Youth, elders advise Indigenous Ministries
In close-knit Indigenous communities, gatherings are often intergenerational—grandparents mix with new moms and dads while kids play underfoot. This sense of family is what Indigenous Ministries seeks to develop with new youth and elder councils, recently convened to guide the department. The two councils met in Vancouver, May 11 and 12, and their work will continue to be intertwined.
"We have elders with a lot of experience and youth who want to learn," said the Rev. Canon Ginny Doctor, Indigenous Ministries coordinator. "And when you combine that you're going to come up with some incredible stuff."
The councils will advise National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald and the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples as they help Indigenous Anglicans move towards self-determination. These councils were first proposed in 2005, along with the proposal for Bishop MacDonald's position. Only now are the right finances available and structures in place.
The meeting gathered five young adults and five elders at the Carey Centre at the University of British Columbia for prayer, worship, and discussion. They worked through seven questions about church, from "What makes an effective church/congregation?" to "How do we reclaim ministry so that it reflects our community needs?"
At the end of the meeting, members were commissioned for council work. They will meet by phone and again in person at the Sacred Circle national meeting, August 5 to 11, in Pinawa, Man. Additional members will be added to improve representation.
A spiritual movement
So what does self-determination look like in the Anglican Church of Canada these days? Current Indigenous Ministries work is propelled by the November 2011 Mississauga Declaration, which states that Indigenous communities "are still in crisis" and they must "act in defense of the people and the land."
In some communities this work is emerging as new governance structures such as area missions.
But Indigenous Ministries staff emphasize that this work is a spiritual movement. All communities are exploring how to be fully Indigenous and fully Christian.
This is an empowering concept for youth council members like Aleshia Johnson, 23.
"I left feeling like I was changed," said Ms. Johnson after the meeting. "I've never felt so close to the Indigenous community as I do now, which is really a dream come true for me."
Ms. Johnson was born in Hamilton, Ont., to an Indigenous mother and Bahamian father. When she came to faith five years ago, she had few Indigenous Christian role models. Now the youth council links her with such people across the country and Ms. Johnson is already exploring how she can serve alongside the local Six Nations Anglican church.
Ms. Johnson's isolation isn't uncommon, notes Ms. Doctor. Many Indigenous Anglican young people (and adults) don't realize that there are others out there like them. She felt this way as a young woman growing up on the Onondaga Reserve in New York state. She and the Indigenous Ministries staff now aim to connect and inspire these people across Canada, she says, and "develop a community of faith."
This vision is inspiring for elder council member the Rev. Canon Laverne Jacobs, a former General Synod Indigenous Ministries coordinator. He said he was inspired by the faith and intelligence of youth members and now wants to see this group grow:
"My hope and prayer is that as these councils grow in the Spirit, they will provide wisdom, guidance, and a firm foundation for the work of Indigenous Ministries."
The elder council is Cam Haines, the Rev. Canon Laverne Jacobs, the Rev. Iola Metuq, the Rev. Marion Schafer, and the Rev. Margaret Waterchief. The youth council is Dixie Bird, Leslie Casey, Aleshia Johnson, Alacie Suppah, and Jeffrey "Jay" Waterchief. Co-chairs of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, the Rev. Norm Casey and the Ven. Sid Black, also attended the Vancouver meeting.