Can evangelism happen in areas where the very existence of the Anglican Church is threatened by claims of residential school abuse? One priest argues that there has to be significant healing first if the message is to have credibility.
The Diocese of Qu’Appelle, of which I am a member, is going through a major time of crisis. It faces more claims against it associated with residential school abuse than does any other diocese. But, really, our diocese was in crisis before litigation. Litigation has only sped up the process. We were already facing problems of falling numbers, rural de‑population and the ability of parishes to support full‑time paid ministry.
“Crisis” is defined in the dictionary as a “turning point”. I find that more a more positive description than the usual view of crisis as a potentially destructive time. I think we could even conceive of times of crisis as opportunities for evangelism. Our parishes and diocese are at a “turning point”: the choices we make now will determine our future.
I know there are many wonderful programs that are intended to help churches reach out and grow. I think that for us, however, evangelism has to take an even more basic form. Our journey into a faithful future has begun with people talking to each other and listening to one another.
One way our diocese has responded to the “crisis” is by developing a new ministry aimed at healing and reconciliation, to address the real issues of abuse and build more significant community among aboriginal and non‑aboriginal peoples. I work in this ministry with Dale Gillman, a native woman priest, originally from Gordon’s Reserve. We go together to speak with people in parishes, deaneries, educational institutions, reserves or anywhere we are invited. We tell the story of the residential schools and respond directly to concerns raised by the process of litigation. We gather in circles, begin and end with prayer, hear the story from a non‑aboriginal perspective and then in an aboriginal voice, and we respond directly to questions and concerns. It is a ” face to face” ministry that models partnership and common ground. “Common ground” does not mean we are all in the same place or think and believe the same things. It does indicate our mutual respect for all who gather and how important each person’s voice is. It is an experience that can help us be a “better church”.
I am convicted that when God calls the church into the world, we need to know our story well enough to tell it to the world. The crisis in our diocese has pushed us to the part of our story that is about relationships and what it means to be a community that bears the name of Christ. At this point in our story as a diocese, the greatest illumination for our journey will be the truth of covenant. It matters how we agree to walk with God and with all the people we share this world with. Residential school abuse, litigation, and rural de‑population are not just issues our diocese has to consider, but represent the human face of another sister and brother.
The journey through crisis is not without challenges. But there is also abundance and inspiration in dioceses which are facing their “turning point”. As the stories are shared and as this journey continues, the whole of our communion has an opportunity to grow and thrive. By faithfully healing the relationships of our past and nurturing greater mutuality for our future, the Anglican Church will be a better church. And that is the healthiest context for evangelism.