Fly-in community to host national church meeting

 Logistics are the challenge of gathering in Kingfisher Lake, pop. 411

A national church committee will descend upon this tiny, remote First Nations community in the diocese of Keewatin for its March meeting. The gathering’s setting is to inform the work of the committee which has a strong focus on indigenous justice, organizers say.

Traditionally, the ecojustice committee (part of the national church’s Partnerships department) has tried to vary its meeting locations to give members a sense of “diocesan realities,” says Rev. Maylanne Maybee, co-ordinator for mission and justice education and the national office staff person responsible for the ecojustice committee. “One of the unique opportunities of serving on a national committee is getting exposed to the life in the Anglican church that we would not normally see,” said Ms. Maybee. “It gives members a view of the broader church.” 

Until now, the committee’s most challenging meeting location was Lewisporte, in the diocese of Central Newfoundland. But at least there are roads to Lewisporte – Kingfisher Lake is only accessible by air or a winter (ice) road.

The invitation to Kingfisher Lake (population 411) came last fall at the committee’s first meeting of the triennium, from member David Ashdown, then executive archdeacon, now diocesan bishop of the host diocese of Keewatin. With the invitation came a good-natured warning that March temperatures in that part of northwestern Ontario can range from 0 C to -40 C (average is about -20 C).

Travel – always pricey for national committees – will cost more for the Kingfisher meeting than the average church meeting held in Toronto. Typically, the committee budgets $11,000 for travel to each of its two meetings a year. That amount will increase to at least $18,000, depending on how many committee members and staff attend. About 15 are expected.

Accommodation, however, will cost considerably less than it would for a Toronto meeting, where corporate rates for even a modest hotel room run about $100 a night. In Kingfisher, committee members will stay in shared bedrooms at the local mission house – at a cost of $50 per room.

Committee members will fly from across Canada to Sioux Lookout in Northern Ontario to catch a connecting flight to Kingfisher. They will likely take two chartered planes from Sioux Lookout the day before the meeting begins.

The location has definitely determined the structure of the ecojustice meeting, said Ms. Maybee. Rather than following a rigid agenda with a set timeframe, the committee’s work has been parcelled into modules with no set times. One expected highlight is a confirmation ceremony of local youth.

“At our last meeting we decided we wanted to incorporate principles of A New Agape,” said Ms. Maybee, referring to the agreed-upon partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous Anglicans in Canada. There are three indigenous committee members (Rev. Douglas Highway, Ethel Ahenakew and Willy Hodgson) plus two diocesan bishops from predominantly indigenous dioceses (Bishop Caleb Lawrence, from Moosonee, and Keewatin’s Bishop Ashdown). One additional member, Canon Sue Moxley, is a non-native member of the church’s healing response committee, which co-ordinates the church’s response to residential schools issues. Ms. Moxley has attended several national native convocations.

“We want to learn how to conduct meetings in a way that recognizes indigenous processes,” said Ms. Maybee. “Rather than meet formally, we’ll let the meeting flow according to what people want to say rather than by the clock.”

The committee is still in its infancy for the triennium but Ms. Maybee predicts next month’s meeting will see it begin to work in earnest in the five smaller working groups which it formed last fall: global and economic justice; peace and non-violence; indigenous justice; ecology and the environment and Canadian social development.


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