Parishes pray by the calendar

Published January 1, 2003

Two urban parishes, several time zones apart, are separately beginning to forge dialogue and perhaps relationships with aboriginal Anglicans, starting with two of the most basic forms of communication: prayers and letters.

Groups at the parishes of St. James (diocese of New Westminster), Vancouver, and St. Simon (diocese of Niagara) Oakville, Ont., are using the prayer calendar produced by the Indigenous Sacred Circle as a guide, praying for and sending a letter to the individual or group named for each day.

The calendar was released last June by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) to prepare the church for the Aug. 2-10, 2003 national Sacred Circle gathering in Brandon, Man. Beginning on Dec. 1, 2002, the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the church year, the calendar’s first day seeks prayers for Canadian indigenous ministries “and those who serve and lead in them” as they prepare for the fifth national gathering of the Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle. In that particular case, there is nobody to whom a letter could be sent. However, the following day recommends prayer for an ACIP member from the diocese of Algoma; the following day asks for prayer for an indigenous congregation in Algoma.

Located on Vancouver’s downtown east side, St. James was the first to begin the prayer project. The idea evolved out of the parish’s education and formation committee. It had focused on indigenous issues in recent months, including the impact of missionaries on aboriginal communities, native spirituality and its relationship to the Christian faith.

Alex Currie, a driving force behind the project, describes it as “aboriginal education for our parish and friends, with the intent of developing some sort of outreach (not evangelization).”

The listings from the calendar are added to the parish newsletter, so Mr. Currie has no idea how many people are praying for those listed. He then sends a form letter to the individuals or congregations telling them that people in the congregation prayed for them.

In drafting the letter, Mr. Currie’s group, made up of mostly lay members and a deacon, sought the assistance of people involved in indigenous ministry. They included Rev. John C. Mellis, director of the Native Ministries Consortium at the Vancouver School of Theology, Robert Joseph, executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, Millie Poplar, co-ordinator of indigenous advocacy and Donna Bomberry, co-ordinator for indigenous ministries of General Synod, the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada. Ms. Bomberry also gave Mr. Currie’s group mailing addresses for the congregations listed.

The group’s letter, which went through six drafts, reads in part:

“You are building for the future, a future in the Canadian context where indigenous and aboriginal peoples in your societies – young people in particular – are hungry for reclaiming their rightful heritage; for recovery of languages; for justice, and for a wise and compassionate religion. May this time of change help all of us clarify our mission and purpose in the joy and fellowship of Jesus Christ our common Lord and Saviour.”

Mr. Currie said the letter went through so many drafts because his group wanted to ensure it would be appropriate for all native peoples – Inuit, Métis and indigenous.

A second parish also took on the project after hearing about St. James’ plans.

Ellie Johnson, director of the General Synod’s partnerships department, is part of the First Nations study group at her parish of St. Simon’s, Oakville, Ont., which has also agreed to pray for and write to those listed in the prayer calendar. Eleven parishioners, some couples and some singles, have agreed to take one day a week to pray for the person or congregation listed and send them a letter telling them that they were prayed for.

Ms. Johnson said her parish has spent the last year and a half studying indigenous issues and inviting guest speakers to talk about indigenous ministries; the prayer and writing project, she said, is a logical next step from that work.

As director of the work of the ACIP, Ms. Johnson recommended a number of resources to the group, but it was the calendar that caught its imagination. One member told Ms. Johnson, “These are now real people for me.”

It is the praying that made the difference, said Ms. Johnson: “The original intent of the calendar was to build prayer support for indigenous Anglicans as they prepare for their Sacred Circle. But prayer has many purposes, some of which we are not aware of until we engage in the exercise.

“Prayer is a many faceted gem.”

Ms. Johnson hopes that other Canadian parishes begin to use prayer and the calendar for its intended purpose.

“We spend so much time trying to organize people to advocacy, but the Holy Spirit can do that too; it can motivate people.”


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