Record number to attend Sacred Circle

Published August 4, 2009

More than 200 people from across Canada are expected to attend the sixth Anglican Indigenous Sacred Circle scheduled Aug. 9 to 15 in Port Elgin, Ont.

It will be the largest gathering since 1988, when 180 First Nations, Inuit and Metis people from local church communities across the country gathered for the first time at Fort Q’Appelle, Sask. to share their experiences of being native Anglicans.

“I think it has a lot to do with a growing sense of excitement and opportunity. A lot of things that we dreamed of for decades are beginning to come together,” said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald.

This Sacred Circle will include discussions on the next steps in self-determination for aboriginal Anglicans, as defined in A New Agape, a work plan and vision for partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Anglicans. “This will be a chance for the Governance Working Group to be in consultation with the Sacred Circle and the partners will be there to talk about what are the next steps in the process since we’re close to General Synod,” said Bishop MacDonald in an interview. “I think we’ll have some important things to say and to propose to General Synod and we’ll just have to see how the conversations go. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Circle itself shapes that material.”

The Governance Working Group is proposing the creation of a new ecclesiastical province that would allow the Anglican Church of Canada’s indigenous members to govern themselves and achieve “self-determination, jurisdiction and authority.” The proposal, which was presented to the Canadian house of bishops last fall, would create a province that is not geographically-based, but will be named by indigenous Anglicans, and where membership is “invited, not coerced or compulsory.” It will be among the recommendations that will be presented at the 2010 meeting of General Synod, the church’s governing body, to be held June 3 to 11, in Halifax.

Bishop MacDonald underscored the importance of a Sacred Circle in the life of aboriginal Anglicans. “Many of the governance forms that First Nations people have used have been (ones) that were imposed – representative models and values and means that were quite different from the ones that they were used to,” he said. “That isn’t to say that there hasn’t been a First Nations’ shaping of some of those things over time. But in reality, most of the things in the church have been presented to First Nations people as, ‘This is the way it’s done. Now you imitate that and you’ll be successful.'”

The Sacred Circle has its roots in indigenous gatherings where people cast their visions and consult with elders, he said. “It underlines two critical things: God has made a Sacred Circle, a web of life, and at our best, we align ourselves with that…It’s become increasingly important for us to put the Gospel in the center of the Circle…It’s also a platform or launching pad for that to happen.”

At the gathering, participants will be divided into 12 “talking circles,” where each one gets a chance and is encouraged to speak. Each day of the gathering, talking circles will be asked to reflect on and share what they have heard and how they feel about keynote speakers’ messages. Guide questions include: “What is the church for you today? What should the church be doing? What do we, the church, do to get there? What are our next steps? What will I tell the people when I get home?”

Past Sacred Circles have led to pivotal moments in the life of indigenous Anglicans. In 1993, then-primate Archbishop Michael Peers apologized on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada for its role in running Indian Residential Schools, where many students said they suffered physical and sexual abuse. In 2005, then-primate Archbishop Andrew Hutchison and bishops accepted a proposal presented by 41 elders for the appointment of a National Anglican Indigenous Bishop. Bishop MacDonald was subsequently appointed in 2007 as the first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop with pastoral authority. (The appointment of a National Indigenous Anglican Bishop with full authority and jurisdiction will require changes to church laws that would have to be approved by two General Synods.)

This summer’s Sacred Circle will begin with a sunrise lighting of the sacred fire on Monday, Aug. 10, to be followed by an opening Eucharist to be celebrated by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The sacred fire, which will be manned by an elder, is “the place of counsel,” where anyone is free to sit and approach, said Donna Bomberry, indigenous ministries co-ordinator of the Anglican Church of Canada’s indigenous ministries department.

The Sacred Circle, which has the theme, “The Mighty Wind of the Spirit: the New Beginnings,” will end each night with a Gospel Music Jamboree.

Other attendees include bishops and General Synod staff.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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