Delegates to the fifth Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle gathering in Pinawa, Man. on Aug. 11 unanimously asked the Anglican Church of Canada within one year to create the office of national native bishop – an idea that native leaders have supported for several years.
“I never thought in my life I would see this moment. I say meegwetch (thank you) and plead with the primate (Archbishop Andrew Hutchison) to accept this challenge,” said delegate Shirley Johnson of the diocese of Huron.
Not only did Archbishop Hutchison accept the challenge, he told the gathering that there would be a native bishop with pastoral authority within one year.
In a phone interview, he also said he cautioned the group that giving the native bishop “full authority and jurisdiction” could not happen until 2013, as it would require changes to church laws that would have to be approved by General Synod, the governing convention.
Seven Canadian bishops who attended the gathering stood with Archbishop Hutchison and also expressed approval of the concept.
The conference’s declaration said that the proposed bishop would be “fully recognized by the Anglican Church and be welcoming of aboriginal teachings, traditions and ceremonies.” Furthermore, “the bishop will have spiritual support from the whole church and will be monetarily supported so the indigenous Anglican Church stands strong and independent of any subordination,” it said.
Archbishop Hutchison, in the interview, said he wants wide consultation among native communities so that the native bishop receives broad support.
More than 130 people from 19 Canadian dioceses met Aug. 7-13 at the Wilderness Edge Conference Centre.
In 2001, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, the group that represents native Anglicans across Canada, called for a national native bishop and for more “self-determination” for native congregations. Over the years, the idea of a native diocese has also been discussed.
In 1994, native Anglicans and the national church signed a covenant stating that First Nations people aim to be “a new, self-determining community with the Anglican Church of Canada.”
Archbishop Hutchison, who is attending his first sacred circle as primate, celebrated the opening eucharist and expressed his commitment to the 1994 covenant.
“I commit myself to the vision of that covenant, which is self-determination for indigenous Anglicans. I want you to know that I will walk that journey with you,” said Archbishop Hutchison. He also paid tribute to two former primates, the late Archbishop Ted Scott and Archbishop Michael Peers, for their ministry to indigenous Anglicans. The primate cited Archbishop Scott for his social justice work, particularly concerning aboriginal land claims, and Archbishop Peers, for issuing an apology on behalf of the church for the abuse suffered by some native children in residential schools. “I honour these two great leaders and their actions, and I will be faithful to their actions throughout this primacy,” he said.
The gathering, which included the lighting of the sacred fire during the opening service at dawn, “sharing circles” (where each person gets a chance to speak), and a “gospel music jamboree,” discussed challenges faced by aboriginal Anglicans such as the continuing effects of the residential school crisis as well as problems faced by native youth.