Pêhonân: A Paradigm Shift in the Canadian Ecumenical Movement

 — Nov. 2, 20232 nov. 2023

The great damage inflicted among Indigenous Peoples by the colonizing projects in North America/Turtle Island, including the far too frequent complicity of the churches with them, is something that can hardly be overstated. Most Canadian Christians are, I hope, relatively aware of the large-scale physical, cultural, and spiritual harms that were perpetrated by things like the reserve system, residential schools, and bans on traditional ceremonies and rites. Less widely considered, however, are the impacts that also came from the importing of inter-Christian hostilities from Europe to the Peoples of this land. Although less urgent than the direct and tangible abuses, here too there are harmful marks that must be reckoned with.

The history of separated Christianity in the lands we now call Canada has its roots, of course, in divisions that go back to European Christendom prior to the colonizing period. Through things like denominational rivalry and missionary competition, these deep-seated rifts between peoples from another continent were then further transplanted to this land. If it was not bad enough that the churches regularly failed in their witness to the Gospel by forcing Indigenous People to reject their own culture and identity to embrace the message of Jesus Christ, now the subsequent race to win adherents to ‘this church’ over against ‘that church’ served to draw yet another set of divisions. To this day, stories are told by Elders of the way that communities and families that had lived well together for centuries were now encouraged to turn against one another in the name of showing loyalty to Christian denominational lines.

With this additional piece of the tragic story in mind, the task of seeking Christian unity can take on yet another layer of meaning and necessity. It is this conviction that inspired Pêhonân – Forum on Dialogues, a gathering held by the Canadian Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Witness in Edmonton, Alberta in early summer 2023.

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Convened every four to five years in a different city across the country, every iteration of the Forum on Dialogues explores emerging issues in the ecumenical movement while also building a thematic focus around the distinctives of that place. The city today called Edmonton is a region long known in the language of the Cree/Nehiyawak People as Amiskwaciwâskahikan, Beaver Hills House. At its heart, on the bank of the river, is a spot known as a Pêhonân – a gathering/waiting place. Long before settlement by Europeans, Indigenous Peoples living in the surrounding area, and others traveling through, would stop there to take a break on the journey, to encounter others doing the same, and to engage in trade and other forms of spiritual and material exchange.

In many respects, this is a compelling analogy for ecumenical dialogue. What better place, therefore, than Edmonton, to consider the interrelationships between Indigenous reconciliation, Indigenous voices in the churches, and the future of the ecumenical movement?

For three days, June 8-10, over 60 people were privileged to listen to lectures, panel conversations, workshops, and the like, all shared primarily by Indigenous church leaders from a diversity of geographical locations, Indigenous Nations, and church denominations. There were also ample opportunities to engage with local Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and to receive traditional teachings by means of words, ceremony, prayer, dance, and song. All of it was directed towards listening to the voices and experiences of Indigenous followers of Jesus and appreciating more deeply what both the division and the unity of the churches means from those points of view.

The Pêhonân gathering was a rich experience for all involved, and it is difficult to encapsulate all its insights and lessons into a few short paragraphs. But let me name 3 major takeaways as I heard them (bearing in mind that, as a Settler Christian, it is by no means all up to me to define these things).

A first message that came across loud and clear was that Indigenous followers of Jesus need to be and entirely have the right to be at the Canadian ecumenical table. While there are many different committees, commissions, working groups, etc., sponsored by the churches in Canada to foster ecumenical understanding, very rarely have these invited Indigenous members of churches to take part. This serves to reinforce inaccurate assumptions which tacitly imply that expressions of Indigenous church and spirituality are somehow not fully Christian, or the equally false notion that there is a single Indigenous Christian perspective. To continue to move forward as one Body in Jesus Christ in this land, it is urgent that progress be made to overcome this lacuna in ecumenical dialogue among Christians in Canada.

Second, the agenda of the ecumenical movement in Canada shows signs of biases that need always to be named and questioned. This includes the choice of topics that have most regularly been the focus of dialogue: justification, sacramental theology, orders of ministry, etc. These surely are important things to discuss ecumenically, but the centrality they commonly hold is in part a product of the issues that were faced by European churches during the time of their divisions. Christians from other cultural contexts, including Indigenous Peoples from Canada, do not always feel themselves as bound to those historically rooted and culturally conditioned debates, and may have other kinds of questions and concerns which are seen to be more significant from their own perspectives.

The same can be said for the way in which many ecumenical dialogues operate methodologically. There is regularly a default to a heavily words-focused and even academic approach in many ecumenical settings. Indigenous followers of Jesus certainly appreciate these dimensions too, but want to emphasize the spiritual and relational elements as critical components of the task of seeking unity as well. To put it plainly, it is critical to ensure that the ecumenical agenda is not beholden only to the forms and focuses which it has been used to. It needs to shift and expand so that Indigenous voices can also influence the direction of movement and its ways of seeking progress, to the benefit of all.

A third thing heard at Pêhonân was that, as we begin to see the continued emergence of self-determining Indigenous expressions of church in various denominational settings, there may be a need and desire for a specifically Indigenous ecumenical forum – at least for a certain period of time. This was identified because there are some matters which Indigenous disciples from different contexts and backgrounds in this land need to dig into on their own. Existing ecumenical institutions in Canada, such as the Canadian Council of Churches, can perhaps share some of their privilege and infrastructure to assist these structures of consultation and cooperate to take shape, but they must be for Indigenous churches to create according to their timing, priorities, and needs.

It goes without saying that one three-day conference is not going to say everything that could be said or solve all the issues and problems that exist. Nevertheless, I hope and believe that the Pehonan – Forum on Dialogues gathering will, in the long run, stand as a benchmark moment towards a paradigm shift in the Canadian ecumenical movement. God willing, may it lead us all into a level of ecumenical discussion worthy of what the beautiful diversities of this land and its many Peoples have always called us to.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Scott Sharman lives in Treaty 6 Territory in the city of Edmonton. He is a priest and theologian in the Anglican expression of the Jesus way. He completed a Master’s Degree in Religion from Wycliffe College in 2006, and a Doctorate in Historical Theology from the University of St. Michael’s College in 2014. His academic research has focused on 20th and 21st century ecclesiologies and how they influence the way that churches engage in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. Scott currently holds the office of Animator for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Anglican Church of Canada at the national level, and also serves in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton in the role of Canon to the Ordinary. He is married to Alex, and together they have three young children.

Posted: Nov. 2, 2023 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=13996
Categories: One Body, OpinionIn this article: Canadian Council of Churches, ecumenism, Faith & Witness, Indigenous church
Transmis : 2 nov. 2023 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=13996
Catégorie : One Body, OpinionDans cet article : Canadian Council of Churches, ecumenism, Faith & Witness, Indigenous church

Catholic Women’s League sets ecumenical priority

 — Oct. 19, 202319 oct. 2023

Members of the CWL across the country have identified ecumenical and interfaith cooperation as a priority as we move the League into the future within our church and country. To that end, the Faith Organizations working group was created to identify organizations with whom we can partner. This video highlights some of the reasons why we engage in these activities, which flow from our baptism and our call to be disciples of Jesus, bringing his Good News to our world.
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The two Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue commissions met together in Halifax

Communiqué: ARC-Canada discusses ‘theologies of church apologies’

 — Oct. 18, 202318 oct. 2023

The Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Canada (ARC) has met regularly since 1971. It works closely with the Anglican-Roman Catholic Bishops’ Dialogue (ARC-B), which was established in 1975. Supported by the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the mandate of both Dialogues is to advance ecumenical understanding and cooperation between the churches in our country. In recent years, the Anglican contingent on ARC has also added members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) as an expression of the deepening full communion relationship between the ACC and ELCIC.
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Pope Francis and the leaders of various Christian communities recite the Our Father during the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil in St. Peter's Square on September 30, 2023

No Synodality Without Ecumenism | One Body

 — Oct. 5, 20235 oct. 2023

“There is no synodality without ecumenism and no ecumenism without synodality.” These words were spoken at the “Together: Gathering of the People of God” ecumenical service on Saturday, September 30, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. When I heard these words from the podium, I took notice. Ecumenism and synodality are both reform movements in the church. The integral connection between the two seemed self-evident to me, but it’s a good reminder.
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Land devastated by drought

“Laudate Deum”: the Pope’s cry for a response to the climate crisis

 — Oct. 4, 20234 oct. 2023

Pope Francis has published an Apostolic Exhortation building on his 2015 encyclical. We’re not reacting enough, he says, we’re close to breaking point. He criticises climate change deniers, saying that the human origin of global warming is now beyond doubt. And he describes how care for our common home flows from the Christian faith.

“’Praise God’ is the title of this letter.  For when human beings claim to take God’s place, they become their own worst enemies.”

That’s how Pope Francis ends his new Apostolic Exhortation, published on the 4th October, the Feast of St Francis of Assisi.
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The Church Leaders Group (Ireland) attended a special ecumenical service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Shown here: Rev David Turtle, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; Revd Dr Sam Mawhinney, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Bishop Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches; Archbishop John McDowell, Anglican Archbishop of Armagh; and Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh

Irish church leaders meet in Rome to celebrate 25 years on the journey towards peace

 — Sept. 29, 202329 sept. 2023

Church leaders from Ireland have gathered in Rome to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

In a joint statement, the Irish and British Ambassadors to the Holy See, Frances Collins and Chris Tott, said that they were delighted to welcome the leaders from several denominations.

“For decades, the Churches have played an important role in supporting peace and reconciliation,” they said, expressing hope that visit would “serve to inspire other church and faith-based leaders as they work to support peace and reconciliation around the world.”
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Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Rev. Anne Burghardt, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, pray during an ecumenical service at the LWF assembly in Krakow, Poland

Common Word of the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican

 — Sept. 21, 202321 sept. 2023

On 19 September 2023, the last day of the Thirteenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Krakow, Poland, Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (DPCU), and Revd Dr Anne Burghardt, General Secretary of the LWF, presented a “Common Word” [English and German] during an ecumenical prayer and baptismal commemoration.
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Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Rev. Anne Burghardt, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, pray during an ecumenical service at the LWF assembly in Krakow, Poland

Vatican, Lutheran officials call for joint study of Augsburg Confession

 — Sept. 20, 202320 sept. 2023

During an ecumenical prayer service at the assembly of the Lutheran World Federation, the Vatican’s chief ecumenist and the federation’s general secretary formally called for a joint reflection on the Augsburg Confession, a fundamental statement of Lutheran faith.
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The new Cycle-Pedestrian bridge over Lisbon's River Trancão during World Youth Day 2023. The permanent bridge was built near Parque Trejo, where most major WYD events were held, as part of preparations for the gathering

“Next Gen” Ecumenism | One Body

 — Sept. 14, 202314 sept. 2023

The recently concluded World Youth Day in Portugal (August 1-6, 2023) included a number of ecumenical and interreligious experiences, opportunities, and lessons that garnered praise and criticism in Catholic and non-Catholic circles alike.

  • In addition to visiting and participating in events held within Catholic venues, WYD pilgrims were invited to visit significant Protestant and Orthodox churches and other houses of worship (synagogues, mosques, temples) in Lisbon and throughout the country, to “observe” how each religious denomination has its own history, content, ritual, and societal outreach.
  • With fellow Christians, WYD pilgrims were invited also to participate in prayers, lectures, and bible studies offered by Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox Church leaders, and ecumenical communities (such as Taizé and Chemin Neuf), and to “look for signs of unity” (of faith, sacrament, and mission) between these Christian communities.
  • On the interfaith side, organizers highlighted that “leaders of other faiths will be present at various events of the WYD Lisbon 2023 presided over by the Pope,” and indeed Pope Francis met with a number of ecumenical and interreligious leaders at significant events held throughout the week.
  • Groups from various religious backgrounds participated in a Youth Festival program that featured “music and singing as a universal language that facilitates encounters between religions, cultures and peoples.”

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Leaders from the four main Anglican and Lutheran churches in North America prepare to exchange communion cups at Assembly in Calgary. Left to right are: Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; William Franklin, bishop of Long Island in The Episcopal Church; Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; and Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Christian unity a matter of discipleship—and of increasing ‘urgency,’ says Sharman

 — Aug. 31, 202331 aoüt 2023

Ecumenism and the search for Christian unity are no mere niche interest, the Anglican Church of Canada’s lead animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations Canon Scott Sharman says, but rather “an essential part of being a disciple of Jesus today”—and ecumenical agreements between churches in countries like Canada may soon become more common.
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