I’m passing on this powerful message from our Canadian church’s National Indigenous Archbishop, Mark McDonald, received in the WIND indigenous news weekly bulletin from Redeemer Church in Toronto on 9 June. MP+
It has been a sad few weeks. Yesterday, we learned that the Rev. Vivian Seegers had died, the 11th Indigenous priest we have lost in this pandemic. After her, there was the revelation that the Bishop of the Territory of the People – an area already in collapse from the pain of the discovery of the 215 Children – was under discipline and unable to practice his ministry while a charge of misconduct was brought against him. We have been in prayer and Vigil, but it has been hard to stand up. We have lost so many of our elder priests, so many young have died, that it is hard to care for our dead. With that, today, many of you have been in confusion about what it means to throw one’s collar and title away.
It is a painful, painful time. I know and I want to be clear with you. We have known for years that we would find the remains of children that the authorities – church authorities – didn’t care enough about to register them properly, or worse, sought to hide. We fought for years to get those records, to get the revelations, knowing this day would come and knowing there would be more like it. It is sad to me, now, that this appears to have come upon people without awareness. Though we have tried to tell people over and over again, I feel a sense of failure.
Quietly, over the past few years some of our clergy, some elders, talked within Sacred Circle, with the Gospel in the Centre, about whether or not we should wear collars and, you will have noticed, some quietly chose not to wear them (most of them unpaid and most not to trigger those who went to the schools). There is an ongoing discussion within the Sacred Circle about this and it will continue. There is an ongoing discussion about all vestments and all aspects of church life. What parts of the old church do we carry and what do we leave behind. It has been our commitment to make these discussions work together and, when we disagree, to let each other know within the circle.
The whole of our Indigenous Church has been premised on the idea that we would not be a part of the Institutional Church that did such harm. Gospel Based Discipleship is always at is root and core a rejection of Institutionally Based Membership. Today, we must with absolute purity and faithfulness receive the Gospel which blesses and anoints Indigenous life, doesn’t destroy it. We are committed to it for life. Today, I feel sad that we have not communicated strongly enough that our identity has nothing to do with the institution of the Anglican Church of Canada. Our identity is that of Indigenous People alive in the Living Word of God.
So, at the end of a day in which we have lost clergy and carried sadness, we must stand, not in our strength or in the strength of a human institution (If I thought for a moment, even for a second, that my loyalty to an institution presided over my loyalty to Jesus, I have betrayed every aspect of it.), but in the strength of the one who died for abandoned children and rose with them. One who came back from a world in which he reigns with those little children and who says that, if we are willing to submit to that world – even now – we will see its fruits – even now. Relatives, we may now have less to tend our sick and dying, but we don’t have any less of Jesus. Do not give up on hope, dear relatives. Hope has not given up on you.