Indigenous Ministries ramps up pandemic pastoral care

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Indigenous Ministries ramps up pandemic pastoral care
Isaiah Larry Beardy (left), suffragan bishop of the Northern Manitoba Area Mission of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, and his brother Edwin after a successful hunting trip. Faced with looming food insecurity, many Indigenous people have been returning to the land to hunt for food during the pandemic, says National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald. Photo: Contributed

General Synod’s department of Indigenous Ministries is adjusting its pastoral support program to better respond to increasing levels of pandemic-related stress in Indigenous communities across Canada, says National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald—work in which Resources for Mission (RfM), the national church’s fundraising arm, has been a valuable partner.

The department has been offering pastoral care and leadership during the pandemic in a number of ways. This fall, however, a number of outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in Indigenous communities, while the indirect effects of the pandemic have been increasingly felt, MacDonald says. As a result, the department is now “regrouping” almost all of its offerings—changing their time and frequency and trying to improve them.

“We’re trying to make them better serve the needs of communities,” he says. “The level of stress and difficulty is being raised quite a bit…. There’s been an uptick in suicides, overdoses, problems with addiction and mental health problems. Some communities have been in lockdown since March. All of these things are difficult.”

Indigenous communities in Canada, MacDonald says, were already dealing with very high levels of stress before the pandemic, as a result of their poverty, remoteness and “policy-related chronic underfunding,” among other factors. But protocols intended to fight the pandemic have intensified this stress by limiting social activity and threatening access to essentials. Some Indigenous people are unable to travel to locked-down communities where they previously purchased food.

One welcome development, MacDonald adds, is that many Indigenous people have been returning to the land to hunt, fish and gather traditional medicines, sometimes with their children or grandchildren. But some worry the lockdowns will continue, meaning a looming threat of scarcity of food whether harvested or purchased. There are also challenges to accessing health care.

“It’s hard to get in and out … and it becomes only severe emergencies that are dealt with,” he says.

The lockdowns have also restricted the ability of clergy to visit remote communities, MacDonald says.

The department has been responding in a number of ways intended to provide connection, support, community and Indigenous Ministries ramps up pandemic pastoral care teaching to Indigenous Anglicans. These include a podcast series, done in collaboration with Anglican Video; gospel-based discipleship sessions by videoconference, three times a week, led by MacDonald; a series of online gospel jamborees; and a circle of support and formation for lay ministers. The department is increasing the frequency of most of these.

Meanwhile, the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and other bodies have been meeting. One key priority for ACIP, he says, has been to continue the process of establishing the self-determining Indigenous Anglican church, despite the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Indeed, he says, much progress has been made on writing the new church’s constitution and canons—and ACIP hopes by late November to have drafts of these documents ready to send to Indigenous communities across Canada for their feedback.

The department has received “tremendous” support for its pastoral care initiatives from many other departments of the national church, MacDonald says. RfM director Deborah Barretto, he says, was “fantastic and supportive,” advising and assisting Indigenous Ministries in both its short-term and long-term fundraising.

Barretto said RfM was committed to supporting Indigenous Ministries.

“We are exploring further ways to support the Indigenous Church through the generosity of Anglicans across the country,” she said.

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

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