God truly works in mysterious ways

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Logo of the ninth Sacred Circle, born by water and spirit. Photo: ACIP
Part of the January 2020 column series “20-40 vision: 20- to 40-somethings in the Anglican Church of Canada offer their thoughts on the future,” featuring Canon Martha Tatarnic, the Rev. Cole Hartin, the Rev. Orvin Lao, the Rev. Alison Hari-Singh, Shilo Clark, Canon Jeffrey Metcalfe and the Rev. Leigh Silcox.
Shilo Clark, youth member, Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. Photo: Contributed

I became part of the church, at first, as more of an observer. In 2015 my grandmother was invited to Sacred Circle, one of the largest gatherings of Anglican Indigenous peoples of its kind. At the age of 72, she had not been on an airplane before, so I volunteered to go with her. Little did I know at that time Sacred Circle would change my life.

I’m sure most people are aware of the decline in the church, but I personally was shocked by the actual numbers. According to the statistics report released this fall, membership in the Anglican Church of Canada could fall to zero by 2040 if its current rate of decline continues. I feel that this is a frightening and sad prospect indeed. I am sad, because I have seen the result of this back home, where even just paying rent for our church building has been a huge struggle for our church, and we have since had to rent out part of the building, just to help cover costs. It’s sad to see mostly empty pews, whereas when I was a young child, the times I did attend church then, the pews would be full—all the way to the back.

That being said, one cannot wallow in those sombre feelings for too long, and I see where I stand in this—not only as a youth, but as an Indigenous youth. It is important that all of us who are saddened by this trend of decline stand with each other in the pursuit of finding unique and innovative ways to bring those numbers back up. The church has provided faith and peace for so many people, over so many years, and I feel it is so important for the church to evolve with the changing times of this world. Today individuals find themselves on such a wide spectrum of beliefs, culture and personal identity, and this must be recognized by the church if we are to see an upwards trend in church attendance. The voting down of changes to Canon XXI [On Marriage in the Church] was, in my opinion, a step in the wrong direction for raising attendance numbers. Tradition is a very big aspect of church, but I feel as the world changes, traditions can adapt and evolve with the times.

We can see adaptation. The passing of legislation on the emerging self-determined Indigenous church was a huge deal for me. It meant the traditions that were taken from us Indigenous peoples are no longer seen as evil, and they have a place in worship. This has given me the fuel to go forward and help educate my young peers—and in a world where Indigenous folks face racism in their lives, I hope the church can now feel like a safe place to belong to.

Similarly, I think there ought to be many more initiatives directed towards youth, giving them a glimpse of what the church has to offer them in their lives. I think it would be neat to have social initiatives that bring youth and elders together to share intergenerational wisdom—to learn together, to pray together and to walk with God together.

I don’t see this current decline in the church as an ongoing problem for us. We are taking steps forward by discussing it with each other, by educating and finding ways to engage our youth and by embracing this emerging Indigenous church. Together, as one people, we are in the midst of a great time of change and evolution. Standing together will make us stronger, and we will be stronger still, as we will be guided by the love and grace of our God, our Creator. Not only do I not see our churches still open in 20 years—I can see them beginning to flourish.

Many times God has been with me, and due to the bleak nature of the times through which I was living, I failed to see him. As time passed, and as I opened my mind and heart, I began to realize: he truly works in mysterious ways. Instead of receiving magical, immediate strength when I prayed for it, I was presented an opportunity to be stronger in mind, body and soul.

As we consider the decline of the church, I see God presenting us with the opportunity to come together as a family. As a family we can fulfill what community truly means—we can lift each other up and embrace whatever may be on the horizon. I am always reminded of Mathew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” I think this is very important to remember while looking ahead to the future.

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Shilo Clark

1 COMMENT

  1. I read this with great hope and joy. I am 74. My great great grandfather Reg Pidcock was the first Indian agent for the north of Vancouver Island. In his diary he talks of the early attempts of imposing orders from the colonial office in London, England in the wilds of the Island. He often found a great disconnect between the orders and the reality on the ground. He decided the Anglican residential school would be located at Alert Bay. It matters a great deal to me how our church meets the needs of our First Nations peoples.

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