Done and Left Undone

by Archdeacon Val Kerr

Being in a relationship can mean we open ourselves to being hurt. We find out our friend has gossiped about us, we are hurt; our co-worker is overly harsh and critical of our idea in a team meeting, we are hurt. These are all real and tangible hurts we can experience in our lives but what does it mean for generations of a culture to be hurt by the actions of many people in the world/church? 

For “what we have done and for what we have left undone.” These words have been recited for many generations in our churches, however, do we really think about what “we have done and left undone” when we say these words or are they simply words we reel off as part of our confession without thinking? With these words in mind, I would like to share some of my personal reflections on the apology for spiritual harm which our former primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz offered at our General Synod of 2019. 

When we hear the word abuse, physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual forms may enter our minds but how many of us would think of spiritual to be linked with these other abuses, and to be just as damaging? How many would even take note that trying to remake a people “in our own image,” as Archbishop Hiltz noted, would be considered a form of abuse? 

As Indigenous peoples living here for thousands of years, we had a spiritual relationship with our Creator and with the land we inhabited. The failure of settlers to recognize how our spirituality pervades our family lives, our way of living, our structures and our way of governing has been a huge blow to us as a people and to our culture. 

Throughout the years our traditional teachings, our Indigenous spiritualities and our disciplines have been critiqued and looked down upon. Even “demonized” as Primate Fred noted and not consider as compatible with Christian worship. All this in many ways has caused people to be unsure of who they are and where they fit, what is “right” and what is considered “wrong”. If we need to believe in one way of living *Christian” or “Traditional” or if we can encompass both with integrity. 

It is a gift (gift implying special favor by God or nature) to Indigenous people who have remained faithful to the Church throughout all these generations and abuses to be able to read and hear these words coming from a someone who has been and still is much loved and respected by our community. To hear acknowledgement of the many hurts absorbed, to hear others acknowledge how far our traditions and ceremonies go towards being wholly the people we were created to be, to realize how important it is for our youth and all of us to learn these traditions and ceremonies so long forgotten or buried, brought me to tears. To be in that moment at General Synod was a gift beyond anything I could have asked or imagined. 

Of course, apologizing means we have to change our ways; the way we have acted, the way we have treated others, the ways we have lived out our faith, or not.

To hear how heartfelt Archbishop Hiltz’s remorse is about this painful past, to hear and feel his lament for such “shameful behaviours”, to hear these words: “We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things we ought not to have done…” (Confession, p. 4, Book of Common Prayer), said with such passion, at such a pivotal time in the life of the church, I hope, will be life giving and life-changing for the church as a whole. 

Of course, apologizing means we have to change our ways; the way we have acted, the way we have treated others, the ways we have lived out our faith, or not. This can be a hard task to undertake, however, by continuing on this journey, by committing to learn from each other, by vowing to respect our differences together … with God our Creator anything is possible. 

As Archbishop Hiltz said “I call us to renew our commitment to our baptismal covenant, especially our vow “to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being”. In living this vow in a good way, let us embrace the Seven Grandfather Teachings: love, respect, truth, honesty, wisdom, courage, and humility.” Let us live out together the premise of these teachings in love. Thanks be to our Creator. 

“In the name of Jesus Christ, the great Pain Bearer and Peace Maker. I have hope that through Him, we will be able to walk together in newness of life,” said Archbishop Hiltz as part of his apology, and I share this hope and feel so blessed to be part of a diocese that takes living together in relationship so seriously and so wholeheartedly.


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Archdeacon Val Kerr is  Priest-in-charge of All Saints Hagersville, and the Archdeacon for Truth, Reconciliation, and Indigenous Ministries