Indigenous leaders plan self-determination resolution for General Synod 2019

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The Rev. Vincent Solomon, province of Rupert’s Land, listens as National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald tells Council of General Synod (CoGS) about plans for a self-determining Indigenous Anglican Church Saturday, November 11. Photo: Tali Folkins

Indigenous leaders in the Anglican Church of Canada are hoping to bring a resolution regarding self-determination before General Synod when it next meets in summer 2019, Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard Saturday, November 11.

Since a national consultation session on Indigenous Anglican self-determination in Pinawa, Man., last September, two Indigenous Anglican leadership groups have been discussing the next steps toward a self-determining Anglican spiritual organization, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and Indigenous ministries co-ordinator Ginny Doctor said in a presentation to CoGS. These are the Indigenous House of Bishops Leadership Circle (IHBLC)—which is a committee of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP)—and an ACIP focus group formed last fall, tasked solely with working out the details of self-determination.

On Saturday, MacDonald, Doctor and three other Indigenous members of CoGS—the Rev. Vincent Solomon (province of Rupert’s Land), Canon Grace Delaney (province of Ontario) and Ms. Caroline Chum (ACIP)—as well as IHBLC member Donna Bomberry, presented a document summarizing these discussions and outlining a number of objectives. Among them is to “change the Church structure by amending Canon XXII to move further toward an ‘entity’ or a Fifth Province.”

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.”

The document outlines a series of steps through which the Indigenous leaders plan to achieve this goal, starting with the naming of an “Indigenous Governance Working Group,” by the end of  February 2018, tasked with specifying the necessary changes to the church structure. According to the schedule outlined in the document, these changes are to be presented for Sacred Circle to approve next summer; and, if approved, to CoGS next November and then to General Synod in summer 2019.

The plans outlined in the document, Doctor cautioned, are still evolving and could change over time, depending on a number of factors.

Legislative change is just one of several priorities the document identifies, and is at the end of the list. Others are: sending out teams of two or three people to inform Indigenous communities across the country about the gospel and self-determination; preparing leaders for ministry involving traditional Indigenous and Christian teachings; continuing to provide suicide prevention services and Indigenous catechist training; and boosting support to non-stipendiary Indigenous clergy (through, among other measures, the taking of an “inventory” of non-stipendiary clergy followed by a move to “identify sources for funding to begin paying clergy identified as most in need by their bishop”).

In a question-and-answer session after the presentation, John Rye (province of Rupert’s Land) asked how plans outlined in the document for paying Indigenous non-stipendiary clergy would fit with current Council of the North policy that specifies that new paid positions cannot be created.

In response, MacDonald said he expected Sacred Circle to bring a plan for Indigenous ministry to the national church.

Larry Roberston, bishop of Yukon, then asked whether the move to fund non-stipendiary Indigenous priests would take place primarily in certain geographical areas mentioned at the Pinawa consultation session, or more broadly across the country.

MacDonald replied that he imagined there would be “two tracks” by which this process would take place: one nationwide, “that would have to have a lot of consultation built into it,” and another that would involve a relatively small group of people who would serve as the “nucleus of a national Indigenous ministry.”

The Pinawa consultation was the subject of two separate presentations at CoGS, during which members watched a video that chronicled the event and heard short talks from MacDonald, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Bomberry. They also discussed Indigenous self-determination in table groups. Many table group representatives spoke of their enthusiasm for the idea of an Indigenous church. Some said they were curious to know how it would be financed; what area it would cover geographically; and what kind of relationship it would have with the Anglican Church of Canada.

In his address, Hiltz said one thing that became apparent at Pinawa was the considerable freedom the current Canon XXII already gives to the National Indigenous Bishop to develop Indigenous ministry within the church—a freedom, he said, that MacDonald had been making good use of.

“The fruit of that is that Indigenous ministry and self-determination…is budding, in some cases flowering, in a beautiful way,” Hiltz said.

Nevertheless, he said, he hoped the canon would be changed in 2019 to further the development envisaged in the Covenant of 1994, when Anglican Indigenous leaders agreed to work toward a self-determining church.

“My deep hope, friends, is that when we come to General Synod in 2019—that will be the 25th anniversary of the covenant—that one of the great headlines out of that synod will be a moment to celebrate,” he said. “There will be other headlines, you can be sure. But I hope they do not eclipse this one that I hope for.”

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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