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Watershed vote as Anglican Church of Canada supports an indigenous church

Posted on: July 19, 2019 1:08 PM
Archbishop Fred Hiltz anoints that Anglican Church of Canada’s National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald, as he is raised to the status of Archbishop
Photo Credit: Anglican Church of Canada

[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has voted overwhelmingly to approve steps to enable a self-determining indigenous church within the Church. Following the approval of changes in canon law, the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, Mark MacDonald, was given the title and status of Archbishop. He will always be an invited guest at Sacred Circle – the national gatherings of indigenous Anglicans for prayer, worship, discernment, and decision-making – with a voice but no vote.

The resolution will allow the National Indigenous Ministry to make various changes on the composition of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and Sacred Circle without needing the approval of General Synod.

Archbishop Mark said: “people often misinterpret what we’re doing as an attempt at independence, away from the church. We really wish to become an indigenous expression of the church, and we are only asking for the freedom and dignity that other Anglicans already enjoy.”

As a result of colonisation, he suggested, indigenous people have been denied the ability to receive and live the Word of God, due to the imposition of foreign ways for dealing with the incarnation of the Word.

Self-determination, MacDonald said, was “not a move away from the church, but a move to become more deeply involved in the church from an indigenous perspective.”

Following the vote, Archbishop Fred Hiltz called all indigenous members and partners of General Synod to the stage to witness Mark MacDonald’s installation as an Archbishop.

Presenting the new Archbishop with a metropolitical cross, Archbishop Hiltz embraced his colleague and explained that the cross had four colours for the four peoples of the world and an eagle feather also hung from it. He said: “[this]reminding us of the great text that is so dear to indigenous peoples, the text from Isaiah: ‘Those who wait for the Lord renew their strength; they mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.’”

The vote was the culmination of a morning of presentations by the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP) and the Vision Keepers, the council of indigenous elders and youth established at General Synod in 2016 to monitor how the church would honour its commitment to adopt the framework of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Bishop Kito Pikaahu, Maori bishop of Te Tai Tokerau in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and General Secretary of the Anglican Indigenous Network, said they were witnessing a very sacred and significant occurrence in the life and witness of the church in Canada and beyond.

Maori Anglicans have had a self-determining indigenous church for nearly 30 years, Bishop Kito said. “The decision is how the Anglican Church of Canada really truly shows that a person is precious, honoured and loved. . . I believe it’s an internal process by which the church monitors itself, in order to express truly an indigenous spirituality within the church.”

The General Synod resolution marked the culmination in many years of campaigning for self-determination for indigenous people. Indigenous Ministries Coordinator, Canon Ginny Doctor, said she had never lost hope. “It’s something that goes beyond 25 years,” she said. “My people have long been oppressed, they’ve long had to deal with different kinds of things being taken away from them, but they never gave up. And I’m here, as an example of the resiliency that my people have.”

Before the vote, ACIP members laid out plans for the future self-determining Indigenous church.

The church plans to focus on “the development and formation of disciples” through “gospel-based discipleship,” working with existing resources and institutions to provide leadership and training and incorporating traditional indigenous teachings and spiritual practices.

Archbishop Mark said addressing the issue of non-stipendiary clergy would be a top priority.

“We have the capacity and the horizon of growth, thanks in part to a robust birth rate among indigenous people – the fields are ripe for harvest. So, we need to do two things . . . increase our paid [people] and increase our volunteers at the same time.”

He also stated that the structure of the indigenous church would be “fluid” and would not exactly follow the model of an ecclesiastical province.