National Indigenous Anglican archbishop hails ‘historic,’ ’joyous moment’
Sacred Circle has officially approved founding documents for the self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada.
The central gathering of Indigenous Anglicans signed and ratified the Covenant and Our Way of Life on May 30, following reports from talking circles that had spent the afternoon discussing the documents (respectively similar to a constitution and canons). Gathered in Bergwen’s Theatre at the Fern Resort in Ramara, Ont., Sacred Circle needed to reach consensus to ratify the combined document.
Just before 6 p.m., Donna Bomberry, interim coordinator of Indigenous Ministries, made an announcement.
“I’m happy to say that this afternoon, I have heard consensus stated here,” Bomberry said as the room burst into applause. Canon Murray Still, co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), and National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Chris Harper were among the first to sign the Covenant and Our Way of Life. Bomberry invited participants to sign their names along with their claimed nations to the document.
With most of Sacred Circle wearing orange shirts that day to honour the memory of children who did not return home from residential schools, a sea of orange flowed toward the stage. The smell of sage, cedar, sweetgrass and tobacco—collectively known as the four sacred medicines—filled the air. Elders and Indigenous bishops, priests, deacons and lay people, as well as Indigenous partners and bishops serving as witnesses, made their way forward to sign. People hugged and sang “Amazing Grace,” “This Little Light of Mine” and other hymns, backed by young Sacred Circle participants on guitar.
Harper called ratification of the Covenant and Our Way of Life a “historic moment,” which he compared to the birth of a child.
“There has been a long wait for this child to be born and having it come now is one of those joyous moments,” the national Indigenous archbishop said. “You get to see the struggle, the prayers, and the culmination of all the sacrifice and work that has gone into it. You get to see also the amount of dedication that the people have had to get to this point.”
He noted that the collective document includes the 1994 Covenant, in which Indigenous Anglicans agreed “to do all we can to call our people into unity in a new, self-determining community within the Anglican Church of Canada.” Many of those signing the Covenant and Our Way of Life in 2023, Harper said, were signing under the names of relatives or other people they knew well.
“For the younger ones … to be able to sign under their relatives’ names is a historic, pivotal moment in their lives too,” Harper said.
“I think with everybody, you could feel the joy. You could feel the excitement. You could feel the relief of being able to see and say that together, we agree: this is our document. And with them signing onto it, they claimed it as theirs.”
At least one signature can be seen on both the 1994 Covenant and the Covenant and Our Way of Life: that of Donna Bomberry.
In 1994, Bomberry was chair of the Native Council, now known as ACIP. Later she played a pivotal role in creating the Covenant and Our Way of Life, serving as an advisor to the Indigenous House of Bishops Leadership Circle and as co-chair of the focus group tasked with developing an Indigenous church.
“I feel that we’ve made a great step forward in bringing [Indigenous Anglicans] together,” Bomberry said, when asked how she felt about ratifying the Covenant and Our Way of Life.
“When we started out, we were of many nations and the church didn’t provide much opportunity … We were kind of isolated in our community: ‘This is our nation and we have these problems.’ But when we first started to come together in 1988”—the year the first National Native Convocation, precursor to Sacred Circle, took place in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask.—“we met one another and learned that we have common issues. We came together to share them and talk to one another about how to find support for the local ministry.”
Bomberry is already looking to the next steps to put the principles in the Covenant and Our Way of Life into practice.
“Now we have to write policies about how to work and build relationships under each of the articles that are written and to clarify what are we talking about here,” she said. “That will help give our communities guidance about what we are as a national Indigenous ministry that they are a part of.” Bomberry anticipated that would involve forming a new focus group to write the policies, bringing in others for consultation.
The Rev. Sheila Cook, a Sacred Circle participant from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, Sask. who serves as priest-in-charge at Christ Church, Alert Bay, said ratifying the Covenant and Our Way of Life means “we’re living into all of our ancestors who brought us here this day and all of our elders who dreamed that they can live their expression of life in Christ” going back several generations.
Harper said the signed Covenant and Our Way of Life would be presented to the wider church at General Synod—a moment, he said, “which we look forward to, saying: this is us. This is what we have. This is the first of a living document, which is constantly going to be adapted and changed as we need and especially as those who follow us will need.”