Catechists and Indigenous Ministries staff gather in the chapel of General Synod.

Catechist training empowers local leaders

Twelve Indigenous leaders from across Canada attended a catechist (faith teacher) training event at General Synod offices in Toronto May 17 to 19. In seven modules, the training equipped leaders with the basics about the Christian faith so they could teach others and strengthen faith locally.

Catechists and Indigenous Ministries staff gather in the chapel of General Synod.
Catechists and Indigenous Ministries staff gather in the chapel of General Synod.

“It’s about helping people meet Jesus on their homelands,” said the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor, Indigenous Ministries coordinator.

Each module was led by National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and  connected to a traditional Indigenous teaching. The session on “Holy Scriptures,” connected with traditional teaching on truth, and “Sin and redemption,” linked to traditional teaching on humility.

When Ruby Sandy Robinson of Kawawachikamach, Que. was invited to the training, she said “yes,” right away. Her father, the Rev. Joseph Sandy, was a classic example of an influential catechist.

As a young boy Joseph Sandy chopped firewood to heat the tent where the Anglican community worshipped. He grew up to become a server, a worship leader, and then was trained as a catechist. In 1976 was ordained a deacon.

“Dad was a spiritual leader,” said Ms. Robinson. “People looked up to him for everything. He and my mom would help people out, whether it was for food or whatever they needed.”

Bishop MacDonald credits lay leader catechists like Joseph Sandy for the spread of Christianity in North American Indigenous communities, beginning in the late 1800s.

Often the institutional church missed this growth. In Alaska, most of the Gwich’in people became committed Christians, he said, but European missionaries missed it because the Gwich’in didn’t become civilized in ways that church leaders expected.

“The [church’s] goal was to get everyone to wear cotton and to be agricultural which of course doesn’t work out very well in the Arctic,” laughed Bishop MacDonald.

As he and Ginny Doctor have visited Indigenous Anglican communities across Canada they have seen the fruits of the work done by these local lay leaders.

In the entrance to a new Anglican church in Split Lake, Man., for example, hangs a prominent portrait of an influential catechist—a beloved face that would only be recognized by locals.

Sheba Mackay of Kingfisher Lake was one of six young people at the training event. Currently she leads English services at her church on Sunday afternoons but she feels God leading her deeper.

“Sometimes I feel in my heart that I need to get back into my involvement with the church and to have that connection with God,” she said. “It completes me.”

Ruby Sandy Robinson, a member of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, also said she wondered how God would lead her after the training. She said she plans to take the training home to share with five young lay readers who have recently stepped up to lead at her home church.

“I love coming here because it renews my strength,” she said. “I keep thinking, oh my goodness this is what my dad learned! I’m learning it now.”

The catechist training was taped and will be expanded for future offerings. For more information, contact the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor by email or phone: (416) 924-9199 ext. 626.

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