, “We had two 12-year-old young children… they committed suicide. They hung themselves, from two different communities. That’s what we’re dealing with. When we have to bury them, we have clergy that are non-stipend[iary]. They’re working at secular jobs and doing wakes… then they have to go to work next day. We are in a crisis and we need the church and the governments to respond to our people.”
While Harper stresses the need for Anglicans to acknowledge the experiences of Indigenous people and the church’s own complicity in colonization and residential schools, he also says the church must “advocate for justice, equity, equality, and peacebuilding.”
Anglicans, Harper says, should recognize “the Indigenous priests who are overworked right now on reserves that are struggling with trying to find everyday necessities of clean water” and push for governments to “recognize that they need to listen, to honour and respect the lands of the Indigenous communities—and at the same time, honour and respect the leaders of those communities.”
Brittain says that addressing the legacy of colonialism in Indigenous communities is a national problem, which highlights the need for ecumenism, interfaith partnerships and reflection on the meaning of Christian citizenship.
“In Canada, I do think there were some achievements,” Brittain says. “We did bring out a lot of truth into the open and have it documented, so that’s good … There’s been slight reparations and some apologies made … They are symbols, so they’re meaningful. But their power is only sustained by ongoing action.”