Albania’s great mission theologian, Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, says the twin goals of mission are the “incarnation of the logos [word] of God into the language and customs of a country, and the growth of an indigenous church which will sanctify and endorse the people’s personality.”
This is an excellent summary of the mission vision of indigenous ministries and the network of indigenous congregations across Canada. We have sought the freedom to respond to the good news of Jesus in a way that expresses our culture fully. Guided by scripture and the teaching of Christ as they are received in the traditions of the church, we have further developed indigenous hymn-singing traditions, applied indigenous values and protocols to church governance and fully embraced the indigenous approach to ceremonial time. Indigenous leadership has been advanced by the council of our elders and has resulted in the selection and consecration of indigenous bishops.
Though there has been some resistance to this, most Christians have been supportive. And now, encouraged by indigenous example, a growing number of these Christians have begun to ask if the rest of the church can do more to pursue the twin goals of mission, too.
For the past few centuries, churches in Canada have accepted mission that gives priority to reproducing forms originating in Europe. It was a part of an oft-misguided project of “civilizing” (Europeanizing) the Americas. While it may have worked for many of the past few generations of immigrants, it does not appear to be working as well with their children, who have certainly been influenced by European culture but have also become children of this great land.
The Christian faith is about the sanctification of life, its elements, motions and movements. The inspired and precious Book of Common Prayer should motivate us to reach outward and forward. Let’s ask ourselves: can we develop the ceremonies, prayers and faith that will help contemporary Christians make our 21st-century life reflect the holiness and grace of God? Do we have the ways and means to confront culture when it goes astray? It is time that the whole church joins indigenous peoples to receive and celebrate the gospel in the fullness of its joy, freedom and glory.
Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.