Primate likens Covenant and Our Way of Life to ‘new beginning’ in Sacred Circle reflection
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, reaffirmed the interdependence of Sacred Circle and the broader church in a brief speech May 31 at the 11th Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle.
The primate compared Sacred Circle’s deliberation over the Covenant and Our Way of Life, ratified the previous day, to the biblical story in the Book of Nehemiah about the rebuilding of Jerusalem by the Jews, following the return from their captivity in Babylon.
“Although your story is different from the one of the Jewish exiles returning, as their exile was from disobedience and your exile was forced upon you … I have a sense that you are rebuilding—or maybe building for the first time—renewing and claiming a covenant and way of life for Indigenous Anglican communities that will be life-giving and hope-filled in a new way,” Nicholls said.
“Ezra and Nehemiah read the covenant to the people and invited their wholehearted assent as a new beginning. Over the past few years, you have been reviewing the Covenant and Our Way of Life and yesterday gave your assent by consensus to this Covenant.” It was an “incredibly exciting” moment, the primate said, and “a great honour and a privilege” to be present with Sacred Circle for it.
The primate recalled the many challenges since the last Sacred Circle in 2018, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the death of then Indigenous Ministries coordinator Ginny Doctor in May 2021, which left an “irreplaceable gap in the leadership circle,” Nicholls said.
The discovery of unmarked burial sites at residential schools in the last few years, the primate said, had also opened up old wounds for many families. She reiterated the commitment of bishops and dioceses to work with Indigenous communities to search archives and provide support wherever is needed.
Through the challenges of recent years, the primate said, “the resilience of the Indigenous community rose again.” She praised the leadership of Bishop Sidney Black, who served as interim national Indigenous bishop prior to the appointment of Chris Harper as the new national Indigenous Anglican archbishop last December.
Nicholls said she looked forward to celebrating the self-determination of the Indigenous church at General Synod and Assembly from June 27 to July 2 with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
When it meets in Calgary, she said, General Synod will consider five “transformational aspirations” as part of its new strategic plan. One of these aspirations is for the Anglican Church of Canada to be a church that “champions the dignity of every human being” and “works to dismantle racism and colonialism.” Another is to be a church that “embraces mutual interdependence with the Indigenous church (Sacred Circle).” Both of these aspirations, Nicholls said, “are deeply woven through our relationship together.”
“We need each other,” the primate said. “I know there has been the voice of deep independence and desire for that independence here in this gathering, and I applaud that and long to see that for you. But I hope you will not forget that the rest of the church needs you, because you bring something new and different to us and our understanding of the gospel.
“We know there is much more work remaining in the seven generations needed for healing and reconciliation … We cannot be complacent by hope. We can be grateful for the steps taken so far. We have continued to increase in understanding of the whole story through education, teaching, and our willingness to stay together and to challenge one another.”
The primate’s reflection took place on “Red Shirt Day” at Sacred Circle, when participants dressed in red to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. After her address, Harper presented Nicholls with a scarf by Sioux artist Maxine Noel called “Not Forgotten,” on behalf of Sacred Circle in thanksgiving for the primate’s ministry and for being with them during their gathering.
Harper said the scarf would commemorate “this day when you see red before you, remembering all the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, men across our lands; remembering always the changes that we need; remembering also those of our loved ones and also remembering what we have going ahead.”