Clergy, guests, and members of General Synod 2016 sing together at the Sunday Eucharist. Photo by Art Babych

Daily Report from the 41st General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada: Sunday, July 10, 2016

The fourth day of 41st General Synod 2016 at the Sheraton Parkway North Toronto Hotel and Suites in Richmond Hill, Ontario began with a Sunday worship service in the Grand York Ballroom.


The celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Sunday was done in the spirit of an Indigenous ceremony, with Indigenous Anglican clergy taking the lead and Bible passages read in native languages including Inuktitut and Oji-Cree. Members of General Synod sang hymns together a capella, which National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said gave a sense of Indigenous churches where hymns are sung without instrumental accompaniment.

With a gospel reading detailing the story of the Good Samaritan, table groups engaged in a round of gospel-based discipleship, reading the passage three times and taking part in successive rounds of discussion around the questions: What stands out to you in the gospel? What do we hear Jesus saying to us in the gospel? What is Jesus calling us to do?

In her homily, Bishop Lydia Mamakwa expounded upon how God in the Old Testament spoke to people through prophets such as Amos, the subject of the first reading, and asked how many of those listening could relate to Amos, compelled to carry out the message God entrusted them with. She noted how St. Paul spoke to us in Second Corinthians, reminding us of the Good News spread throughout the world and its power to change lives.

Reflecting on the tale of the Good Samaritan, Bishop Mamakwa said that Jesus asks us, no matter our background or stature, to show love and compassion for those who have been victims. Today, she noted, we have many victims in our society. What are we doing to help them? She concluded by exhorting her listeners to abide by the teachings of Jesus and show love for one another.

Afternoon Plenary

Members of General Synod returned after lunch for the afternoon plenary, which focused on issues related to Indigenous self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada.

Where We Are Today: Twenty Years after the Covenant, an Indigenous Call to the Wider Church

Archdeacon Sidney Black began the afternoon by reading the summary statement for the September 2014 draft document Where We Are Today: Twenty Years after the Covenant, an Indigenous Call to the Wider Church. He framed the document in terms of elders seeking the peace Indigenous people know through their ceremonies, way of life, rituals, and concern for ecology and extending a hand in friendship. Table groups went into discussion to answer the questions: What do you find exciting about this document, and what do you find challenging about this document?

Members were given an opportunity to to ask questions or seek clarification. Bishop MacDonald gave some background on Where We Are Today, the product of a request by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) for such a statement that the Indigenous House of Bishops leadership circle subsequently drafted.

Questions included a desire to clarify the nature of self-determination for Indigenous Anglicans in relation to the Anglican Church of Canada as a whole. Bishop MacDonald reminded us that many nations could exist within a diocese. He also reminded the Synod, that urban indigenous ministries are complex as parishes could be indigenous and non-indigenous, with many different peoples and nations represented.

Presentation—Tina Keeper

Bishop Mark MacDonald asked members of General Synod to rise as he introduced Tina Keeper, a Cree woman, activist, producer, and actress known for her starring role on the television program North of 60, and former Minister of Parliament for Churchill, Manitoba. Originally from Northwestern Ontario in Treaty 9 territory, Keeper’s mother and father were both Anglican priests and her uncle a bishop.

Keeper said she was encouraged by the discussion over the course of the day and by statements made by Indigenous members of General Synod and ACIP, but also by the church as a whole. She recalled her time as an associate producer for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet production Going Home Star—Truth and Reconciliation, which featured a story written by author Joseph Boyden depicting the abuse of Aboriginal children at Indian residential schools, and discussed how Indigenous aesthetics, history, and culture had often been simplified in the view of non-Indigenous people.

Keeper emphasized the pride she felt as a Cree Indigenous woman, the perseverance and determination of Indigenous peoples who would not be conquered. Speaking to the social and economic problems facing many Indigenous communities today, Keeper painted the defense of Indigenous rights to land and resources, and the commitment to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples as not just as a moral obligation, but an indispensable part of how Canada would move forward into the future. We are all affected, she said, by colonialization.

Council of Indigenous Elders and Youth

After Keeper’s presentation, two Anglican youth, Danielle Black and the Rev. Leigh Kearn, hand-drummed and sang The Women’s Warrior Song and The Strong Woman Song for members of General Synod, dedicating their performance to justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz then described how Call to Action #48 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had called on church parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to formally adopt and comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to issue a statement by March 31, 2016 declaring how they would implement the UN declaration.

In his March 19 statement, he committed to forming a Council of Indigenous Elders and Youth to help the church live out its response to Call to Action #48 in consultation with the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. The Primate then presented the members of the council:

  • Archdeacon Sidney Black, longtime member of ACIP;
  • Judith Moses, consultant and lay reader;
  • Canon Laverne Jacobs, retired priest, former coordinator of Indigenous Ministries, member of Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice;
  • Danielle Black, filmmaker and graduate of Adam Beach Film Institute who has created videos of young people engaged in Sacred Circle;
  • Aaron Sault, lay reader preparing to study at Vancouver School of Theology;
  • The Rev. Leigh Kern, curate at St. James Cathedral in Toronto

The Primate commissioned the council in prayer, and each member confirmed publicly his or her acceptance to this call to ministry. Each was anointed with oil to seal their ministry. Members of General Synod promised to do everything within their prayer and power to help the members of the council in their ministry.

Report—Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice

Bishop Mark MacDonald introduced the report by the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice. He provided some background on the Doctrine of Discovery and how the principle of terra nullis, that the land was empty land before being “discovered” by European settlers, had influenced the traumatic history of colonization in North America and a lingering sense of paternalism among settler peoples towards Indigenous peoples that continues to this day.

After a traditional Indigenous creation story by commission co-chair Andrew Wesley, fellow co-chair, Archbishop Terry Finlay, said that although the commission was tasked with presenting their report to General Synod, their work would take much longer, and the report he provided to members was in effect an interim report. He invited them to listen to two members of the commission, Jennifer Henry and Dixie Bird.

Henry, who described herself as a settler member of the commission, communicated to members of General Synod the sense of urgency she felt with regard to the report, with the present representing a crucial moment for both the Anglican Church of Canada and the country. Henry urged members of General Synod to take the report not as isolated acts, but as an invitation to commit their whole lives to the work of right relations in our time between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Dixie Bird, an Indigenous member of the commission from Montreal Lake Cree Nation in Treaty 6 territory, grounded the General Synod in the situation in her home community. Bird described issues revolving around maternal health, rising suicide rates, addictions, and growing despair among youth, which she said reflected the situation in many similar communities across Canada. She asked members of General Synod to keep them in their prayers.

Archbishop Hiltz spoke about different gestures in relation to reconciliation. Guiding members of General Synod through a history of reconciliation through the last few decades, the Primate distinguished between gestures toward reconciliation, gestures of reconciliation, and gestures in reconciliation. The 1993 apology by then-Primate Michael Peers was an example of a gesture toward reconciliation.

Any further progress, however, required reciprocity on the part of those who had suffered. The Primate described words by Bishop Gordon Beardy to Archbishop Peers at the 2001 General Synod, in which Beardy—himself a residential school survivor—expressed his forgiveness of the church as an example of a gesture of reconciliation.

Finally, Archbishop Hiltz pointed to the appointment of National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald at General Synod 2005 as perhaps the greatest example in the church of a gesture in reconciliation, the sign of a new beginning, new hope, and a new way of walking together and being church. The second example of a gesture in reconciliation was the establishment of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh in 2013. The Primate expressed his hope that the establishment of the Council of Indigenous Elders and Youth that day would serve as another gesture to keep the church moving forward.

Archbishop Finlay invited table groups to discuss two questions: How do you define reconciliation, and how do you use your knowledge of reconciliation? After a discussion period, he commended the interim report of the Primate’s Commission to them, setting out a timeline for the recommendations running up to July 31, 2017. He hoped that each diocese would find a champion to carry the recommendations forward and work with the commission to implement them.

Presentation—The Confederacy of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada

Indigenous Ministries Coordinator Ginny Doctor next took the podium to offer a presentation describing the vision for a fifth ecclesiastical province, to be known as the Confederacy of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada. She based the description on the poem The Dream by Bishop Wesley Frensdorff, former bishop of Nevada and Navajo Land in The Episcopal Church.

“Let us dream,” she said, of a church in which all members know surely and simply God’s great love; in which worship is lively and fun as well as reverent and holy; in which members pray and hear liturgy in their own language; in which the sacraments are available to every congregation regardless of budget, in which every congregation is free to call from its midst priests and deacons, sure in the knowledge that training and support services are available to back them up whether stipendiary or non-stipendiary.

Doctor noted that the Anglican Church of Canada had been in a relationship with Indigenous peoples since 1753. In the century following Confederation, the Anglican Church of Canada ran approximately 26 of the 80 church-run residential schools. Between 50,000 and 100,000 Aboriginal children attended those schools. Indigenous people make up four per cent of the Canadian Anglican population. About 225 Canadian Anglican congregations have all or nearly all-Indigenous membership. There are approximately 130 Indigenous Anglican priests in Canada. Many work on a non-stipendiary or volunteer basis.

Doctor presented the dream of a church in both remote and urban areas, a church that ministered to the homeless and people from many countries, and that welcomed people regardless of sexual orientation. “Let us dream,” she said, of a church inside prison walls and rehabilitation centres, a church on the river bank and in the wilderness, that was as concerned with societal healing as individual healing, and that aimed to confront social, economic, and political ills, especially those impacting Indigenous people.

Doctor invited past Indigenous Ministries’ coordinators, Laverne Jacobs and Donna Bomberry, to expand on the vision. They spoke of the unique culture of Indigenous Anglicans and the desire to create a better future for generations yet to come.

Mission Statement for an Indigenous Anglican Spiritual Ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada

After supper, Bishop MacDonald read out the five goals from the draft of a mission statement for a Confederacy of Indigenous Anglican Spiritual Ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada. The five goals represent an “indigenized” form of the Marks of Mission.

Subsequent table group discussions allowed members to ponder two questions in relation to the mission statement: What stands out to you in this statement, and what do you hear God calling our church to in this mission statement?

Following the discussions, Bishop MacDonald noted that the focus of the document was not on governance and structures, but on ministry, and that ACIP would take comments by members of General Synod into consideration as it continued on the path toward self-determination.

Unique Features of a Confederacy of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry

Doctor then discussed a second document put before members of General Synod, Unique Features of a Confederacy of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry, the result of many consultations on how Indigenous people could become spiritually fulfilled, and how Indigenous Anglicans could heal broken hearts and tell young people about their faith.

Point by point, she went through the 13 features of a Confederacy of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry outlined in the document, which included:

  1. Appropriate resources for leadership formation including respect for the Indigenous community’s call to spiritual leadership;
  2. Indigenous ordination canons and appropriate training for ministry;
  3. Incorporation of traditional ceremonies and teachings into liturgy, e.g. naming ceremony with baptism;
  4. High value on Elders and Youth;
  5. Cultural structure, structures that fit the community;
  6. Better relationships between Indigenous communities and settler communities;
  7. More authority for National Indigenous Anglican Bishop;
  8. Circular leadership, shared leadership that is one of equity, and the gifts and talents of all are honoured and utilized;
  9. Meaningful prayer books and hymnals. Hymns in ‘Common Praise’ are difficult to sing, words in the Book of Common Prayer may be foreign to the Indigenous community;
  10. Ministry plans grounded in the baptismal covenant, the five Marks of Mission and the Seven Traditional Teachings are the basis for responding to crises in our communities and in making justice;
  11. Stronger focus on stewardship of the land, using the Creator’s gifts to sustain mission and ministry;
  12. Church to Nation relationship, respecting and honouring Indigenous secular leadership; and
  13. High value on healing from historical trauma and other trauma prevalent in our Indigenous communities.

Sidney Black highlighted the need for training of spiritual leaders that took into account the unique circumstances in Indigenous communities, Bishop MacDonald spoke about the importance of “the land” as a concept in Indigenous spiritual traditions, and Donna Bomberry discussed the hope for a future in which the historical trauma facing Indigenous people has been healed.

After Bishop McDonald conclude with a reiteration of the reasons and need for Indigenous self-determination, Archbishop Hiltz thanked all of those who had led the members of General Synod through the day, which he described as a highlight of the Synod. “One of the great memories of this Synod,” he said, “will be this Sunday” and the beautiful liturgy of the morning Eucharist. The Primate described the many lessons of the afternoon, the reminders of the sad history of residential schools and the Doctrine of Discovery, but also moments of apology, hope, healing, journeying together in the spirit of 1994 covenant, and finally the presentations on the mission statement and principles around the Confederacy of Indigenous Spiritual Ministry within the church.

Prolocutor Cynthia Haines-Turner brought forward a motion, which was then carried. Resolution A010 received the Primate’s Council of Elders and Youth, the report of the Primate’s Commission on Discovery, Reconciliation, and Justice, and the Mission Statement for Indigenous Anglican Spiritual Ministry within the Anglican Church of Canada of 2016.

Archbishop Hiltz and Bishop McDonald said a covenant prayer together in unison, before ACIP presented the Primate with a blanket depicting an eagle and medicine wheel, thanking him for his love and care.

Gospel Jamboree

The evening ended with the Gospel Jamboree, a mainstay of Indigenous church culture that helped preserve Indigenous peoples during the most difficult times of their lives. Musicians onstage performed hymns and spiritual songs with members of General Synod joining in.

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