The Book of Acts relates that the first Christian Pentecost saw the disciples, as they gathered in one place, suddenly inspired to declare the wonders of God in a range of languages, so that visitors from places as far away as Persia and Rome were each able to recognize their own languages being spoken (Acts 2). This Pentecost, some Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans will be marking the holy day by speaking their faith also in a plethora of tongues—and church members across the country are invited to watch and listen.
At 4 p.m. E.T. this Sunday, May 31, the Anglican Church of Canada and its full-communion partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), will be releasing a video specially made for this Pentecost—one in which more than 200 members from both churches, including the Indigenous Anglican church, take part.
The video, roughly half an hour in length, was made with the help of hundreds of contributed self-made videos by these participants, assembled together into a continuous whole by the Anglican Church of Canada’s Anglican Video department. It begins with Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald; and ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, offering greetings, a hymn and a shared reflection about Pentecost and its meaning for the church. The three bishops then begin reading Acts 2, and the Anglican and Lutheran contributors complete it, each reading a part of this passage in turn. Then the bishops each say a line of the Lord’s Prayer, and the contributors each say a line in turn, each speaking in the language of their choice. Some of the Lord’s Prayer contributions were musical, and these are strung together in a second reading of the prayer, this one entirely musical. The Lord’s Prayer is then read three more times by all the contributors together. There are also hymns by two choirs, who sang together with the help of videoconferencing technology. All told, 26 languages are represented in the film.
The idea of the film project, called One Family in Mission, arose shortly after the locking down of Canadian society that began in March, Nicholls says. The various stresses that people have been facing because of the lockdowns prompted the churches’ leaders to consider “points of hope,” such as Pentecost.
Pentecost, Nicholls says, is “a celebration of delight for the church, a gift of the Holy Spirit in our midst—a gift of the Holy Spirit that is shared amongst all churches. And, frankly, I just asked if the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Archbishop Mark [MacDonald] and I might join together to put out a message that is hopeful and that draws together the church by inviting people to participate,” she says. “That was its origin—to be an encouragement that the Holy Spirit is present in the church, is active and that we will get through this together.”
Because of the social-distancing restrictions, all three bishops had to record themselves at home, and a certain amount of technological wizardry was employed for them to be able to sing in unison. First, MacDonald recorded himself singing the hymn with a guitar; he sent this video electronically to Nicholls and Johnson, who recorded themselves singing along to his video. These three recordings were then combined into one by Lisa Barry, senior producer at Anglican Video, who is producing the film.
Johnson says she’s very excited about the event. “It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the diversity within and between our two churches,” she says. “This diversity is part of our giftedness and our strength. It’s wonderful to come together and celebrate, especially in the middle of a pandemic—we need good news!”
MacDonald says several of the submitted videos were in Indigenous languages. He himself said part of the Lord’s Prayer in Ojibway: Apegish bi-dagwishinomaguk kid ogimawin, “Thy kingdom come.”
“It allows the diversity and complexity of our various identities as Anglicans and Lutherans to come forward, and various aspects of it are quite good,” he says of the project. “I’m very happy with it.”
Contributions were not just in a variety of languages, but from diverse places. Among those who read the passage from Acts is Archdeacon Jennifer Gosse of the Anglican Military Ordinariate. Gosse’s duties include chaplaincy to the crew of the HMCS Fredericton—the navy ship carrying the helicopter that crashed on April 29, killing all six on board. She did her reading in a chapel bearing photos of the service members who died. Another contributor is Rachel Robinson, executive director of St. Luke’s Table, a drop-in ministry run by the diocese of Ottawa. Robinson read her portion of Acts 2 in the ministry’s soup kitchen space, Barry says.
Canon Maurice Francois, who does multilingual and intercultural ministry for the diocese of Toronto, says he eagerly accepted the church’s invitation to take part in the project. He says he liked the idea of it as a way to express the linguistic and cultural richness of the church in Canada, and to celebrate the meaning of Pentecost: understanding amid diversity—a reversal of the mutual bafflement related in a well-known Old Testament story.
“Pentecost means exactly the opposite of the Babelic situation, where it was confusion,” Francois says. “Pentecost is about how to reverse the Tower of Babel.”
Francois said “forgive us our trespasses” in his native Spanish, perdona nuestras ofensas.
Among the Lutheran contributors to the project was the Rev. Íris Kristjánsdóttir, chaplain at Luther Special Care Home in Saskatoon, Sask. Kristjánsdóttir, who was born and raised in Iceland, said part of the Lord’s Prayer—“Thy will be done”—in Icelandic: Verði þinn vilji.
“Praying in Icelandic is as easy as breathing for me,” she says. “I was happy to participate in praying with so many others in our endeavour to capture the true spirit of Pentecost: unity among Christians, wherever they come from; unity in the Holy Spirit,” she says.
Nicholls says she hopes the film will bring hope to the church.
“You know, the disciples had very little to start with—they just had the gift of the Holy Spirit and God’s promise to be with them, and they went out and changed the world,” she says. “So despite the discouragement we might feel during COVID-19, on any number of fronts, we have that same promise—that the spirit of God is here in our midst, and together we can and will do the same things the disciples did: share the Good News, in whatever ways possible.”
“One Family in Mission” can be viewed on Sunday, May 31 at 4 p.m. E.T. (and any time thereafter) at: https://anglicanlutheran.ca/pentecost, or on the Anglican Church of Canada’s Facebook or YouTube pages. Those without Internet access can still listen to the video, by dialling one of the following numbers depending on their location: