May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be always with you!
Like most of our country, I have been both horrified and grieved by the discovery last week of the bodies of 215 children that were buried at a former residential school in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops). Horrified and grieved, but not surprised. Our country has known since the Truth and Reconciliation report was received in 2015 that thousands of children who were taken from their families never returned home. And the oral history of our Indigenous Siblings and Neighbours has told us this same story for even longer, if only we had had ears to listen.
While it was at just one school where these bodies were discovered last week, this isn't the only school across our country where children are buried in unmarked and unrecorded graves. And while this particular school was run by the Roman Catholic Church, our United Church of Canada isn't innocent with respect to residential schools. When the United Church was formed in 1925, we took over the running of schools that had formerly been run by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches in Canada. In total, the United Church of Canada (and our Presbyterian and Methodist predecessors) were responsible for overseeing and running 15 residential schools.
Yesterday, Ida MacPherson (chair of our Church in the World committee) and I had a long conversation about how we, the people of Two Rivers Pastoral Charge, might be called to respond to last week's discovery. Here are some of our thoughts:
There is going to be a vigil on Sunday evening at 7pm for these 215 children held in King's Square that will also be streamed online for anyone unable to attend in-person. We strongly encourage all of us, as people of Two Rivers Pastoral Charge, to attend this vigil either in-person or online. Because of Covid, I can't encourage carpooling; but if you would like to meet up with a group of us from our churches at King's Square, I will try to position myself on the edge of the square, across the road from the Imperial Theater, and we can gather there. For more information about this vigil, you can click here.
A colleague in Nova Scotia has invited all Communities of Faith in the United Church of Canada to consider making a $215 donation to the Healing Fund in memory of these children. (Heads up to our Official Board members - an electronic motion on this is going to be coming your way shortly.) The Healing Fund is a fund within our church that is managed and administrated by the Indigenous Council of the United Church of Canada, and it supports activities and programs of healing and reconciliation. If you would like to read more about this fund you can click here. If you would like to make a personal donation to this fund, you can click here.
I personally will be writing a letter to my MP. In the midst of my grief, I am also upset that the Indigenous communities themselves are the ones funding the search for the bodies of their children who were stolen from them, as well as paying to have the bodies returned home. The Calls to Action in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission call on the Government of Canada to develop and maintain a Residential School Death Register (Call 72), to work with churches, communities, and former residential schools to establish a registry of school cemeteries, and where possible a map of where children are buried (Call 73), to work with churches and communities to inform families where their children are buried and to respond to requests for commemoration ceremonies and reburial in home communities (Call 74); and all of this must be done with the lead of the Aboriginal community/ies most affected (Call 75). I will be asking my MP to honour these Calls to Action in parliament. (If you live in the same riding as I do, our MP is John Williamson, and his constituency office is 69 Milltown Blvd, St. Stephen, NB E3L 1G5. His e-mail address is John.Williamson@parl.gc.ca )
Ida and I are discerning if we want to send a similar letter from the Church in the World committee.
Finally, I encourage all of us to continue to learn more about the history of residential schools, and especially the role of our United Church of Canada in them. If you want a starting point, here are a couple of links. You can click here to visit the United Church of Canada website's section on Reconciliation and Indigenous Justice. You can click here to read a story from the United Church Observer (now re-named Broadview Magazine) in 2016 about a cemetery at a former residential school in Regina. And if you want to explore the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, then you can download a .pdf copy of them by clicking here - the calls to the churches are numbers 58-60, and the calls regarding children who died at Residential Schools are numbers 71-76.
This is a painful chapter of our history. Normally I try to tie theology into these mid-week messages, and the only theological framework that I have for what happened at the Residential Schools is to name it as "sin." These were systems that were designed to steal people's language, culture, religion, and identity - to deny a group of people the fullness of life. And we are called to lament - to grieve deeply the pain that was caused by this sin. And we are called to be transformed by this pain that we are experiencing so that we as a country can eventually emerge from this changed. And as followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of reconciliation - people who are called to rebuild relationships with all our relations. And may it be so. Amen.
I will be talking about this on Sunday - I can't not talk about it - but we will also be celebrating Anniversary Sunday. The United Church of Canada came in to being on June 10, 1925, and I have a video to share in our Story for All Ages this week that celebrates this event. And both of these themes will be tied together by our reading - Mark 3:20-35, and exploring what it means to be a sibling of Christ. Worship will be at 9:15 at Summerville, 11:15 at Westfield, and livestreaming on the Two Rivers Pastoral Charge Facebook page beginning a few minutes before 11:15.
Blessings to you and yours, today and always!
Rev. Kate Jones Two Rivers Pastoral Charge (506) 757-2201 (office) (506) 343-1307 (mobile) www.tworiverspastoralcharge.com Pronouns: she/her/hers "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law?"
Jesus replied, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "You must love your neighbour as you love yourself."