‘This is a spiritual movement’: Discipleship and self-determination drive upcoming Sacred Circle

On Aug. 6-11, the Ninth Indigenous Anglican Sacred Circle will take place at the University of Northern British Columbia campus in Prince George, B.C.

The latest gathering of the national decision-making body of Indigenous Anglicans will mark another step forward in the journey towards a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada. The theme of the event, Making and Strengthening Disciples: Reborn by Water and Spirit, reflects the key role of discipleship in achieving this long-cherished vision, guided by baptism in water and the Holy Spirit.

“The theme was chosen to mark our progress towards a self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church,” co-chair Caroline Chum said. “We are all disciples, and we all need to be strong and reborn in water and spirit. This is a spiritual movement.”

The focus on discipleship developed in the course of the February meeting of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and subsequent discussions among the planning team, but received a significant boost in March when National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald attended the World Council of Churches Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania.

The conference included a heavy emphasis on transforming discipleship, which Bishop MacDonald connected to the agenda for the upcoming Sacred Circle—in particular its work to advance self-determination.

“Over time, Indigenous people have experienced calls for them to be members of an institutional church, and it is very critical, I think, to the health and well-being of our churches, and also critical for self-determination, that we begin to develop discipleship,” Bishop MacDonald said.

“We often refer to it as gospel-based discipleship, contrasting that to institutional-based membership … We see this as a critical factor in the well-being of individual Indigenous people and their families, but also the foundation and cornerstone of our leadership development.”

Meeting details and agenda

This year’s gathering marks the first time that a Sacred Circle has taken place in British Columbia. Until this year, Lethbridge, Alta., host of the third Sacred Circle in 1997, was the furthest west the event had been held

Though ACIP had decided on 92 delegates at its February meeting, Indigenous Ministries coordinator Ginny Doctor said that the number of delegates was “way over 92 now … We have a full house.” Most of the proceedings will be in English, but tools will be available for any delegate who requires translation.

With self-determination being one of the main agenda items, Doctor said that a key priority would be “getting everyone onboard and making sure people understand what that means for us as an Indigenous church,” as well as developing a constitution for the Indigenous church.

“Lots of people still think [self-determination] means separation, but it doesn’t,” Doctor said. “I think it’s going to be a much stronger partnership with the Anglican Church than what we’ve had in the past.

“If you go way back, our Indigenous people were always looked upon as being like children and had to be taken care of. But now what we’re really saying is we can take care of our own, we can take care of our ministry, just let us do it and give us the opportunity. And there are some people who are afraid of that. But we’ll see what happens.”

Urgent items for discussion at Sacred Circle include proposed changes to Canon XXI on marriage and Canon XXII on Indigenous ministry, to be moved forward for General Synod 2019.

A range of other issues will be addressed through several focus groups, based on topics that have frequently come under discussion in the last one or two years. For example, one focus group, originally planned to concentrate on the opioid crisis, has been expanded to include all forms of substance abuse.

Delegates will be able to self-select which focus groups they wish to attend. Each focus group is a “real working group”, Doctor said, and will be expected to come out with proposed actions for ACIP, the General Synod, or the office of the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop.

New this year: Livestreaming

Anglicans who wish to follow proceedings at Sacred Circle may view the event through livestreaming video on the Anglican Church of Canada website and Facebook page. In addition, comprehensive coverage will be provided through daily reports on Anglican.ca and the Anglican Journal.

Above all, members of the church are encouraged to pray for delegates as they attempt to discern the movement of the Spirit at what the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop said would be a “very consequential meeting.”

“We certainly hope people will pray for us … There will be a lot of consequences of this,” Bishop MacDonald said. “We pray for God’s guidance and wisdom in moving ahead.

“We are constantly aware of the challenges in our communities, both those on reserve and also urban areas as well. And we hope to see this emphasis on discipleship make a positive contribution to the health and well-being of the larger communities that we’re a part of.”

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