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By Rev. Hana Scorrar

Missionary to Missioner…

So, I don’t know if you’re on Facebook a lot, but I am, and like a couple weeks ago there was this quiz going around about what kind of Anglican are you? And everyone was like posting I’m Tractarian, I’m Anglo-Catholic, I’m whatever.

I took that quiz and got mad like five questions in because it was really bad. Every question had like two thirds of the answers be some slight variation on like very traditional Catholicism, a couple of rigid Calvinistic answers, and one oh, let it all hang out let’s hold hands and sing who cares how we think or worship answer. And it was so offensive.
Now, I begin with this, because I think it shows the very narrow way we have chosen to view our faith and our Anglicanism. The very narrow way we have come to define our ecclesiolity, our liturgy, our theology, even our meaning and purpose as church. And I think that narrow view has harmed us.

Because that narrow view has a bias. That narrow view has a perspective. That narrow view has been handed down to us throughout history from a set of well-intentioned, but ultimately flawed people. And those definitions, while we may not even see or recognize the effects, have consequences.

My own position is one such definition.

See, when I was told I was going to be the Indigenous Ministries Missioner, I knew that word would probably be misunderstood, it would be misconstrued. It would definitely need to be explained.

And perhaps you pondered it too, when it first came out. Perhaps certain images leapt to your mind, and who can blame you. I know they did for me. And I wondered if they would come to the minds of the people I serve.

The words and symbols we use hold so much power; power many of us rarely linger on. Yet it is there. The words of mission and ministry can evoke significant metaphors and representations, and for the majority of us in the settler church, these are paired to outreach and community organization, the development of children’s programming, or even our dreaded strategic plans.

But to the Indigenous church, the words take on a whole new meaning. Mission and missionary carry heavy weight, dripping with historical abuses and oppressive acts, as well as complicated political machinations on both the colonial power and the Indigenous side. These words are steeped in a complex and convoluted narrative, one that is not only found in the past.

And that’s the thing, the key we must remember in our narrow definitions. They are from a time that didn’t include people like me, or Ros, or our parishes. They are from a time when our way of understanding and being in the world was wrong and inhuman. They deny the wealth of knowledge from those not in power.

They define our words and symbols with their exclusion and their bigotry.

But, rest assured, while I am PROTEST-tant, I am not Protestant. And Ros and I have gone back to our roots to find the bedrock on which to rest our ministry.

Article 34 of the 39 Articles is about the Traditions of the Church, and states, “it is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.”

Right there, we place the heart of our work.

We are called to place the Gospel at the centre of the community, not to manipulate the community to fit the church.

This is the distinction I make in my role as Indigenous Missioner, the difference between the missionary role of the past and the future of reconciled relationship and the decolonized church. Firstly, our roles are not ones of imposing culture and church polity. In missions of the past, the work of the missionary was not only to inculcate and inculturate the “heathen” to the “civilized” ways of the Western world and primarily the church, but it was also to set the stage for the degradation of traditional ways of knowing and being.

This way of thinking is closely tied to the understanding of conversion. We save souls through the forceable removal of their Indigenous identity, because of course the right way to be Christian is to be a mimicry of whiteness and Britishness.

Thus, the missionary’s job was to replace the Indigenous identity with the Western one.

Whereas the role of Missioner, and Indigenous Archdeacon, we believe are based on the difference between proselytizing and evangelizing, the difference between conversion and revelation. My job, then, lies not in inculturation, but rather in creating sacred space. I make room for the Holy Spirit to work, how and what that looks like is interpreted by the community. It is the difference between replacing traditional identity and ways of knowing and respecting traditional identity and ways of knowing.

We do not convert, we create opportunities for revelation to happen. We do not inculturate the people we serve to the settler ways, we inculturate the Gospel to the community. We imbed Christ among them, make the incarnational Jesus alive in their midst, understood as an embodiment of their identity as much as the identities of those in our settler churches.

We evangelize, yes, because we are called to share the Good News of Christ; but we do not proselytize. Christ belongs to us all, his body is many colours, many genders, many ages and abilities; and it is made one in the abundant love of God, not in the assumption of a superior human existence.

So, this all sounds good, but what does it actually look like?

Team Ministry

Well, there are some important principles to our ministry. Centring the Gospel in the community is one. A willingness and openness to learn is another. An honest acknowledgment of weakness and gifts, a commitment to vulnerability and compassion, and, most importantly, a spirit of comradery.

God got a team of three, and we needed one as well; so a big part of how Indigenous Ministries functions is based around our team ministry model. Part and parcel to this team functioning is the team members themselves, Ros/Hana, Elaine Burnside, and John-Paul Markides make up the primary worship leaders and clergy of our team. But we have been blessed with passionate and hardworking lay leaders in all of the communities we serve. By valuing the gifts that all our leaders bring to the table, we can work together to build relationships, develop ministries and missions, and encourage and support the skills, talents, and treasures our people have.

This is a big ministry, stretching far beyond the normal bounds of multi-point parishes, with Ros/Hana traveling from Six Nations to Oneida and Chippewa-Muncey to Walpole to offer worship and to participate in community events and church programming. We have also been engaging with many churches across the Diocese who are interested in wrestling with Truth and Reconciliation, as well as planting seeds for emerging or renewed community within Indigenous reserves in our Diocese.

Yet, with this large of a task, we do need help beyond our team. For that we have been truly blessed by Sam Thomas who has worked alongside us, being a beacon of support as we navigate this new ministry and a helping hand where we need it. We have also had immense assistance from Helen Booth, who in her position at Church House, has been our greatest champion against the insurance company and any other bureaucracy. But they don’t have to be the only ones! Offer us your gifts and we will use them. If there’s something you’re particularly good at, we can find a place that needs that help. So, please, find us after and talk with us about how we can create a bigger network of resources for our people.

Historical Budget and Strategic Plan

Part of the plan for those resources are an in-depth study at how we are utilizing them. We are creating a 10 year historical budget to track the usage of financial resources across Indigenous Ministries, and to evaluate the current needs of our communities. We are also including a case study on how our team is being managed, especially with the insurance issues we’ve faced, the church buildings we have lost due to fires, and the intense spiritual climate of our Indigenous communities at present.

Dossier of Missions

This historical budget and resource management will also help us create clear paths for the large dossier of missions that Indigenous Ministries supports. Through support from the New England Company, as well as fundraised dollars, our Indigenous churches offer food pantries, free meals for community members and elders, cultural and language revitalization, such as a Cayuga Culture Camp which took place in Six Nations, a ribbon skirt project to help teach and offer resources for crafting traditional garments, language and story preservation on Oneida, and a drum project on Walpole Island.

We also support suicide prevention programs like Brightening the Spirit, Music for the Spirit, which gives kids access to musical instruments and music teachers, and a Life Writing Class where people get the opportunity to express themselves through written and oral stories. We have even had one of our members of Life Writing publish a book (The Metal Man, Drunken Pigeons, and Me by Don Lynch – and if you want a copy come see us afterwards).

Our Indigenous parishes have increased their missions over the past few years, and even through COVID, they prayerfully dreamed big dreams for the future of their communities, committing themselves even more fervently to God’s mission. For our vision was not just to entice a few extra bodies into the seats on Sundays, but to make clear the way for the work of the Gospel. To feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give hope to the hopeless, and bring joy and love to our communities. Our missions seek to build the Kingdom, not our churches, and so we work for the good of our people, keeping liberation as our goal, not expansion.

Diocesan Interaction

But our ministry field stretches beyond just our parishes, and even our communities. A big part of the work we do is also engaging with the wider Diocese.

Which can happen through generous monetary gifts such as:

  • Scholarship program St George’s Kitchener – Ros
  • ACW gift of bursury/scholarship – Ros
  • St Mark’s donation to LAIC’s missions

We have also been involved in many community educational projects, particularly with St James Stratford, which has been a long-standing partner with Indigenous Ministries. St Aidan’s has reached out to Ros to participate in their ongoing learning opportunities. The LAAMB parishes have been involved in a series of discussions called Listening to Indigenous Voices lead by David Franks and Janaki Bandara as well as hosting a Truth and Reconciliation event under the leadership of Catherine Miller. Huron University College and the students and faculty there have been actively committed to participating in this process, with educational talks and services at the Chapel. There is also hopeful renewal of relationship between St Andrew’s Chippewa-Munsee and St Mark’s in London, including a plan for an Orange Shirt Day activity; and there has been growing support for educational activities and more interaction with the resources provided by Indigenous Ministries, Bridge Builders, LAIC, and PWRDF.

We have also been engaged in reaching out to our former communities in Kettlepoint and Moriaviantown, to renew relationship and develop ways for their involvement in the Anglican Church. The Saugeens, which has never had an Anglican presence, is in conversation with both Ros/Hana and Catherine Miller as we feel out what we can do to support their spiritual journey, and support for the land claim to Sauble Beach has been active in the Anglican-Lutheran community in the area, spearheaded by Brian Reis. Ros has also been connecting with traditional people through the Mohawk Chapel and has opened line of communication and healing with the Survivor Secretariat, those who speak for the survivors of residential schools.

These last few years have been particularly hard, but also particularly hopeful, as we saw the founding of a new team ministry and the naming of an Indigenous Ministries Missioner, an increase in our ministry programs and mission projects, and new or renewed relationships starting. This process, though at times painful, has been one of reconciliation and healing, and perhaps the best way we can work through the colonial narrative and structure we have existed under for so long.

Decolonization is a Myth

Because decolonization as we understand it is a myth. The legislative and structural racism and greed that give foundation to empire building are simply not undone with the passing of laws or the reading of books. This underlying system of oppression is implicit in everything we do, and cannot be excised with the same tools that built it. 
What we are striving for with Indigenous Ministries is a Gospel understanding of creation. The Two Row Wampum is our ancient bedrock document, which was about the sojourner relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, in which we can walk the land together for the goodness of our communities.

Thus, what we suggest is not a degradation of structure, but rather the inverse of empire, the Kingdom of Heaven; the example we have of collective action and salvation in our Gospel readings, and the way Jesus inaugurated for us thousands of years ago, calling us to a self-emptying of power and privilege and a filling of the Spirit.

This is what we offer to you this morning. Because this work we do, it’s not only for Indigenous people. The act of the building of the Kingdom is work for us all, the act of unlearning and untethering our empire biases and assumptions is work for us all.

Psalm 137 gives us the line: how shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? This Psalm is a psalm of lament. It is the lament of the dispossessed. But what are we to be dispossessed of? Power and privilege and our empire status. Christendom and dominion over faith and spiritual matters.

We are singing the Lord’s song in strange lands, but we can no longer be the church of the expansionist Gospel, the missionaries sent out to transform the world into our image. We must excise those empire impulses and learn a little something from Indigenous peoples all around the world. Who when they found a good place, called it sacred. Not because they could make it so with ritual, not because they could force it to conform to the confines of their culture. But because they saw it was a place to thrive, a place that was fruitful. They saw the natural beauty and abundance of a place, and said, here we can have a good life.

Sing, our siblings in Christ, sing loud and joyfully, the Creator is good and this strange land has much to teach us and much to give, if we are willing to humbly accept the blessings. Walk this road with us, with a Two Row Mind.

Rev. Hana Scorrar is Indigenous Ministries Missioner in the Diocese of Huron