By Lori Colbeck
It was at the ACW General Meeting in London on April 19, 2015 that our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz asked that bells be tolled in Anglican churches across Canada in honour of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. This was to take place for 22 days from the close of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, May 31, until National Aboriginal Day, June 21.
Two members of St. James’ Anglican Church’s ACW in Stratford took that request back to their parish and things began to happen. The names of almost 1000 of the 1,181 recorded missing or murdered Canadian women and girls were posted on the walls of the church and each of those names was read and a tower bell tolled in their honour at one o’clock each afternoon for 22 days. Parishioners and people from the community took time each day to read the names and toll the bell. Articles were published in both local newspapers sharing with the community the Church’s move towards reconciliation and healing with Canada’s Indigenous people.t was at the ACW General Meeting in London on April 19, 2015 that our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz asked that bells be tolled in Anglican churches across Canada in honour of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. This was to take place for 22 days from the close of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, May 31, until National Aboriginal Day, June 21.
After reading about the Diocese of Huron’s “Bridge Builders” in the September edition of the Huron Church News, the St. James’ Outreach Committee started a correspondence with the Rev. Canon Gaye Whippey and on Saturday, April 9 this year we welcomed the group to present a workshop for our parish. We had set out chairs for the number of people who had signed the sheet indicating they would attend. One of the committee members who had been out of the room returned and spontaneously said, “We must make the circle wider!” Indeed there were forty people in the circle that day. Following introductions and prayers led by Canon Gaye, and with the gospel placed in the circle in front of us, we passed the “talking stick” around the circle. Each person had a chance to share why they were there.
Often it was said there had been no teaching on aboriginal issues in the school the person had attended, that people wished to listen and to learn and share, to ask questions in a safe place. The knowledge that God was with us for that time that Saturday was palpable. LOVE was in the room.
On March 19 this year, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, visiting the Chapel of the Mohawks, asked that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples be read in our churches on the Sunday closest to National Aboriginal Day. “Let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’”, was his response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #48.This seemed again, to be an opportunity for the Outreach Committee at St. James to take meaningful action towards a new understanding and relationship with Indigenous Peoples. Many of us had never heard of, or at most had only a vague understanding of the Doctrine of Discovery and how it has had a lasting impact on all aspects of the lives of First Nations Peoples. As Archbishop Fred said, “I call on every diocese and territory of our church to ensure opportunity for learning about the history and lingering legacy of this doctrine.”
Our rector, the Rev. Canon Lorne Mitchell, was preparing to leave for a three-month Sabbatical. He said at the time, “It should be read from the steps of City Hall.” Our Deacon Tom Patterson, who is chair of the Outreach Committee, determined that the Declaration should be read in a public setting. In the end we realized that City Hall really wasn’t a practical place but with some discussion and the help and advice of the Rev. Canon Greg Smith, one of the Bridge Builders, it was determined that a setting in Upper Queen’s Park was perfect. The bandshell already had semi-circular seating for the public and so with the addition of chairs placed to complete the circle, it brought the readers of the Declaration and those coming to listen into a circle which is a key symbol of Native Spirituality, a sacred symbol of the interdependence of all forms of life.
Canon Greg Smith, inspired by an idea of Victoria Andersen within the Worship Planning Team of St. Aidan’s Church, London prepared a document, which was an abridged version of the United Nations Declaration and could be read within a reasonable time frame.
Parishioners from St. James and St. Stephen’s Stratford were joined by Gloria Thomson, a member of the Bridge Builders and Maxine Noel, an Indigenous artist who lives in Stratford, to read a part of the document as it had been prepared. Peter Mussen from St. James was the narrator. Mayor Dan Mathieson welcomed those gathered and acknowledged the Nations on whose land we were meeting. Canon Gaye Whippey opened the evening with a prayer and a call to listen with open hearts and minds to the words of the Declaration. At the close of the reading Rev. Canon Greg Smith quoted from “The Truth About Stories” by Thomas King. “We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.”
That evening of Monday, June 20, in a park in Stratford with the wind blowing softly in the trees and the sound of children’s voices in the background we felt a Spirituality that could not be missed. Watching the faces of those reading and those listening, it seemed that with prayer and love the time for change has come. The numbers now were a hundred people gathered to listen, more than twice those gathered for the Bridge Builder’s workshop. We had read the “Prayer Honouring the Four Directions” the day before at our morning services and it spoke of turning. As our deeply committed Deacon Tom said in his closing remarks following the reading in the park, it seems we are, as a people “turning”. Let us pray that it be so.
Lori Colbeck is Outreach Committee member at St. James, Stratford
Photos: Terry Marklevitz