Anglicans across Canada are being called to demonstrate in the 22 days following the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that this ending is only the beginning of healing and reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous people.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald issued a call to the whole church today to participate in #22days, a campaign that will stretch from the start of the closing TRC event in Ottawa on May 31 to National Aboriginal Day on June 21.
First conceived of by a group of cathedral deans from cities in which a national TRC event was held and “heartily endorsed” by the House of Bishops,
Anglicans are being called to take time during the 22 days to participate in a range of activities. They include listening to the story of a survivor of Indian residential schools, praying for all those affected by the “long shadows” of the schools, ringing church bells for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, considering how they might continue the work of restoring right relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, and sharing stories of their own commitments and efforts to support healing and reconciliation.
Hiltz said in an interview that it was “a very significant moment” at the meeting of the House of Bishops last week in Niagara Falls, Ont., when he saw all the bishops get behind this call. “Hopefully, it is another sign to the TRC and to Indigenous people that our church is serious about its ongoing work beyond supporting the mandate of the TRC itself.”
MacDonald said that he was “really pleased that the cathedral deans and others came together and wanted to signal that we are moving into a new phase of truth and reconciliation.” He added that although there were invitations for Anglicans to attend and participate in past TRC events, he felt that this call—”when we are all ringing bells”—has a different character. “I pray and believe [that] it will be a real taking to heart what we have learned and what we still need to do.”
Henriette Thompson, General Synod’s director of public witness for social and ecological justice, said that #22days is an opportunity to really get the attention of the church. “It is hitching its energy to the closing events, [which] themselves will attract a lot of mainstream media and attention, and [it is] speaking directly to our church.”
Dean Shane Parker of Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa said the campaign had its genesis at a meeting he convened with Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada. All the deans of cathedrals in cities where national TRC events have been held over the last six years were invited. “We were wondering what cathedrals could do since…many of our churches are in prominent places and our role tends to be one that intersects very much with civic society.” Picking up on one of the closing event’s themes that the ending of the TRC is only the beginning, they decided to encourage cathedrals to do some specific things during the 22-day period between the beginning of the event and National Aboriginal Day.
Parker explained that they thought it was important to let each cathedral and community find an expression that was appropriate to its context. “Not everyone is at the same place on the truth and reconciliation journey,” he said, adding that in some places, the actions taken may be basic education and awareness-raising events about the history and legacy of residential schools. “In other places, it may be much deeper. So for example, [you could] find out what treaty land your church is built on or who are your local Aboriginal leaders? Why not pray for them when you pray for your municipal leaders?”
Dean Peter Elliott of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of New Westminster, said renovations to the cathedral put its congregation in the unusual position of not being able to use their building during the 22 Days. So on May 31, the congregation will join with other churches in downtown Vancouver for joint worship “and we hope a major community gathering,” he said. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Baptists and members of the United Church will work together to have two services—one in the morning, one in the afternoon—focused on reconciliation and prayer, to coincide with the beginning of the TRC.
“My hope is that we’ll multiply the number of Anglicans who are aware of and have a sense that they can participate in and contribute something to reconciliation and healing in our country,” said Thompson. “I think that this is a national issue. It’s not just a church issue and it is certainly not just an Indigenous issue.”
To accommodate efforts across the country, the General Synod communications team has created a web page—22days.ca—that will offer resources, including 22 videos featuring former residential school students describing their experiences in the schools as well as some former staff talking about their time in the schools.
The video testimonies have been gleaned from Anglican Video’s extensive archive of interviews with former residential school students. Senior producer Lisa Barry said she hopes the videos will help Anglicans understand and connect with the experiences of survivors, many of whom experienced physical and sexual abuse as children in the schools, beyond the systemic abuses that included punishment for speaking their own languages and enforced, lengthy separation from their families. “What I heard repeatedly from people who had attended TRC hearings was that before, they might not have been clued in, but when they went and heard stories of survivors of residential schools, that’s what struck a chord,” said Barry.
Barry noted that all of the people interviewed expressly asked that their stories be shared, in the hopes that they would help others. The videos are not the typical sort of “30-second sound bytes” people are used to viewing on television; they are about 15 to 20 minutes each, in order to tell the stories in a more whole and sensitive way, said Barry. “We hope people will stay with them.” One video will be added daily to the website during the 22-day period. Each video will be also accompanied by a prayer, written by various people in the church, including Hiltz and MacDonald.
The web page will also offer 22 suggestions for ways that people can participate and share what they are doing through their social media networks, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest, using the hashtag #22days. General Synod web manager Brian Bukowski explained that instead of hosting all of the submissions on the anglican.ca page, the site will use a tool that “scours the Internet for the hashtag” and brings in all the visuals from postings on a virtual wall. “The power of it, though, is [that] because they’ll be sharing it in their own social networks, all their friends will see it…people will be tagging and sharing on their own network [and] it becomes exponential.”