A November meeting of Sacred Circle, a gathering of Indigenous Anglicans from across Canada, saw members continuing to polish a pair of foundational documents for the self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada.
The second part of the 10th Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle met via Zoom on Nov. 12 and 13 to offer feedback and suggest additional changes to A Covenant and Our Way of Life—documents equivalent to constitution and canons, respectively. Members initially looked at the documents at the first part of the meeting, held online in July.
The November meeting ended with Sacred Circle looking to share drafts for community feedback. A working group of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples plans to complete further updates in December. Sacred Circle will then hold an in-person meeting in May 2022 with hopes to affirm final versions of the documents there.
“It’s very clear that Indigenous governance is based on the idea of relation,” National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald said of the principles guiding the documents. “This is relation to each other, relation to God and relation to the land … What we’re really talking about here is living into that and believing that this is what God has called us to be.”
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in opening remarks described the eagerness with which Anglicans are anticipating the work of Sacred Circle “as a sign and a foretaste of new relationships with Indigenous peoples in our church”.
The primate noted the presence of Archbishop MacDonald at the recent COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. “It was apparent at COP26, and is apparent in other ways, that the world is paying attention in a deeper way to Indigenous voices, and the power of those voices is changing what is happening around us,” she said.
Both days of Sacred Circle began with gospel-based discipleship. The first day’s discussion focused on Article X of Our Way of Life: “Of Conflict, Hurt or Violation of Our Way of Life.” Members praised this section for seeking non-colonial ways to resolve conflicts. An example was the use of sharing circles, which provide a safe place for people to speak and hear the other person’s viewpoint. Sacred Circle members also expressed a desire to “go back to the biblical model of Jesus to address hurts and conflicts in the church.” Article X lays out as well a key role for elders in conflict resolution.
The second day included a video greeting from Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu of the Maori Anglican Church in New Zealand, who is chair of the Anglican Indigenous Network, an international grouping of Indigenous Anglicans.
Pikaahu said the theme of the 10th Sacred Circle, “Returning Home: Remembering the Lost,” reminded him of the biblical story of the prodigal son. He connected this story to the negative impact of residential schools, in which generations of Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families. Some never returned home, as evidenced by the ongoing discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites.
“Seeing the children taken away from the arms of love in their embrace would only leave [families] to keep their eyes on the horizon, waiting expectedly for their return, looking outwards and waiting,” Pikaahu said. “I pray that we, like the father [of the prodigal son], can live in hope and look forward to the resurrection that joy and love bring.”
The remainder of the second day’s discussions focused on what Sacred Circle members could do and what they needed to take A Covenant and Our Way of Life forward. Members spoke about the need to get youth involved in review of the documents, to translate the documents into Indigenous languages, and to share their work with non-Indigenous as well as Indigenous Anglicans.
In closing remarks, Archbishop MacDonald described Sacred Circle as seeking a return not just to the ways of Indigenous ancestors, but to how Jesus told his disciples to live—as relatives through the land, their common faith and discipleship.
“Let us return to the simplicity, the freedom and the power of what our ancestors lived and … of the gospel,” MacDonald said. “These things will bring freedom and hope to our families and to our children and to our grandchildren.”
“They will remember that we gathered here as we have over these past few days,” he added. “They will be grateful … They will understand it better than we do, and they will know better than we do the importance of what we have done together.”