St. James Fergus chose to immerse themselves in the subject of reconciliation throughout Lent this year.
Reconciliation is a broad spiritual challenge in these times, and it was engaged on many levels: from personal repentance to corporate responsibility to the wider subject of Truth and Reconciliation.
On the second Sunday in Lent we welcomed the Venerable Val Kerr, Archdeacon of Truth and Reconciliation and Indigenous Ministries.
Val taught us about Indigenous history and shared stories of family and community as together they worked to remember a stolen past. We had time with her throughout the service and even more in conversation over lunch.
We spoke of powwows, dances, water concerns, land concerns, autonomy and the continued unfair division of families.
We spoke of hope and possibility. But what I think was most inspiring was to share with Val in a smudging ceremony.
St. James, led by Anne Warner (Deputy Peoples’ Warden, Music Assistant and a grandmother working for change), has engaged deeply in the subject of Truth and Reconciliation (T&R) over the last few years.
Like many churches in Niagara, we passed a motion at vestry a few years ago to engage the work of the commission. Holding to that commitment, Anne began a monthly “Lunch and Learn” program, gathering parishioners together for lunch and education on one of the many subjects of T & R.
We have educated ourselves about and contributed to the work of water services in Pikangicum. We have hosted the blanket exercise. We have dedicated the front gateway of our Butterfly Garden as a sacred space to remember murdered and missing Indigenous women. The gate is adorned with red ribbons and frequently refreshed during gatherings.
We have chosen to fly the Indigenous flag during spring and summer months and, as a community, we attended a local powwow. We campaigned and continue to campaign for bill C-262 and facilitated a letter-writing campaign to all MPs and, subsequently, all Senators.
The smudging ceremony that Val introduced us to was an opportunity to bless our own learnings, ourselves and to bless the work in which we have engaged. Val blessed our sanctuary, our flagpole, the memorial gate and our entranceway. As the smoke of the sacred sage died down, the bundle was buried and continues to bless our community garden.
The ritual was moving and a time of deep connection for those who have been intentional about the T & R challenge to churches to learn and work for change.
Finally, at this year’s Vestry, another motion was passed. All meetings, gatherings and worship at St. James will begin with the territorial acknowledgment of our location, on the banks of the Grand River. It will be posted in each of our meeting spaces and in our garden, inviting others to acknowledge this blessed earth.
Our prayer is that we honour the words of our acknowledgment, “May we who dwell on or visit this land, also be good stewards and honour those who came before us”.
The Reverend Ann Turner is Rector of St. James Fergus.