September 26: Truth & Reconciliation Sunday

Readings from the Scriptures (CEB)  Mark 9:38-50

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.

42 “As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. 43 If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of hell, which can’t be put out. 45 If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two. 48 That’s a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out49 Everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.”

Truth and Reconciliation                         Rev. Chris Fickling

I find sermons like these difficult…

…not just because when it comes to Canada’s treatment of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, I feel so woefully uneducated…but also, because there’s just too much to say. 

Recently our government declared September 30th, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, transforming what was Orange Shirt Day[1] – a remembrance that every child matters – into a time of newfound respect and honour for those uncovered in unmarked graves.  But not just for those innocents, but moreso to find ways to reconcile with those living, carrying impossibly heavy burdens. 

Murray Sinclair, former senator and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reiterated in a recent interview what he said in the report from 2015, that

we will not achieve reconciliation in my lifetime. We will probably not achieve it in the lifetime of my children. We may not even achieve it in the lifetime of my grandchildren,”

“But if we make a concerted effort … then eventually we will be able, some day, to wake up and, to our surprise, find that we are treating each other in a way that was intended when contact was first made.”[2]

Sinclair’s words gave me pause.  How do we treat each other in a way when contact was first made?  I always assumed, rightly or wrongly, that settlers took advantage of what they might have seen as primitive people…but in the small amount of time I had this week to prepare (and to continue my own re/education) many who first came to Canada were unprepared for the harsh winters, relying on Indigenous people to care for them, sharing and trading in mutually beneficial ways.  While that may be a gross oversimplification, the idea of learning from one another, listening to one another, finding our way together[3], feels holy. 

Guilt and shame and anger and inaction will take us nowhere.  There is nothing we can do to change the past.  But we must do everything we can to shape the future.

To that end, I thought it would be helpful for us to reflect particularly on the ‘calls to action’[4] from the Truth and Reconciliation report, focussing on the section entitled Church Apologies and Reconciliation:

58.  We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools. We call for that apology to be similar to the 2010 apology issued to Irish victims of abuse and to occur within one year of the issuing of this Report and to be delivered by the Pope in Canada.

(This has yet to happen – in fact – this year was the very first year that the Canadian arm of the Catholic church has officially apologized for the role of the church in residential schools.[5]  The United Church apologized in 1986 and over the last 35 years tried to live into that apology).

59.  We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary.

(We started putting the land acknowledgment in the bulletin in my time here.  I don’t read it because they’re just words – words unconnected to action – words that are read at schools or theatres that feel perfunctory or almost performative rather than what we’re trying to do today – to place ourselves in the ongoing work of healing relationships here in Canada.  I hope at a minimum, you ask yourself – what can I do…what is my role?) 

60.  We call upon leaders of the church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.

(When I’m not counting the grey hairs on my head, I consider myself still young-ish…but even in my time not too long ago in seminary – there was little talk about our role in residential schools.  I remember the first time I brought it up in a sermon, then afterwards at the door, an individual stared me down before stomping out the door, when their partner came sheepishly behind them, and apologized…saying they worked at a residential school as a teacher.) 

61.  We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for:

i. Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects.
ii. Community-controlled culture- and language revitalization projects.
iii. Community-controlled education and relationship building projects.
iv. Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self determination, and reconciliation.

(The United Church’s Healing Fund – an extension of the Mission and Service Fund – does just this.  So when you give to M&S, you support the work of reconciliation and healing.  But it doesn’t stop there.  We had a federal election this past week, and a provincial one coming not too far away – and we need to vote in governments that will support this important work – for over half my lifetime communities like Shoal Lake were under a boil-water advisory[6] which was just lifted in the last month because a water treatment plant was built.)

We can do better.  We can treat others better.  We can refuse to be millstones dragging others down, just to make ourselves feel superior.  We can listen and learn more.  We all want to be on the right side of history, but “swooping in with a freshly ironed superhero cape… [with an] impulsive desire to fix, to be the hero of the story, [that]… for some, …comes from a place of superiority and/or a desire to be forgiven, ”[7] but even this isn’t what’s required.

Rediscovering the lost gift of humility – admitting how much we don’t know, confessing the short comings of how much we think we know, and committing ourselves to loving our neighbours…this is the work that we are called to do as followers of Jesus. 


[1] Orange shirt to remember Phyllis Jack Webstad who wore an orange shirt given to her by her grandmother, which was taken from her when she wore it on her first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School.

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/radio/unreserved/national-day-for-truth-and-reconciliation-is-1-step-on-a-long-journey-says-murray-sinclair-1.6184561

[3] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/calling-yourself-a-settler-pov-1.6151582?fbclid=IwAR3TdD3hhCFWntzz_kkeTL-JCYZ5W8RSrGY_9BW_BsLYDUQkvXhS5TKuCDY

[4] https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf

[5] https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/catholic-bishops-apologize-for-abuses-at-residential-schools-1.5599652?fbclid=IwAR2HjL_5W5F2Av8263yj-w39ZAco67VDiuwCYJyYDlUHPjGRT8eJ6WYgQ6c

[6] https://globalnews.ca/news/8180664/shoal-lake-40-water-treatment-plant/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/19/no-more-white-saviours-thanks-how-to-be-a-true-anti-racist-ally?fbclid=IwAR15C5lvOlSbgueoyJaChsRfcKLQTBi6OuckRRVcqhgt4VRBKzfdR19Aj_k

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