A joint program between Henry Budd College for Ministry and the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) is taking theological education directly into Indigenous communities.
Established by the Rev. Ray Aldred through a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, The Teaching House That Moves seeks to tie together Indigenous identity, theological education, and spiritual health. Aldred, director of the Indigenous Studies program at VST, is one of the principal instructors for the program, which includes two different courses: “Ministry in the Midst of Trauma” and “Indigenous Christology.”
“We chose the [concept of the] teaching house because on the west coast, the house is the basic social unit,” Aldred says. “It’s the house, it’s your family…. The house was a place of healing, and we were trying to create space for people to be who they were created to be.”
During the period covered by the two-year grant, Aldred has been travelling to Indigenous communities across Canada to teach both of the courses. The courses are part of his broader goal for the Indigenous studies program of “trying to build the Indigenous church.”
In the case of The Teaching House That Moves, he says, “The whole approach was that we would go into a community and ask what would be most helpful there.”
“Ministry in the Midst of Trauma,” which was first held in April 2018, seeks to respond to the needs of Indigenous clergy and lay readers who are often tasked with dealing with ongoing trauma in Indigenous communities—the legacy of colonialism and residential schools.
“We were trying to give them practical resources that would help them to not only engage in self-care…but to help build practices to build upon the resilience that people already had—but for the long term, that would help them in their ministry,” Aldred says.
The duration of “Ministry in the Midst of Trauma” depends on the community but typically lasts between three to five days.
Instructors present practical tools to help participants work through different issues or symptoms from trauma, such as how to listen, build a safe place, work through grief and anger, or practice self-care. At each day’s end, participants join a sharing circle to clarify lessons learned.
The second course, “Indigenous Christology,” centres on the Eucharist and seeks to connect the sacraments of the church to Indigenous identities, narratives and land.
In doing so, participants begin to comprehend what Aldred describes as an “Indigenized Christology which affirms Indigenous identity. It also affirms the Indigenous Anglican church and their embracing of the gospel [and] highlights areas [in which] Indigenous Anglicans and Indigenous people have Indigenized the Christian faith since the arrival of the Europeans.”
“Ministry in the Midst of Trauma” has been taught in communities that include Montreal Lake, Sask., Winnipeg, Man., Thunder Bay, Ont., and Morley, Alta. “Indigenous Christology” has been taught in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Laxgalt’ap, B.C., with the most recent class scheduled for The Pas, Man., in April 2019.
The Rev. Kara Mandryk, college coordinator at Henry Budd College, describes The Teaching House That Moves as reflective of the college’s mandate to offer theological and ministry education for Indigenous communities in a way that often favours a more narrative and conversational approach.
“We’ve always strived to do that, but I think with Ray coming, and coming from an established seminary, it certainly emphasizes that reality that education can take place in a number of different ways,” Mandryk says. “Contextual education, particularly in our case in Indigenous communities, is really important to us.”