You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and Andy’s prayers for this week.
Indigenous Day of Prayer
Scripture: Genesis 1: 26-27, Matthew 22: 34‒40
Music: Like a River of Tears, Called by Earth and Sky
I did an internship in 1989 in Terrace, BC. I expected it would be a good summer – not a lot of pressure. It helped when a minister who I respected said, “Treat it like a summer romance; have some fun, experiment, take a few risks. Try some stuff outside of your comfort zone, like an altar call.” Then he burst into laughter and walked away.
I left Grand Falls and headed to Moncton on April 22 to catch my flight the next day. It was a miserable drive; about 20 cm of heavy, wet snow fell. I remember helping 3 cars that got stuck along the Renous highway that day.
As I was driving across that desolate highway I remember thinking about the difference between forest management in New Brunswick verses Northern Alberta where I had worked in forest products. The clear cuts didn’t bother me but there were two things I wondered about. I was surprised to see several blocks that were completely down meaning there didn’t seem to be any buffer to protect any ponds or streams. I knew that wasn’t good. I also thought about how the mixed forest was being converted into a softwood forest. I wondered about the long term consequences for wildlife. I was also thinking about some of the discussions at AST around the passage in Genesis and how we were changing our understanding as we spoke with Indigenous leaders that having dominion over the earth meant we were supposed to care for the creation for future generations rather than taking it all for ourselves.
When I landed in Terrace the next day the sun was shining, the snow capped mountain tops were glistening and the apple and cherry trees were all in blossom and it was about 20C. A little different than what I left.
Terrace is a beautiful part of creation, it sits in the Coastal Mountains about 100 kilometers inland from Prince Rupert near the bottom of the Alaska Panhandle. I remember the smell of the rainforest, a mix of old growth cedar, spruce and pine and the size of the trees on logging trucks with diameters over 10 feet. I thought about how long it would take for trees to grow to that size and I again remembered that line in Genesis. (I also remember thinking that I didn’t think about these things when I worked in the pulp and paper industry.)
Never-the-less, I was in love with the place. The people were typical United Church in terms of what they believed and making sure I was looked after. The land amazed me, I loved the mountains, the forest and the abundance of wildlife especially bears and they even had Kermode, Spirit bears, a small white bear.
What really opened my eyes was something that happened when my supervisor was on vacation; a 42 year old, aboriginal, woman who was a traditional carver, died of a brain aneurism and I was asked to do the funeral. There were no strong ties between the Nisga’a, Gixtsan and Wet’suwet’en nations and the local church but there were ties going back to the late 1800s.
Some in the community stepped in to help me understand what was expected. I went to visit the family on the Reserve; it was the first time I went there. The wake was in the church and started in the early afternoon the day before the funeral. People came from all of the villages within a couple of hours drive; they sang, played instruments, told stories, socialized and prayed. I was mesmerized. People just kept coming and coming and offering whatever talent they had. Around suppertime, I asked a couple of indigenous members of Presbytery who had taken me under their wing how late people would stay? Well into the night I was told. Around 11 pm, I remember asking a couple of family members who were the last to leave if I could say a prayer with them. They talked about how hard it was to leave her alone.
There were probably 300 people at the service; the organist, my Lay Supervisor and I were the only non-indigenous people there. I asked an evangelical minister who had established a church on the Reserve to share he service with me. It was kind of awkward when he made a couple of uncomplimentary comments about me – but that was fine. I had been so impressed with how these communities came together that all I was worried about was doing a good job. After the burial, I was invited to the potlatch. I sat down at the back of the hall with the members from Presbytery. As people settled someone came up and asked me if I would join the table where the traditional chief and some of the late woman’s family were sitting. I felt awkward about leaving the people I was with but they assured me that this was an honour and I had to go or it would be perceived as an insult.
Throughout the potlatch I spoke with the people on either side of me and they graciously explained to me what was happening. They even told me what I should and shouldn’t do, like taking something from every tray that was passed to me, even if I didn’t eat it. “Just put it on your plate and move it around.” they told me. Eventually, my anxieties eased and they started to tease and joke with me. I was made to feel welcome and I learned so much about a culture that is rich and deep.
Breaking bread with them, talking with them was a delight for me. Not only did I learn from them I also came to a deeper and richer understanding of what Jesus says in the Gospel today, that loving God and loving our neighbour are the most important things for us as people of faith. I believe that we truly learn to know and love our neighbours by spending time together so that we may know each other; what we believe, what we think, in sharing our joys and our sorrows, we become more fully human to one another.
Over that summer, there was so much to see and experience. The Indigenous people always treated us with hospitality and grace. They helped us to learn and grow and to appreciate their land that runs along the desolate Highway 16.
My one regret from the summer was that I didn’t keep up my connections with the people from there. I could have learned so much more from them about their culture and traditional beliefs. I would have been the richer for that.
These past few weeks, since the discovery of the bodies of the 215 children at the residential school in Kamloops has been a wakeup call for many of us as was George Floyd’s murder in the US.
We have much to learn about our sisters and brothers and how our culture has created issues. Yes, there are residential schools (that is why I am wearing this orange shirt) but there is also the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls symbolized by the red dresses we see hanging from public places in our community. That issue became public because of Highway 16, The Highway of Tears. Over 80 women and girls disappeared on that highway and after much pressure an inquiry was called for and it just kept expanding until we realized there were hundreds and then thousands of cases spread out between Canada and the US.
The Governance Committee accepted some recommendations from the Social Justice Committee to help us take some minor steps forward in really establishing and deepening our relationships with local Indigenous communities.
We have much to learn but I trust as we reach out we will be able to build bridges between our communities. Bridges that will last many, many years and that will help to bridge the gaps that exist between us.
For the people we hold in our hearts today
For our families, friends and loved ones
For relationships with which we struggle, and for those who challenge us
We pray for the Spirit’s gift of grace, trusting in God’s guiding presence.
For the sick, the lonely and those suffering loss
For those living with mental illness or struggling with addiction
We pray for the Spirit’s gift of compassion, and the courage to be a companion on the way.
For the First Peoples’ of this land and the unceded lands we call Canada,
For our relationships with them, both personal and formal.
We pray for the Spirit’s gifts of justice and peace,
that we might continue to foster friendship and honour all Creation.
Help us to look deeply at our privilege, to consider honestly how we might use it to help others, and to seek authentic relationship with those whom we do not yet know.
Today we remember our fathers and those who have been like fathers to us. For those who have helped raise us and guide us, who work hard to keep us anchored and safe, we give you thanks, O God. For those with whom our relationships have been difficult or less than we had hoped or needed, we pray for the Spirit’s gifts of healing and wisdom, that we might continue to grow in love.
Guide us as we share your love with your world.
Help us to choose ways which honour the dignity of all your people.
Bless us in this place and as we go from here.
We ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father…. Amen.