Sacred Circle ponders principles of future Indigenous church

Members of the ninth Indigenous Sacred Circle, which is being held in Prince George, B.C. this week August 6-11, make their way to the site of the gathering’s opening Eucharist Tuesday, August 7. Photo: Tali Folkins
Published August 8, 2018

Prince George, B.C.

Indigenous Canadian Anglicans inched closer to having a spiritual organization of their own Tuesday, August 7, as the ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle, meeting in Prince George, B.C., August 6-11, pondered a document proposing guiding principles for the future church.

Sacred Circle, the national decision-making body of Indigenous Canadian Anglicans that meets every three years, was presented with the document, “An Indigenous Spiritual Movement: Becoming What God Intends Us To Be,” by National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald. MacDonald said he had drafted the document, with revisions from other Canadian Indigenous Anglican leaders, and was presenting it to the Sacred Circle “not as something that is finished, but something that we look for your wisdom and guidance on.” Members of the assembly were asked to break up into smaller groups and present their comments.

Canadian Indigenous Anglican leaders are hoping to present a resolution creating a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada to General Synod when it next meets in summer 2019.

The document MacDonald presented to Sacred Circle, now available on the Anglican Church of Canada’s website, envisions that the future self-determining church would express Anglican Christianity in particularly Indigenous ways, incarnating “the Word of God and the essence of Christian Faith into the culture and life of the local community.” It foresees fostering the growth of “communities of disciples,” from which its future leaders will be raised; this leadership, the document states, “must no longer be patterned and controlled by the practices and values of Western cultures” but by “Biblical faith lived out in Indigenous life,” and the future church will feature “many different attempts at local, regional, and across-the-land non-Western expressions of governance, liturgy, and pastoral practice.”

The document suggests a relatively decentralized approach will guide the governance of the future organization. “Indigenous self-determination gives priority to the local level,” it states. “Each congregation and every community will operate in their own way and in their own timing. They will be consulted on those matters that affect them and they will decide for themselves how they will be involved in future actions and organizations of self-determination. No single model is considered the way for all.”

Funding for the future church, the document suggests, is to come both from within it and from the rest of the Anglican Church of Canada. “Indigenous stewardship is, as it has been and will be, the primary way of support for Indigenous Ministry,” it states. “At the same time, it must be noted that justice and reparations are an essential part of the process of reconciliation. This demands that the larger Church carefully and fearlessly offer a fair share of the wealth it has received from its participation in the colonial expansion across the Land.”

At the core of Indigenous self-determination, according to the document, will be the ideal of gospel-based discipleship, including regular engagement with the gospel, a priority on the spiritual formation of oneself and others and living as a “community of disciples.

“It has been our experience that some people look upon self-determination as a political idea, a political movement, and we have tried to articulate a very different vision,” MacDonald told the Sacred Circle. He and the others who drafted the document, he said, wanted to convey that what interests them most is not who will be in charge of the future church and who will pay for it, but the idea that “self-determination really begins in someone’s heart and life.”

“It has been our experience that some people look upon self-determination as a political idea, a political movement, and we have tried to articulate a very different vision,” National Indigenous Anglican Bishop MacDonald told the Sacred Circle Tuesday, August 7. Photo: Tali Folkins

Many of those reporting to the rest of Sacred Circle on their small-group discussions said they generally favoured the document; several also said they needed to give it more time and consideration. Some groups requested that the language of the document be simpler; others said they disliked that in places it was worded in what seemed a “Western” or “colonial” way.

One group said that not all their communities were on-board with self-determination, because they were under the impression that it would mean leaving the Anglican Church of Canada; the document, the group reported, should state more clearly that a self-determining Indigenous church would remain within the existing church. Another group said the document had an overly “aggressive” tone.

“It creates an us-and-them mentality, which I don’t think everybody wants to support,” the group reported.

The presentation and discussion of the document were among the highlights of proceedings at Sacred Circle August 7, the gathering’s first working day. The day had also featured a sermon by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, at the gathering’s opening Eucharist. Hiltz noted that Sacred Circle was meeting on the 25th anniversary of the apology given August 6, 1993 by former primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, for the church’s role in the Indian residential school system. Hiltz repeated Peers’s assertion that, in taking part in the school system, Canadian Anglicans had failed Indigenous people, had failed themselves and had failed God.

“What happened in our history was nothing less than an assault on your spirituality and your culture, your languages, your dances, your ceremonies, your ways of being in community…an assault rooted in the evil of racism and the arrogance, spiritual arrogance, of a papal bull,” Hiltz said.

Now more than ever, he said, Canadians need to ensure Peers’s apology “remains a living text” by continuing to work with Indigenous Canadians on healing and reconciliation.

“We as a church have lived with this great failure for a very long time, and we will have to for a very long time yet, until that day when the arc of history is finally bent in the direction of the rightness of relationships with one another in God, in the blessedness of genuine respect and loving kindness toward one another and the justice that rolls down with that thundering roar and rising mist of a mighty waterfall,” he said.

“More than ever, let us strive to be the church to which the apology continues to summon us.”


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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