Sweetgrass burning, tree planting, sharing stories of heartache and of peace – all were features of the fourth national Sacred Circle gathering of Native Anglicans in Port Elgin, Ont. last August.
About 130 people from across Canada attended the six-day meeting – previous gatherings were held in 1988, 1993 and 1997. Members of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and Council of General Synod attended, along with four Canadian bishops and one Australian Aboriginal bishop. There were also representatives from Partnerships, as well as laity and clergy.
The national forum is intended to bring a wide range of voices and stories to indigenous leaders and to the wider church, explained Donna Bomberry, indigenous ministries co-ordinator for General Synod.
The opening worship service, which was addressed by the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, featured such elements of native spirituality as sweetgrass burning and drumming. The morning and afternoon sessions saw participants split into groups called sharing circles – discussion groups that heard personal stories and tackled specific themes.
The circle is a particularly aboriginal way of decision-making, noted Ms. Bomberry, different from the type of setting where a group faces in one direction and a moderator calls on speakers.
“It respects every voice who gathers. It gives a place and space for people to contribute,” she said. Everyone gets a chance to speak. A facilitator sets the theme of the sharing circle and participants pass a feather or rock from hand to hand. The person holding the object has the floor.
Circles considered such questions as: What do you need for the healing journey? How can we overcome the past? What does the national Native covenant mean to us and to our comunities? (In 1994, indigenous Anglican leaders drafted a covenant that declared First Nations people would build a new, self-determining community within the church. The document was eventually accepted by General Synod.)
The circles also discussed the many lawsuits brought by those who claim they were abused in residential schools. “There is a big need for information. Some people don’t have a sense of the impact on the church nationally,” Ms. Bomberry said.
However, there was a new mood, said Ms. Bomberry, who also attended the last sacred circle. “A lot of healing has been happening. People were more focused on the healing journey and on building upon it. There were still disclosures (of residential school abuse), but they also identified the accomplishments and forward movement in healing,” she said.
The gathering closed with the planting of a blue spruce tree to commemorate the event, Ms. Bomberry said. “People brought soil and water from home for the tree planting. We put them in the roots in the four directions and everyone watered the tree.”