This article first appeared in the January issue of the Anglican Journal.
In last month’s editorial, Canada deserves better (Dec. 2013, p. 4), I concluded by saying, “It would be gratifying in 2014 if we were able to see political leadership centred on integrity, justice and honesty, at all levels and in all branches of government; leadership that gives us a sense of pride. It is what Canadians deserve.”
In November, at the meeting of the Council of General Synod, we saw church leadership centred on those three principles of integrity, justice and honesty in the person of former primate Archbishop Michael Peers.
In the celebration of the 20th anniversary of “The Apology” to indigenous people for the role the church played in the Indian residential schools system, council members watched an Anglican Video production, Dancing The Dream. The video tells the story of the 1993 aboriginal gathering at Minaki Lodge, Ont., where the apology was offered.
The words of the apology are very powerful. When I experienced, through the video, the context of the original gathering, those words took on an even greater significance.
Archbishop Michael found no need to defend the church, to manipulate the truth, or to hide or excuse the abuse. He was not there to be popular, to assert power or to protect his leadership for its own purpose.
He was there to listen and to pray. His ability to be quiet allowed other voices, many for the first time, to speak-some to cry and others to share the pain, fear, shame, anxiety and guilt they had been holding in for decades.
Archbishop Michael demonstrated the heart of a pastor during his time at the native gathering. In a gracious and loving way, he embodied what priest and author Henri Nouwen described in his book, In the Name of Jesus: the hallmarks of Christian leadership, including humility, vulnerability and an unceasing desire to live in and from the presence of Christ.
Archbishop Michael also committed the church to something more than words: “I know how often you have heard words which have been empty because they have not been accompanied by actions. I pledge to you my best efforts, and the efforts of our church at the national level, to walk with you along the path of God’s healing.”
There is an extremely important part of the apology that has not received the recognition that it is due. The gathering not only received the apology but accepted it. Vi Smith, an elder, spoke on behalf of the convocation:
“On behalf of this gathering, we acknowledge and accept the apology that the Primate has offered on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada. It was offered from his heart with sincerity, sensitivity, compassion and humility. We receive it in the same manner. We offer praise and thanks to our Creator for his courage. We know it wasn’t easy. Let us keep him in our hearts and prayers that God will continue to give him the strength and courage to continue with his tasks.”
The graciousness of the then-primate was met by an even greater graciousness from the elders and participants.
Leadership, be it in the church, government or in society, needs the qualities of integrity, justice and honesty that Archbishop Michael displayed at Minaki. I, for one, feel proud to be an Anglican.
Archdeacon A. Paul Feheley is interim managing editor of the Anglican Journal.
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