The changes to church law needed to create a self-determining spiritual community for Indigenous Canadian Anglicans could conceivably be made as early as 2019, says Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.
“By the time we get to General Synod 2019, I’m hopeful that there are some changes proposed for Canon XXII, or there’s some constitutional work that needs to be done to recognize the entity which will be the truly Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada,” Hiltz said in an interview with the Anglican Journal September 19. “I can’t say it is, or it will [happen]. But I think it’s well within the range of possibility.”
Canon XXII, approved by General Synod in 2010, provides official recognition of “the structures through which the National Indigenous Ministry may be a self determining community within the Anglican Church of Canada.”
In a presentation to Council of General Synod (CoGS) last June, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said that one hurdle to be cleared for the creation of an Indigenous church would be for General Synod to legislate Sacred Circle, the large decision-making body for Indigenous Anglicans, as a self-determining body capable of setting its own rules.
Hiltz said he sensed a growing momentum for the establishment of an Indigenous Anglican church both among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people at a national consultation session on Indigenous Anglican self-determination held in Pinawa, Man., September 15-17.
Hiltz added, however, that an important part of the process was that it was “not being driven by a timeline.”
For his part, MacDonald said it’s still too early to be able to predict when an Indigenous church will be formally established. But he said he and other Indigenous participants were very pleased with the meeting’s outcome, which he saw as a commitment on the part of the church “to receive the self-determination of Indigenous people in the Anglican Church of Canada”—something that he said hadn’t been explicitly affirmed since the 1994 Covenant.
In 1994, Canadian Indigenous Anglican leaders made a covenant to work toward a self-determining Indigenous church. General Synod’s eventual ratification of the covenant led to the creation of structures such as the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, Sacred Circle and the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), which guides Indigenous ministry in the church.
A statement drafted by Hiltz and released September 17 reaffirms the idea of a self-determining Indigenous church, but does not mention timelines.
“With eyes wide open we are looking to the future with great hope and we hereby renew our commitment to The Covenant of 1994 and the vision of a truly Indigenous Anglican Church,” it reads. “We commit ourselves to all the work necessary to bring this vision to its full flowering.”
The statement, which concludes with a pledge of “solidarity with Indigenous Peoples in their quest for self-determination,” was also signed by participants on the final day of the consultation.
One major topic of conversation around the new entity, Hiltz and MacDonald said, is how it will be paid for.
“The budget could be a problem,” MacDonald said. “We have to find ways to finance it. Part of that, we believe, will be the budget of General Synod, but we also believe there are other places where we might be able to access or leverage money.”
He declined to comment on what these sources might be.
Hiltz, too, said there seems to be some expectation among Canadian Indigenous Anglicans that their future spiritual community will support itself to some degree.
At the same time, he said, there’s no question that the Anglican Church of Canada will significantly fund the future Indigenous church.
“It’s just not realistic…to say to Indigenous people, ‘Well, you want to be self-determining? Then you’ve got to be self-sufficient,’ ” he said. “They do not have the money to be self-sufficient…And just because people are poor, does not mean that they shouldn’t have the right to be able to be a church that’s true to who they are, right?
“The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada will always, and I believe rightly so, bear a significant responsibility to support Indigenous ministries.”
The next step, say Hiltz and MacDonald, is for a report of the consultation’s proceedings to be compiled. The report will be sent to CoGS, ACIP and Sacred Circle for their consideration.
But for many of those who attended, Hiltz said, the significance of the weekend’s gathering had more to do with the spirit that showed itself—a passionate enthusiasm for the idea of a gospel-focused church coming from the people themselves, that would bring “a hope that is from God” to struggling Indigenous communities—than concrete plans for organizational change.
And indeed, many participants, asked to comment on the consultation session, spoke of the hope and excitement they felt on hearing presentations about current Indigenous ministries, Christian and Indigenous spirituality, and gospel readings.
“It was like our hearts were on fire, and we came out with a better understanding, or a more open mind,” said Archdeacon Larry Beardy.
“I think it was very energizing, and I think people left with a sense that we are moving forward,” said Judith Moses, chair of the Vision Keepers Council, a group of Indigenous Anglican youth and elders established by the primate in 2016 to monitor how the Anglican Church of Canada is honouring its commitment to adopt and comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“We don’t know exactly what the next steps will look like, but I think there were a series of principles, understandings—whatever you want to call them—that emerged, and for me, one of the important ones is…that we have to work from the ground up.”
Another council member, Canon Laverne Jacobs, said the great hope that came out of the session had to do with the sense it gave people that Indigenous Anglicans are telling their own stories and taking charge of their own destiny.
“They were listening to themselves,” he said.
His thoughts went back to a church gathering in the 1980s, Jacobs said, at which a number of Indigenous people were airing their grievances against the church, many of them weeping. Finally, one Indigenous participant got up to the microphone to suggest the answer lay in Indigenous people taking matters into their own hands.
“She said, ‘It’s up to us,’ ” he said. “And I think this group are doing that—[saying] ‘it’s up to us.’ ”