Church ‘entering into a time of conversion’

Church ‘entering into a time of conversion’
(L-R): ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, KAIROS executive director Jennifer Henry and Anglican Church of Canada primate Archbishop Fred Hiltz. Photo: Art Babych

The church is entering a new partnership with Indigenous people with its commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #48, says National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald.

Speaking at a “dialogue on reconciliation” public event at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ottawa March 30, MacDonald said one of the challenges is “to understand that we are entering into a time of conversion.”

MacDonald said the commitment to implement the Call to Action is of mutual benefit to the church and Indigenous peoples and added, “I think it is a very good thing.” But, “If we look at this as simply a matter of education, I think we will be very disappointed,” he said. “What has to happen among us, and through us, and for us, is more about a process of conversion.”

National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald. Photo: Art Babych
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald. Photo: Art Babych

Societies are “habituated in attitudes and ideas which obscure the kind of thinking that is at the heart of the UN declaration,” said the bishop. “It will take a while for our churches to understand how these things were violated, even, before it can also understand how these things can be implemented fully.”

Other challenges, he said, include finding ways “to repent on a communal level,” and finding the language “to connect the UN declaration with our theological language.”

Call to Action #48 calls on churches and faith groups to “adopt and comply with the principles, norms and standards” of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.

Other panelists at the event hosted by church leaders included Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; Anglican primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz; the Rev. Karen Horst, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada; the Rev. David MacDonald, of the United Church of Canada; and Jennifer Henry, executive director of KAIROS, a Canadian ecumenical group.

In his comments, Hiltz said, “We need, as a church, to learn much more than we do now about Indigenous spirituality and how Indigenous spirituality and the gospel complement one another in some incredibly beautiful ways.”

As well, he said, “We need, as a church, to make sure that no one-no one-is ordained or commissioned for any ministry in our church without being conversant with the UN declaration.”

The Rev. David MacDonald, a former Progressive Conservative member of Parliament, noted that the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is committed the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. The government “cannot do this alone,” said MacDonald. “The challenge is then not only to the government of Canada but to each and every one of us. We are under an enormous responsibility.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada was not involved in the residential school system, but Johnson pointed out that it has endorsed the UN declaration, asked its members to participate in the TRC process and has signed on to the churches’ commitment to implement Call to Action #48. “We’ve learned this isn’t about words, resolutions, statements, letters…it’s about building healthy, vibrant relationships based on respect,” she said.

Henry told the gathering of about 100 people, “Wherever they’ve been on this journey, churches have begun to at least try and struggle with what it means to live into the UN Declaration.” She added, “And they’ve done what has been asked, which is to make that struggle public so that they can be held to account, so that we can be held to account, for that public struggle of living this way.”

The evening event was hosted by the church leaders and followed a morning news conference on Parliament Hill, where churches, faith communities and religious organizations jointly committed to implement Call to Action #48.

Art is the former editor of <em>Crosstalk</em>, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.

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