By Erin Green
The seventh and final national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission took place in Edmonton, AB, from March 27 to 30, 2014. The event drew thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together for survivor statement gathering, listening and learning, celebration of Indigenous culture, and expressions of reconciliation.
The Edmonton event also saw broadening church participation, including a first expression of reconciliation from Anglican full communion partners the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). While the ELCIC and its predecessors were not directly involved in Indian Residential Schools, they now join in truth and reconciliation processes.
The Lutheran expression of reconciliation included a copy of a 2011 National Convention resolution encouraging right relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples and a pottery pitcher given to honoured guests at that same event.
Offering this expression as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reaches the end of its mandate was fitting for the ELCIC. “This timing allowed our resolution the maximum amount of time to bear fruit,” reflected Johnson. “We’re starting to see actions taking place and people are taking on the work of reconciliation. It has felt like enough of a beginning that today making an expression felt real, felt appropriate.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, was especially appreciative of the ELCIC gesture. Watching it take place “felt wonderful,” said Hiltz. “When we declared full communion in 2011, we said we’d take an interest in one another’s churches. The Spirit has been calling our church toward renewed relationships with Indigenous people and to have a full communion partner that takes as much interest in something that has been such a huge priority for our church feels good. It feels like a real partnership.”
This moment in Anglican-Lutheran relationships reminded Hiltz of the 2013 Joint Assembly theme – Together for the Love of the World. “This partnership is not just for the benefit of our churches,” he said. “It’s for the benefit of something bigger and opens eyes and hearts to a world out there that is crying for love . . . that is crying for Gospel.”
Johnson echoed Hiltz’s appreciation of the strong Edmonton showing of Anglican-Lutheran relationship, “When I asked people in my church to stand, Anglicans stood too.”
The Anglican Church of Canada offered a timeline of evolving relationships between Indigenous people and the church as an expression of reconciliation. It covers more than five hundred years of history and ends with a call for individuals to join their church and society in moving towards right relations.
In light of this expression, Hiltz reflected on what future markers on the timeline might be. He named education and justice as priorities for the church. In particular, Hiltz was struck by the number of references made in Edmonton to education and the role it plays in reconciliation. He expressed hope that every theological college in the country would contribute to reconciliation through education. In the future, he said, “you don’t get a Master of Divinity degree without some knowledge of residential schools and the churches’ responses to it. If we’re going to go forward, clergy and laity need to know this history.”
On the justice front, Hiltz hopes the timeline will show “our church making some very significant moves in working with Indigenous people for adequate housing and healthcare, particularly mental healthcare, and making progress against the trend of missing and murdered Indigenous women.”
The future of reconciliation is also taking shape in the ELCIC. The expression of reconciliation is a springboard for the 2015 National Convention. Johnson expects this to be “a real time to share exciting creative initiatives that will act like yeast and leaven the rest of the church.” She is also looking forward to “learning how our full communion relationship starts to become an echo of Aboriginal understanding of ‘all my relations’ – what you experience, we experience.”
As spiritual leaders for their churches, Hiltz and Johnson also seek theological resources for reconciliation. Johnson sees scripture “full of a call to reconciliation – with your neighbour, with yourself, and with your actions.” In particular, she names Matthew 5:23-24 as critical in her understanding of reconciliation: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to them, and then come and present your offering.”
Hiltz turns to the images of Christ found in the teachings of St. Paul. In particular that God was in Jesus Christ, and through this God and humanity are reconciled. He recalls also “all the ways in which Christ reached out to people and brought people together for a greater purpose – to find new life and to find new relations with one another and with God.”
On the long journey of hearing truth and prayerfully working for reconciliation, Johnson and Hiltz are in agreement. “It really helps to have a brother in Christ and sister church to go through the process with,” concludes Johnson. Hiltz echoes the sentiment and adds, “And for me, it is very meaningful to have a sister in Christ and sister church that has seen how long the journey has been in our church, and to recognize that it has not been easy, but now the journey is a shared one.”
To read ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson’s presentation to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, please click here.
To read remarks by Archbishop Fred Hiltz at the Alberta National Event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, please click here.
Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, April 9. 2014