On November 18, Indigenous ministries and the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) laid out concrete steps for how they will continue to pursue self-determination for Indigenous Anglicans within the national church over the coming three years.
The plan is to start small, with three or four regions that want to pursue self-determination, Archdeacon Sid Black, ACIP co-chair, told the fall meeting of Council of General Synod (CoGS), the Anglican Church of Canada’s governing body between General Synods.
A focus group, co-chaired by former Indigenous ministries co-ordinator Donna Bomberry and Archdeacon Larry Beardy, will oversee the details, and the initial goal will be to select leadership in a way that is in line with Indigenous practice.
Canon Grace Delaney, an Indigenous CoGS member from the ecclesiastical province of Ontario, said leaders in Indigenous communities are selected by the community itself. It is also typical for the community to decide what kind of leadership training is needed.
The initial focus on ministry in these pilot regions will be to “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind,” according to teachings from Luke 14:12-14, and will cover both Indigenous communities and ministry to Indigenous people living in urban areas.
Advice on incorporation will come from former General Synod prolocutor Archdeacon Harry Huskins.
When General Synod met in July, Indigenous ministries and ACIP had released a plan for a “confederacy of Indigenous spiritual ministry” and outlined some of its potential features. But while this plan offered a big-picture view of how a fully Indigenous Anglican church will be distinct, it did not explain exactly how its features would be implemented.
At CoGS, Black said that National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald will need extra support in order to fulfill his role. The plan outlined to CoGS involves hiring an archdeacon to help with administration (alternatively, an assistant bishop) to help with “pastoral and program work.”
Indigenous Anglicans have been calling for a greater degree of self-determination for decades, but recent years have seen significant movement on the issue.
In 2015, the eighth National Anglican Sacred Circle expressed its support for the idea of a fifth, fully Indigenous, ecclesiastical province (the Anglican Church of Canada currently has four ecclesiastical provinces: Canada, Rupert’s Land, Ontario, and British Columbia and Yukon).
However, at the CoGS meeting in March, MacDonald said the emphasis was not on structure, but on the mission itself—the most immediate goal being the establishment of self-determined ways of doing ministry.
ACIP and Indigenous ministries restated the reason at the fall meeting.
According to Delaney, of the approximately 150 Indigenous clergy serving in the Anglican Church of Canada, most are unpaid.
“Many are elders and were called to serve the community they live in—clearly, there needs to be more effort in church leadership development,” she said.
She added that Indigenous clergy tend to have fewer resources, and for many, the prospect of leaving their communities to study at a seminary is simply untenable.
The non-Indigenous church tends to assume that a priest should go through intensive education at a post-secondary institution, but Indigenous approaches to leadership see the most important education a leader can receive as happening within the context they will serve in, Delaney said.
For this reason, an Indigenous leadership structure would include discernment from the local community as well as conversation with the national Indigenous bishop in choosing and raising leaders.
Several CoGS members gave their reactions to the presentation.
Quebec Bishop Bruce Myers, whose diocese includes the isolated Naskapi nation of Kawawachikamach, wanted to know whether this leadership model could be used there.
Myers said he has also found a similar need for more flexible, community-based forms of leadership in the remote, non-Indigenous communities within his region.
In response, Canon Virginia “Ginny” Doctor, Indigenous ministries co-ordinator, said Indigenous ministries has already explored options, such as a “moveable seminary” that would bring teachers to communities for intensive education, or doing the reverse and bringing Indigenous leaders-in-training to a local centre for intensive, short-term education. She suggested either of these models might work in Quebec.
Bishop Larry Robertson, of the diocese of Yukon, who noted that he had been living north of the 60th parallel for 40 years, said, “What I heard today, all I can say is: my heart leaps with joy.”
Prior to the ACIP presentation, CoGS had been given another insight into the unique ministry challenges of Indigenous leadership in a briefing by the Rev. Vincent Solomon, a CoGS member from the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land who is the Indigenous ministry developer for the diocese of Rupert’s Land.
Solomon serves as priest for St. Philip, Scanterbury, an Ojibwa community north of Winnipeg, and St. Peter, Dynevor, a Métis community near Selkirk. But he is also working to set up a local Indigenous Anglican worshipping community in Winnipeg, which he believes there is a need for.
One of the challenges in setting up such a community, Solomon explained, is in creating a liturgy that reflects authentically Indigenous Anglican approaches to worship and theology.
“We certainly don’t want to apologize for being Anglican, but we also don’t want to apologize for being Indigenous either,” he said. “We need to bring the two together somehow, in order for our services to begin to be reflective of who we are.”
Solomon, whose work also involves building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Winnipeg, said that following decades of colonialism and dispossession, it is time “to start building up Indigenous people so we can take our place in this world and within this body, so we are no longer the limb that seems to be useless, or thought of as useless, within the body of Christ.”
Indeed, in Solomon’s opinion, Indigenous people have insights into the Christian faith that those from a non-Indigenous background might lack.
“I really do believe that Indigenous values are far more Christian and biblical than our Canadian values. We need to celebrate that,” he said.
“We want to take our place within this body, and we want to bless the socks off the rest of the church.”