Andrew with Penelekut knowledge-keeper Jill Harris ~ September 30, 2022
I was privileged to attend the We Together Conference, and to spend time in sessions with former Penelekut Chief, and Penelekut knowledge-keeper Jill Harris. I am very grateful to those from our Parksville community who attended, and glad to pass on and share these thoughtful and engaging reflections submitted by Anne Paterson-Welsh.
Reflections, by Anne Paterson-Welsh:
The weekend of September 30th to October 1st, 2022, I had the opportunity to participate in the “We Together” Diocesan Conference. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect – it turned out to be excellent. Others who attended may have different perspectives and highlights, but here are my reflections….
The first evening, September 30th, was the National Day of Truth & Reconciliation and so we started with a “Service of Mourning and Reconciliation”. This was quite moving and I found a lot of the words in the service reflected on the pain of the residential school experience. For example, the reading from Jeremiah 31: 15-17 talks about Rachel “weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more” but also offers hope from the Lord: “Your children will come again to their own land”. On this day of reflection, I think about the terror in the children who were removed from their families and the sadness and despair of the parents.
Reconciliation is a journey we are all on and is a way for Indigenous people to find their way home to their land, to their families and communities, and to themselves. After that we had dinner – it was wonderful! It was catered by a local Syrian refugee family. One of the things I learned, by the way, is that the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia has sponsored over 700 refugees since 2015. Marvellous….
After the main portion of our meal and notably before dessert (!), we were treated to a presentation by Bishop Anna. One of the things she talked about is the difference between Anglicanism and Anglianism. Hmm… The latter word - Anglicanism minus the C – as I recall is an autocratic and aggressive way of approaching other people about your faith. It is disrespectful, comes from a stance of arrogance, and shows no appreciation for the gifts and strengths of the other person or their culture. Anglicanism, though, is different. The word that I remember most that Bishop Anna kept referring to was context: that Anglicanism is about meeting with people within their context, showing curiosity about who they are, and conveying respect and understanding.
The next morning, we listened to Jillian Harris, a knowledge holder, Elder and former Chief of the Penelakut Tribe. For more than hour, she shared some of her life experiences as we were challenged to reflect on the gates that still exist today – the gates that keep some in and others out. It was powerful, but even more so to learn of the journey Jillian Harris has had.
In the afternoon, Dr. Rachel Brown, the Program and Research Coordinator of the Religion, Culture and Society Program at the University of Victoria, presented some of the research that she and some colleagues have been doing. I found this so fascinating. She described the geographical area, Cascadia. Cascadia runs from the Alaskan Panhandle to Northern California along the coast and part-way inland. Of significance, of course, the Diocese of B.C. is located in this area. The research done by Dr. Brown and her colleagues identified a distinct culture in this area: · Surveys show that outside of the Cascadia area and across North America, about 25% of people identify as having no religious affiliation (referred to in a bit of a tongue-in-cheek way as “Nones”). Within the Cascadia area, though, this group is actually about 50% and growing. · There is a decline in mainline Christian denomination groups but a growth of relatively conservative communities of Christian and non-Christian backgrounds. The mainline Christian denominations never did secure the kind of foothold in society that they did in say, southern Ontario. · There is a strong anti-institutional stance and an openness to experimentation. And although these characteristics transcend the national border between Canada and the United States, there is one notable difference. Dr. Brown pointed out that the experiences of Indigenous people in residential schools does not even register on the national agenda in the United States. When people on the American side of Cascadia are asked about this, they may be able to say they have heard something about it but don’t tend to have a lot of understanding. Canadians, though, will more often convey knowledge and understanding of this history and will be more engaged and active around this issue. All of this information is important for us as a church to digest and understand – to understand the context within which we live.
The other piece of Dr. Brown’s presentation that captured me was her discussion about “Reverential Naturalism”. This is “the sense that being out in nature is not just a place where one does spirituality or religion, but it is a medium through which it is done." (Paul Bramadat, Director of the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria). What I heard is that Reverential Naturalism is not another religion but instead is present in the spiritual practices of the people of Cascadia, whatever their faith. Dr. Brown quoted a woman who described our nature as “fancy”. We have the gift and privilege of living close to and within this fancy nature – it captures our hearts and our souls are revived within it. This so resonated with me. In the past year, I joined a weekly women’s hiking group called Sole Sisters. But it is also my other soul that is involved in this experience as well – it is spiritual.
Finally, at the end of the day, we worshipped together again. The preacher was the Reverend John Thatamanil. Rev. Thatamanil is a comparative theologian and professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City as well as being our Diocesan Theologian. In an engaging way, he seemed to bring the ideas and reflections of our weekend full circle. He spoke about the development of an attitude that grew out of the work of people such as Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes. This is the belief that the earth is a resource to be exploited and used for our own purposes. When the explorers and settlers encountered the Indigenous people of Turtle Island (North America), their belief about the earth collided with the beliefs the Indigenous people have about the earth – that of the sacredness of nature. Our relationship with the earth directs and influences how we interact with her – whether we see her as an object to be used or a partner in creation and life.
As I reflected about this workshop experience, I am mulling over the many ideas that were woven together in the few hours we were together. The idea of engaging with people respectfully so as to more deeply understand their context, of recognizing the gates that keep people apart and disconnected, and the context that influences myself and others who live in this fancy nature. Finally, it is important to resist objectifying each other because it will only lead to exploitation – whether it is of each other or our earth, our island home.
Reflections, by Anne Paterson-Welsh