The bishop of New Westminster says she’s looking forward to working out the details of a future tithe on the sale of church property in the diocese to fund Indigenous communities and programs.
The diocese’s synod, which met May 24-25, passed a motion requesting the diocese provide for one-tenth of future property sales, and of sales retroactive to January 1, 2018, to go to Indigenous causes. The resolution asks that 5 per cent of these funds be returned “to the Indigenous Nations and communities including Métis and Inuit who are the ancestral caretakers of that land for use as they see fit”; that 2.5 per cent fund Indigenous ministries in the diocese; and that another 2.5 per cent go to the Indigenous Ministries department of the Anglican Church of Canada to support the planned self-determining Indigenous Anglican Church.
The diocese covers a swathe of southern B.C. including Vancouver, where real estate prices are among the highest in Canada. In 2018 alone it sold roughly $17.5 million in property after the closure of a number of its churches. The former St. Mark’s Church, in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, sold for about $10 million.
Archbishop Melissa Skelton, diocesan bishop and metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, says she anticipates following up on the resolution with the diocesan council, in consultation with those who brought the resolution forward, as well as Jerry Adams, the diocese’s Indigenous justice ministry coordinator, and people he may wish to bring to the table.
She says she sees in the resolution the potential for expanding the work the diocese has already done in building relationships with Indigenous people.
“It presents our council, and those other people we will consult with in this, with a real substantial challenge—which is, how do we take on an even greater effort toward our priority of Indigenous justice?” she says. “Clearly the synod and its people want us to kick it up a notch and undertake something more ambitious. I see that as a real plus, and I’m very intrigued by what the process of turning a request into some actions will yield…. I just really can’t wait to get working on the process.”
The diocesan council will likely begin working on it at its regular meeting later this month, Skelton says, though she’s reluctant to fix a timeline on the process of putting the resolution into action.
“I wouldn’t want to guess,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to do it on my own, because my timelines are not always other people’s timelines…. There’s so much more discussion that needs to happen that we haven’t had yet.”
The possibility of a tithe on church property sales for Indigenous causes was raised by the national church at a meeting of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) last June. At that meeting, CoGS passed a resolution to establish a “Jubilee Commission” tasked with proposing a “funding base” for the self-determining Indigenous church, including, possibly, a tithe on sales of church property.
Asked how the tithe requested by the synod of New Westminster might fit with any tithe to come out of the Jubilee Commission, Skelton says she thinks this also will need to be part of the diocesan council’s discussions.
Jubilee Commission chair Judith Moses says the commission is “very encouraged and enthusiastic” about the New Westminster tithe resolution. “We will be seeking more detail on it as a possible starting point for a model or models for future sustenance for the Indigenous ministry,” Moses says.
Adams says he has mixed feelings about it. In a June 3 article in the Vancouver Sun, he questions how much consultation the people behind the resolution had done with Indigenous people.
In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Adams says an Indigenous priest, the Rev. Vivian Seegers, did second the resolution, but he himself found out about it only on the morning when it was brought forth.
“I’m torn in so many directions on this one,” he says. “As an Indigenous person, and probably to some of our peoples, it feels like we’re guided to what is right for us again, when there should be inclusion, asking us, ‘Let’s work together.’ They meant well, and I don’t take that away from them at all. [But] I think there needs to be consultation to work with us as a community.
“It’s almost like the Department of Indian Affairs, where they tell us what to do. And we are sensitive around that.”
Adams also questions whether a 10 per cent tithe was enough, given the many needs of Indigenous people in the diocese.
“Funds are always good, no question about that. It’s just, where do you begin, to what people, what nations? I mean you look at the Indigenous missing and murdered women…the children who are being taken away [from their homes], men and women who are incarcerated—which is quite a high percentage of those that are in our correctional institutions—the elders that have gone through residential school…the trauma of many of our people, there’s just so many things that we can put funds to.”
Adams also says the funds might be better directed to existing agencies that provide services to Indigenous people in the area.
He also says, however, that the policy that eventually results from the resolution could well be something that suits Indigenous people much better.
“I hope we work together and that we do come to a good solution,” he says.
Skelton says she was disappointed Adams was not consulted in the process, given “that he is central in the relationship-building with Indigenous peoples we have focused on in the Diocese since articulating Indigenous justice as a priority some five plus years ago.”
She adds she fully intends Adams to play an important role in helping work out the details of “what synod in its wisdom has broadly expressed” in the resolution.
Archdeacon Allan Carson, rector of St. John’s Anglican Church in Sardis, B.C., mover of the resolution, says it originated with a number of people in the diocese, including members of its anti-racism group. He was approached to propose it to synod, and liked it most of all because it seemed a particularly concrete way of promoting reconciliation in the diocese, “a tangible step to say reconciliation needs to be more than words.”
Carson says he learned only after the fact that Adams hadn’t been consulted. Adams was able to help shape the resolution in the form of an amendment he proposed, and which Carson accepted as a friendly amendment, when the motion was on the floor, he said.
Carson says he feels it was important that the motion not be seen as coming from or motivated by the Indigenous community. He also says the resolution was deliberately worded as a “request,” leaving it to the diocesan council to work out its details, rather than dictating how it would work.
Seegers—who is also the first Indigenous woman to be ordained in the diocese—says she was thrilled to be asked to second the resolution.
“It’ll be great to have that money as a source to move Indigenous ministry forward, because right now we depend on funding that is coming from donations” from the collection basket and other givings, she says.
The tithe, she says, lives out the spirit of Leviticus 27:30 (“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.”) The generosity of the tithe, Seegers says, echoes the generosity Indigenous people showed Europeans when they first arrived in the Americas and showed them how to survive.
“Finally, Christians are doing what they are taught to in their Bible, and they’re giving us back what we gave them once upon a time—the absolute generosity that we met them with,” she says. “This is fantastic.”
Seegers also says she feels it was important that the resolution come from “Western” rather than Indigenous people, since, she said, it’s a task for the church to accomplish, not the Indigenous community. Indigenous people, she says, have been conditioned by colonialism not to make such requests themselves.
“As a native person I am taught that I don’t belong. And I am taught to not expect anything,” Seegers says. “There’s no way that I would even think that I had any kind of power or influence to do this, to put forward this kind of a motion.”
In 2014, the City of Vancouver formally declared that it sat on unceded Indigenous territory.