Rev'd Ronda's June 2021 Pastoral Message
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As if the last year has not been challenging enough, the past week and a half has left many of us reeling with the recent discovery of the 215 children at the Kamloops Residential School. Then, just a few days ago, we witnessed the hate filled tragedy of the Afzaal family, who were maliciously run down when they were out for a walk on a summer day. All of it – unthinkable.
Like the rest of us, I have been struggling to make sense of everything. I have no doubt that God weeps with us and perhaps even for us. Our Christian witness tells us that this is not what God intends for the world. I recall the words of Jesus when people tried to restrain children who recognizing his goodness, sought to approach him: “Let the little children come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.”
How do we then reconcile what happened to those 215 dear little souls? How do we come to terms with the fact that for decades, our First Peoples have been telling us their children never came home, and knowing full well that in all likelihood, more are waiting to be found? When we pray for nine year old Fayez, who must now learn to live with the loss of his sister, parents and grandmother, is that really enough?
I know there are times when all we have to offer are our prayers, however, I do not believe that is the norm. Christian faith, like our Lord must always be incarnational. We – all of us have work to do in this world and so how we respond to this news matters. Against the cries of a suffering and mistreated people, the voice of the prophet Micah invited a response from God:
With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:6a, 8
The world that birthed the Canadian policy of forced assimilation, with its express goal to “Kill the Indian in the child” no longer exists – at least not in the same particular form. It’s easy to judge the past but all too often, difficult to see the present. The hard truth which we must humble ourselves to hear is that we have no moral high ground if we are shocked that a colonizing government would enact such policies. We have no moral high ground in thinking that the Christians who ran those schools were somehow evil or different from the rest of us. Many of course did commit heinous acts of violent sexual abuse and that needs to be named, but what about the people who worked there who were kind and cared for the children without any thought of the damage they were imposing on the souls of those children who were forced to assimilate? What about those who witnessed neglect, beatings, and the poor healthcare of the children yet remained silent? What about the RCMP, social workers, lawmakers and others who bought into the idea they were doing the right thing in forcibly removing indigenous children from their homes? I wonder how much soul searching they did about their role at the time or if they even asked God if they were doing the right thing?
And then there are the non-Indigenous Canadians who went about their lives either unaware or unaffected by the reality that was going on around them. Their children were allowed to live in the warmth and safety of their own homes, while attending neighbourhood schools that taught them in their own language and honoured their culture. I suspect they did not give much thought to the “others”.
We judge the past with the privilege of hindsight. If we assume we would not make those same mistakes given the chance, then we are deceiving ourselves. In the long and ongoing history of human acts of genocide, oppression and mistreatment of certain populations, few have stood up to object. Fewer still would have survived. That in our safe Canada where the will of the Church was on the side of the oppressor, we cannot help but feel shame. Nor is it the only such chapter in our long shared history.
So here we are today. Our nation is in a crisis and it needs to be. The churches involved in the Residential School system are in a crisis. They need to be. Our indigenous populations have had their already fragile and yet to be healed wounds torn open and are living in unspeakable pain. While we did not cause the pain personally, we share in this dark legacy as members of God’s church. If we try to hide from that fact because it’s painful or requires too much work or makes us uncomfortable, then we are failing in God’s call to do justice, practice kindness and walk humbly with God. In short, we are failing to live sacramentally when we could be doing something rather than nothing.
Years ago, the good people in this diocese and across the Canadian Anglican Church responded in love and action to contribute the funds needed to meet the agreed upon Residential Schools settlement. It was a generous response and the right thing to do. Former Primate Michael Peers apologized in 1993 for the harm done and 15 years later, then Primate Fred Hiltz reiterated the apology and the commitment of the Anglican Church to walk with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Much of this was/is done through official positions at General Synod, on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee and in other programs. At the parish level however, I suspect that many have been lulled into believing that with the settlement paid and people in their respective positions in the official work of the church, that our job is over. That was never the case. If anyone doubts that, just listen to the screams of anguish reverberating out across the country.
Our work is not done. I would suggest it has barely started. The Anglican Church had control of 3 dozen residential schools, including the former Mohawk Institute in Brantford. We don’t know what if anything they are going to find once they start looking. What we do know is that an estimate of between 4000 and 6000 children did not make it home. If it is painful for us to think about, imagine what it is like for those to whom this is happening.
I asked at the beginning, “How do we make sense of this?” Certainly, the worst of the abuse and neglect was able to hide relatively unchecked behind the legitimacy and respect of the Church. More insidious was the willingness of the Church to cast aside the Gospel to come alongside racist policies of the time regarding cultural and spiritual superiority. While there are differences in how things played out between what happened at the Residential Schools compared to what happened to the Afzaal family, was not the root of the problem the same? A failure to see the God given dignity present in those different from us.
Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:10
Can any of us even imagine for a moment that this is not at least one of the roots Jesus is putting an ax to? Let us therefore choose to bear good fruit!
Our Indigenous brothers and sisters are crying for help. They yearn for us to walk with them in friendship and healing; they do not need our advice, our opinions or our ignorance. We help when we allow God to tune our ears for listening, our hearts to see and our shoulders for carrying. This is how we become the people God calls us to be. May we willingly share the crushing weight of that cross, so as to help bind up the brokenhearted in our midst.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners; Isaiah 61:1
In the coming weeks, I invite you to take at least a few steps forward by exploring the resources available on the national website of the Anglican Church. When we gather again, may we all commit to being agents of healing in this beautiful but broken world.
My prayers go with you for a safe and blessed summer.