By Bishop Todd Townshend
Like everyone else, I am constantly learning as I walk with God as a disciple of Jesus.
A Christian disciple is a “pupil”—a follower, a learner, an apprentice in the good ways, one who is guided and corrected in this work by the Holy Spirit. The two meanings of this word “pupil” came into focus for me recently as I continue to learn about the experiences of Indigenous people in this land.
A pupil is a student in school. I have been hearing ancient but new-to-me stories, the large meaning-making stories of Indigenous spirituality. These stories resonate with me in so many ways and I am astonished at how they powerfully but gently offer deep wisdom about the Creator, the creation, and the creatures of the world, including you and me. I also continue to hear the more personal and individual stories, about how racism and oppression has ruined lives and caused so much pain. There is so much pain revealed and so much trust offered in the telling of these stories. I have been trying to listen to those who have written, as well. I’m learning more about Indigenous history in our area, and Indigenous law in both Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe traditions. I’m learning these things from both the Christian and Traditional people who share this wisdom with one another and who are willing to share it with others—for our benefit. I regret that I am only learning some of this now, and I commit to making this a highest priority for our church, and to help in making it a possibility for everyone.
Another meaning of the word pupil, of course, refers to the dark circular opening in the iris of your eye. The iris (the coloured part) varies in size to regulate the amount of light entering the eye through the pupil. Lately, I feel as though my pupils have been dilated considerably to let the light in to where it can be detected and processed and interpreted—so that I can “see”. This metaphor is biblical, and can be used to understand how we “see” and “hear” certain things only by faith (oculis fidei, “eyes of faith” in Latin).
I believe that the proper posture for a white, male, ordained, non-Indigenous person like me is to be doing the complex work of actually listening and really letting the light in. I’m trying to do that. I am also expected to speak when appropriate, so I’ve said recently that the Anglican Church in this diocese will continue to be looking for every possible way to let God’s truth-seeking light into our individual, collective, and historical life—and to respond in truth-seeking, healing ways to whatever we find there, especially as it relates to our role in the Residential Schools, and to the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada. God knows our story already. It can only benefit us all to seek God’s justice and God’s mercy and God’s healing.
I’ve also spoken about how we seek to become “a more just church”. This is only the first step, as enormous as it is. The real eye-opening power of the gospel is that God, who is revealed in the Scriptures, and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, seems radically and scandalously unjust as the grace and mercy of this God becomes known. Mercy is a scandalous generosity towards those who may or may not deserve it. God is infinitely just, indeed is justice, and yet we can hope for even more in this God who is ultimately merciful.
Guided by Indigenous Anglicans, the whole Anglican Church of Canada has been working towards the goal of truth and reconciliation for more than thirty years. Some of this work has been far too slow, and some of it far too inconsequential. We recognize this, and make it part of our ongoing confession of sin. However, I am moved and inspired by a divine mercy that has been revealed in the willingness of Indigenous people to persist as relatives, the willingness of Indigenous siblings in Christ to teach us and lead us, and the willingness of the Indigenous people across this land to seek trustworthy partners for this work. May we give thanks today especially for those who have shown this mercy within the Diocese of Huron.
(Photo: A sign at the steps of the Mohawk Institute near Brantford, Ontario, Canada's oldest residential school. August 4, 2021)