Shape of Indigenous church on the table at Pinawa meeting

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In a presentation to the Council of General Synod (CoGS) last June, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald outlines plans for a self-determining Indigenous Anglican organization. Photo: Marites N. Sison

About 70 Anglicans from across Canada are gathering in Pinawa, Man., this weekend for a major consultation on the nature of the planned Indigenous Anglican church.

In what Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has said will likely be a “challenging but fascinating conversation,” about 60 Canadian Anglicans, clergy and lay, plus about 10 staff from the office of General Synod, are meeting for a series of talks September 15-17. There is a roughly equal number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants; all have been chosen for the interest they’ve shown over the years in the Indigenous church, says co-chair and Council of General Synod (CoGS) member Randall Fairey.

The meeting is both for looking back on progress that has been made so far toward an Indigenous Anglican church and for discussing in more detail what such a church would look like, Fairey says.

“It’s a combination of a celebration, of reflecting on past accomplishments, where we’ve come over a long period of time, and also to identify how to move forward, because there’s an inevitable sense that we’re moving towards an Indigenous Anglican church that truly seeks self-determination, as it has for many years,” he says. “It’s to put at this point in history a significant group of interested Indigenous leaders and non-Indigenous leaders together and ask them to discuss freely their thoughts.”

The point of the meeting is to have as open a discussion as possible; it is not intended to be a decision-making session, Fairey says.

After the meeting, organizers will compile a report, to be shared with the office of General Synod’s Indigenous ministries department; the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP), which guides the work of that department; Sacred Circle, the larger decision-making body for Indigenous Anglicans; and CoGS, General Synod’s executive body. They plan to have the report ready to deliver to this November’s meeting of CoGS, Fairey says.

The meeting has been given the theme “The Road to Warm Springs,” after an Indigenous translation of the story from St. Luke’s gospel also known as the Road to Emmaus. In the biblical passage, disciples travelling to the town of Emmaus encounter the risen Christ but don’t recognize him until they sit down and eat with him. Organizers hope that as they sit down and talk with one another, and break bread together in the celebration of Eucharist, the Holy Spirit will similarly manifest itself to them, Fairey says.

Among the highlights of the session will be two presentations by psychologist and priest Canon Martin Brokenleg; a detailed report by National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald on work by an ACIP focus group on self-determination announced last fall; and discussions on hopes and dreams for a self-determining church. These events will be the subject of “talking circles,” discussions by groups of 10 people. Detailed notes will be taken in these talking-circle discussions, and the notes—expected to be very copious—will provide the basis of the report, Fairey says.

The meeting is closed-doors, because, he says, it is being held at the invitation of the primate, the department of Indigenous ministries and the national Indigenous Anglican bishop, and the information that will come out of it belongs to these parties to release as they see fit.

“The envisaging exercise without legislative decisions, the summaries of the talking circles really belong to those bodies…we are simply putting in place a process to gain that information,” he says. “That material, that we will present as a report, belongs first to them, and they decide how they want to release that information.”

As of press time, co-chair the Rev. Norm Wesley was unable to be reached to comment on the consultation.

In an update on the work of the focus group presented to CoGS in June, MacDonald said the group envisages an Indigenous spiritual “confederacy” that would allow its members to belong at the same time to the Anglican Church of Canada.

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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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