Say the words “Indigenous ministry,” and the first image that comes to mind might be of a priest flying in to a remote community in a bush plane, or advocating for clean water on reserves.
While there are many priests and laypeople engaged in precisely this kind of work across Canada, many ministers are facing a different question: how should the Anglican Church serve the large population of Indigenous people living in Canada’s urban centres?
Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, Metropolitan (senior bishop) of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land, has had a lot of experience with this question – he served as dean of All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral in Edmonton before becoming bishop, first of the largely rural diocese of Qu’Appelle and then of the highly urban diocese of Calgary. He is also aware of the challenges of ministering to Indigenous people in the city.
For this reason, he facilitated a workshop at the 8th National Anglican Sacred Circle, held August 16 to 22, bringing together individuals from across the country who have experience with Indigenous urban ministry.
Some issues around Indigenous urban ministry may be the same across the country, but there are also regional dynamics that make the context different for each city, he said.
One of the things that was true across the board, he noted, was the “strong, strong emphasis on personal relationship, of connecting with people on a one-on-one level.” Many Indigenous people, he said, try to connect with Anglican churches in the city, only to be treated automatically “like they are somebody that needs to be looked after.”
According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, in 2011, 56% of Indigenous people lived in urban areas-a six-point increase since 1996. Off-reserve Indigenous people are the fastest growing segment of Canadian society.
Kerr-Wilson stressed that churches should not treat Indigenous people like a problem to be solved. This is true even in situations where Indigenous people need help with homelessness or addictions, he said.
“We aren’t going to be able to address any of those other things effectively if it’s not within the context of viewing our Indigenous brothers and sisters as part of the family.”
But the workshop didn’t only focus on the church’s shortcomings. The Rev. Barbara Shoomski, an honorary assistant at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Winnipeg and Indigenous elder who has been active in urban Indigenous ministry for 15 years, said she appreciated that the workshop gave her an opportunity to talk about some of the successful ministry initiatives in Winnipeg.
“We always talk about negative stuff, right? So we were trying to talk about things that are happening in those ministries that are positive and help people,” she said.
One of the programs she is involved with is a mom’s group, which provides mothers with advice and support in parenting and life skills.
“[We] encourage them to play with their kids, feed them properly,” she said. “I’m the elder there, so if they have problems they can come and talk to me.” In the 10 years since she has run the program, six of these mothers have gone back to university and eight have gone back to work, she also noted.
Shoomski said the workshop was helpful to her insofar as it encouraged her to keep going.