Anglican Indigenous healing ceremony ‘an act of restoration’

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Pastor Harold Roscher is a Commissioned Minister of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and a chaplain at the Edmonton Native Healing Centre in Alberta, which receives funding from the Christian Reformed Church in Canada

An Anglican liturgical ceremony rooted in Indigenous practices is building momentum within Anglican churches while slowly being introduced to other denominations across Canada.

The Standing Stones Ceremony guides worshippers through moments of purification, healing, prayer and thanksgiving. Worshippers smell sweet grass, see smoke, listen to drums, move rocks, share wisdom stories, joys and sorrows, break bread together and receive a blessing. The ceremony is not performed in pews. Rather, it must be experienced in a circle to honour Indigenous traditions.

After a two-year listening campaign among Indigenous Anglicans launched almost a decade ago, Standing Stones was developed in collaboration with Indigenous leaders by Travis Enright, archdeacon for Indigenous ministries, diocese of Edmonton. Enright is a member of the James Smith Cree First Nation in Melfort, Sask.

It took years of trial and error to refine the ceremony, says Enright. But now he is introducing Standing Stones to Evangelical Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, and Pentecostals. Often, small tweaks need to be made to fit different denominational contexts. Also, it can be challenging to deliver a ritual in a circle inside a square church building. “How can we make it work in those traditional church architectures?” he asks.

Participants in Standing Stones learn that it’s possible to worship Jesus Christ with a different lens, not just the European lens, says Enright. The ceremony intends to help Indigenous Christians find healing as they are in recovery from injustices suffered in the wake of the Sixties Scoop and residential schools.

“This is a Christian service that isn’t colonial,” he says. “The ceremony is an act of restoration to help Indigenous worshippers find healing for themselves and for their churches.

“The Anglican church has always believed the word of God should be delivered in the vernacular and be ‘in-culturated’ [to make it accessible],” he says.

Enright adds that the ceremony gives a tool to help the churches become agents of reconciliation within their own denominational contexts.

The Rev. Harold Roscher, a chaplain within the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC), recently guided participants through Standing Stones at a social justice conference in Toronto, entitled For Such a Time as This: Justice Meets Worship and the Arts.  The one-day conference was organized by the CRC’s Centre for Public Dialogue, based in Ottawa, and brought together about 75 artists, musicians and social justice workers from across Canada for mutual support and learning.

Also based in Edmonton, Roscher initially collaborated with Enright to develop the ceremony and is now one of its ambassadors, spreading its introduction beyond Anglican circles.

“When was the last time you prayed for an hour?” Roscher likes to ask skeptics who question the legitimacy of integrating Christian worship with Indigenous practices. The sweat lodge ceremony, a spiritual cleansing rite, asks participants to complete four lengthy rounds of prayer, he adds.

Christina DeVries, a member of the CRC from Waterdown, Ont., and chair of CRC’s Canadian Aboriginal Ministry committee, was one of about 12 men and women who participated in the ceremony in a small basement room. It was an amazing gift to learn some traditional Indigenous knowledge and put it into worship, she said. DeVries said participating in the ceremony allowed her to expand her relationship with God. She added that sometimes we think worship needs to look a specific way, but it is possible to expand our thinking.

At the justice conference, Nicole Vandenberg, also a member of the CRC from Georgetown, Ont., said the Standing Stones ceremony was “life-giving.” She added that the experience reminded her that her own faith tradition was just one flavour of Christian expression. The core of our faith is the same, she said, even if the detailed ways in which we express it may be different.

Roscher, a member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta, says he hopes participation in the ceremony will be educational as well as worshipful. “I read the Bible through a Cree lens,” he says, adding that Canadian Christians can learn from Indigenous wisdom and traditions.

“I don’t expect people to fix issues I may experience as a Cree person,” says Roscher, “but I want them to come alongside me as they grow their understanding of injustices suffered by First Nations Peoples.”

Indigenous Ministries of the Anglican Church of Canada supports the Indigenous Peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuit and Métis), strives for reconciliation with the Anglican Communion and works toward Indigenous self-determination. More information about the Standing Stones ceremony can be obtained by contacting the Edmonton diocese office at churched@edmonton.anglican.ca

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Nandy Heule is a writer and communications consultant in Toronto. She can be reached at @nandyheule

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