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Outreach conference focuses on aboriginal reconciliation

For photos of the Outreach Networking Conference, see the Diocese’s Facebook page.

By Rebecca Williams

Bishop Mark MacDonald, Canada’s first National Indigenous Bishop, was the keynote speaker at the diocese’s annual Outreach Networking Conference, held on Oct.15 at Richmond Hill. About 160 people participated in the conference, which revolved around the theme of aboriginal reconciliation.

Bishop MacDonald emphasized the sacredness that manifests among the disadvantaged. “Jesus described a special presence with the poor, the hungry, the naked and those who are in prison,” he said. “We no longer can pretend to be the church of Christ if we do not have a church among the poor.” He called on the next generation to be the most “courageous generation that’s ever lived.”

Participants at the conference were able to choose from a number of workshops, including the importance of community gardens, the spirituality of social justice, and the problem of vertical poverty. These workshops not only provided insight into different social justice issues, but also explored how to successfully run outreach programs from different parishes.

Twenty Anglican youth took part in a lively youth program organized by Christian Harvey, the youth social justice coordinator for the Trent-Durham.

“After a decade of annual outreach conferences, it’s clear that this event meets a real need among Anglicans,” says Murray MacAdam, the diocese’s Social Justice and Advocacy consultant. “People appreciate the chance to learn what other parishes are doing, to meet other Anglicans doing similar outreach and advocacy work, and to realize that they’re not alone in their passion to live out Christ’s good news in our broken society.”

After the workshops, the conference came together again for a final worship. Bishop MacDonald chose “Many and Great, O God, Are Your Works” as the final hymn. He spoke of a tale from Minnesota, where, during the Civil War, 38 Dakota men were hung after revolting against the immense poverty they experienced. Bishop MacDonald explained that this was the song they sang while they travelled to the gallows. “Sometimes bad history makes good theology,” he said. “It’s not a death song: it’s a life song. It’s hope for something good happening among us.”

Rebecca Williams is a freelance journalist.

Blanket Exercise depicts treatment of aboriginal population

By Rebecca Williams

It started out with 15 people standing on some blankets. Slowly throughout the next half hour, more and more people were asked to step off the blankets. Soon enough, there were only three people left standing. Diseases from Europe, war and poverty killed us off. We were the indigenous peoples of Canada, and together the blankets were Turtle Island.

The Blanket Exercise was one of the workshops at this year’s Outreach Networking Conference. Developed by Kairos Canada, the exercise depicts the treatment of the Canadian aboriginal population over hundreds of years.

The Rev. Ann Smith, a retired priest of the diocese, ran both the morning and afternoon workshops. She is an ambassador for reconciliation for the aboriginal people of Canada. Introducing herself to the room, she shared that one of her first teaching jobs was at a residential school.

“It was an experience, but the baggage is a lot to deal with, and that’s why I’m an ambassador,” she said.

Throughout the exercise, Michele Parkin, another aboriginal ambassador, read out political treaties and acts. These acts, like the Indian Act, restricted movement around the blankets until participants were not allowed to move at all.

Although the exercise showed that there has been some small advancement for reconciliation in the last few years, the powerful visual representation of the treatment of aboriginal people in Canada depicted a conflict that is far from resolved.

This year’s Outreach Networking Conference focussed on aboriginal reconciliation.  Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church’s national indigenous bishop, was the keynote speaker. The Blanket Exercise was one of the new workshops this year that revolved around aboriginal issues.

Bishop talks about spirituality of social justice

By Elin Goulden

When the Navajo chief Manuelito travelled more than 300 miles to come to the aid of his people who had been deported to Fort Sumner during the Long Walk in 1864, he was asked what had sustained him on his journey. “I had a very good song,” he replied.

In his workshop on the spirituality of social justice at the Outreach Networking Conference, Bishop Mark MacDonald invited participants to consider how the “very good song” of the Gospel can sustain them in their own outreach efforts. He noted that people are often tempted to keep their faith somewhat separated from their outreach work, especially when it takes place among those outside the church, who may have experienced the church as oppressive.

Drawing on the native practice of placing what is most sacred at the centre of the circle when gathering for any purpose, Bishop MacDonald suggested that Christians put the Gospel in the centre of all of their endeavours as church, not just when they come together for worship. When they read and reflect on the Gospel together, several things happen, he said. Firstly, they remember who they are, their calling and their priorities. In his experience, he said, people who were originally resistant to this practice because it would take up too much time were surprised to discover that meetings were actually shorter when readings and reflections on the Gospel were included, precisely because it cut through posturing and went straight to the essentials. Secondly, it gives people a voice and allows their spirituality to be part of what they are doing together.

Furthermore, as Bishop MacDonald noted, God is present in the proclamation of the Gospel in community, and when people seek the presence of God, they are sustained. They are enabled to prayerfully discern together where God is working in their world. The Gospel unveils the hidden presence of God in the universe; at the same time, it unveils a false world that defaces and destroys God’s creatures. Being able to discern both of these is essential for people as they strive for the justice and peace of God’s kingdom.

Native people understand the story as giving birth to us, not the other way around, he said. In the same way, he suggested, people must sit in the midst of the Gospel story, allowing it to shape and re-work them and all that they do.

Elin Goulden is outreach coordinator for York-Credit Valley.

By Rebecca Williams

The Rev. Martha Tatarnic and Bob Donald ran one of the more popular workshops at the Outreach Networking Conference. Titled “Successful Community Outreach by Your Small Parish,” the workshop dealt with their experiences with outreach and community.

Ms. Tatarnic is the incumbent at St. David Anglican-Lutheran church in Orillia, the product of an Anglican and Lutheran merger. A long-time parishioner, Mr. Donald attended the church during the merger and has experienced its recent outreach endeavours.

“In order for your parish to be committed to outreach, you need something that allows you to change your perspective,” said Ms. Tatarnic, referring to her church’s merger.

She went on to describe why she believes that a small parish is the ideal environment for outreach. Hosting an open barbeque each year, the parish was able to uncover the needs of their surrounding community.

Using their own outreach experiences, like a Sunday breakfast program and a Tuesday evening children’s service, Ms. Tatarnic and Mr. Donald spoke of the importance of outreach in any church community.  “We must benefit the town, which may not necessarily benefit numbers in the pews,” she said.

They stressed the significance of what they referred to as “collaborative eschatology,” the need to participate in God’s kingdom among us on Earth. This idea supported their message of why outreach, even in small parishes, is a necessity.

The workshop included discussion among the participants, who shared stories of outreach and concerns in their own parishes. Change was the theme that was on everyone’s lips as they talked about the needs of their own communities and small parishes.