Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, shares his thoughts about the 6th Indigenous Sacred Circle in an interview with Anglican Journal staff writer Marites N. Sison.
Q: What things stood out for you at the Sacred Circle?
A: Overall, what stood out for me was the focus around self-determination and what it means to be a truly indigenous church. All of the keynote presentations- the update on the Covenant, the Governance Working Group report, the report from the area ministry in northern Manitoba- were focused on where we are now and where we’re going.
The second thing was the huge appreciation for the decision to appoint a national indigenous bishop and for (his) ministry. This was the first Sacred Circle where there was a national indigenous bishop present. It was no longer a dream, no longer a request, but now [it is] a reality and some people would say, a beautiful reality.
The third thing was that the residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission weren’t major agenda items. The first few Sacred Circles were clearly dominated by the legacy of the schools, the church’s role, the primate’s apology and the church’s endeavor to live that apology. There’s been a shift now so that the time and discussion and conversation in the talking circles was, ‘Where are we in terms of our journey of spiritual renewal? Where are we in our quest to be truly indigenous Anglicans? Where are we in terms of our desire for self-determination?’
It stood out for me on the last day when we had the healing service. It was clearly something that people wanted, needed, appreciated. As I participated I kept thinking that this is a part of the Circle, this reminds us about the continuing need for healing and commitment on the part of the church to that ministry.
Q: What message did you pick up about the views expressed regarding self-determination?
A: Two things. One, diversity.There’s no blueprint, there’s no one plan that’s going to fit all. Each one is going to be unique,[and] culturally appropriate to the community. What holds that diversity together is the common mission for self-determination.
The second thing is that it was very, very clear that these conversations must have the interest, support and encouragement of the diocesan bishop. If they don’t, things are simply not going to proceed. [National Indigenous Anglican Bishop] Mark [MacDonald] has very good relations with all the bishops that he’s visited, so he has a way of gaining their support. It’s because the diocesan bishop, the national indigenous bishop and the elders have worked in partnership, have been seen to be working in partnership, that conversations are proceeding in the pace that they are.
Q: Do you see a role for yourself addressing the issue of bishops who may be lukewarm to the idea of indigenous self-determination in the church?
A: There’s a sense that the Spirit is calling the whole church to become interested in committing to a truly national indigenous ministry. That will require strong leadership and encouragement from all the bishops. It’s not just what’s going on in northern communities. We heard over and over again about the growing population of First Nations peoples in dioceses with huge urban centers like Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Toronto, and the horrendous conditions in which many are living. The church needs to pay attention to that. As a whole church, we really have to take steps to dismantle the racism inherent in our society.
Q: One of the issues that kept coming up during discussion about self-determination is how new initiatives will be funded. Where will that answer come from?
A: Ultimately I think the answer has to come from the communities themselves. The fact that they’re asking the question says to me that they’re as committed to self-sufficiency as they are to self-determination.
Q: You spoke of the plight of non-stipendiary priests as a justice issue that needs to concern everyone in the church. Can you explain that further?
A: If we look at our baptismal covenant we say we’re going to strive for peace and justice for all people. It’s important for us to pay attention to issues of justice in the world, but we’ve got a justice issue in our own backyard. I think we have to deal with that. When we ordain people, part of upholding and supporting that person is to ask, how can we ensure that you have just and fair remuneration for the ministry to which you are so committed?’ It’s as basic as that as far as I’m concerned.
Q: How would you describe your experience at Sacred Circle?
A: This was my first Sacred Circle and it was a good learning opportunity for me to simply sit and listen and hear what people had to say, not to be expected to say things or answer questions. I felt very much that I was in the midst. People made me feel very welcome. I also tried to honour the traditional role of the primate at the Circle. That is, you speak on the first day, [then] be quiet, [and then] you speak on the last day. Coming out of the experience, I’m more committed to national indigenous ministry, [and] helping the church take hold of that opportunity the Spirit has placed upon us.