June 14, 2019
Grace and Peace to the people of God at Gloria Dei,
The month of June marks nine months since I began in part-time interim ministry with you. Al and I have experienced your warmth and welcome in many ways—in your smiles and friendly, “Hello, Pastor” on Sunday morning, in conversations at the coffee hour, and in your willing and “at the ready” assistance whenever I needed a helping hand. I am grateful for your support during this season of interim as you continue to discover and discern God’s future direction.
I celebrate how Gloria Dei continues to use its spacious and beautiful cathedral-like space—not only for music recitals and concerts—but also to extend hospitality for larger worship gatherings such as the Regional Eucharist on the Feast of Pentecost last Sunday. You have demonstrated how a congregation does not need to “lay low” during a season of interim but can “fly its colors" and witness to the gospel as it always has.
The month of June is also National Indigenous History month - an opportunity for us to learn about and honour the history, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people of Canada. As a beginning step, I have invited Carolyn Klaassen to be with us on June 23, the second Sunday after Pentecost and share some of her story and participate, together with me, in leading us in worship that day. Carolyn is Ojibway and is a long-time member of Redeemer Lutheran Church. She recently completed her Certificate in Indigenous Studies at Vancouver School of Theology. Engaging her dual identity as an Indigenous Christian her passion is to bring greater awareness of the riches of Indigenous spirituality to the church. As we honor our indigenous sisters and brothers and listen to their story we participate in the ongoing process of reconciliation. I believe that deep in our hearts we long to experience kinship with one another, but we do not know how and where to begin. In spite of our goodwill, we are strangers to each other. The reasons for this are complex and are rooted in Canada’s colonial history as well as our human inclination to associate with “others who are more like ourselves and away from those we perceive to be different” as Rev. Sharon Smith reminded us in her Pentecost Sunday sermon.
My own personal history attests to both these factors. As a child of European refugees from World War II, I attended a church built by European immigrants and my classmates had surnames like Lewicki, Petraglia, and Woytowicz. My only contact with Canada’s Indigenous communities was through a field trip to the “Indian Reserve of Kahnawake" (Caughnawaga) on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River across from Montreal where Mohawk dancers entertained us, and “Native culture” could be purchased for the price of a doll, a moccasin slipper or toy tomahawk at the souvenir shop. After returning from the field trip and completing the cursory field report assignment, Indigenous people simply disappeared from the spectrum of my childhood and teenage years.
This knowledge void in which the real history of Canada’s Indigenous people was eclipsed from my view slowly began to be filled in over the years and was accelerated when I entered seminary. There Indigenous teachers and fellow students challenged my assimilated prejudices. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought to light Canada’s attempt to wipe out Indigenous cultures through the Residential School System and other abuses, it was hard for me to grasp the uncomfortable truth that the country I love—the country that embraced my parents and countless other refugees—was built at the expense of Indigenous people. As I have wrestled with this hard truth, I have come to understand that although my parents came to Canada to find refuge and peace after fleeing war and oppression in their own land, upon arriving on these shores they became part of another story of dispossession. And although they were not responsible for the discriminatory and racist laws against Indigenous people, they and I and all immigrants have benefited and continue to benefit directly or indirectly from those laws.
The ELCIC and its predecessor bodies were not involved in the Residential School System because Lutherans were latecomers to this land. It is easy to dismiss the hard work of reconciliation as belonging to those other Christians and Churches - the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Catholic and United and others who ran the Residential Schools. However, to follow Christ is not to follow a private faith which draws me away from others and promotes a belief that I am only responsible for myself and no one else. On the contrary, the biblical witness gives us many examples where individuals accepted responsibility for the sins of the broader community. In Exodus, after the people turned away from God with the golden calf Moses identifies himself with sins he did not commit and prays, "Forgive our wickedness and our sin.” Our National Bishop, Susan Johnson has also shown us the way by her example and her words. She has reminded us that as Christians—regardless of our denominational affiliation—we are called “to seek opportunities to listen, to learn, to repent, and to discover paths of healing.”
I hope you will join me in extending a warm welcome to Carolyn Klaassen on June 23 and come prepared to learn and be challenged by her story and her words. In closing I offer these words from Bishop Susan as my prayer: “Our Lutheran tradition teaches us that reconciliation is a gracious and precious gift from God our Creator. For true reconciliation to happen the Creator must stir hearts. It is the Creator who opens eyes and ears and souls that we may have the courage to speak truth, the patience to listen, the wisdom to confess and the humility to show respect. It is the Creator who calls us to hope for a better future and for a healing journey that will bring us to true community.” ~ Bishop Susan Johnson
Yours in Christ,