In a few short days I will be ordained as the seventh bishop of the Mackenzie-Ft. Smith diocese. There have been many preparations to consider one of which was coming up with a “coat of arms” and its accompanying motto. The motto is meant to be a mission statement in brief, signifying what it is that I see as the most salient issue as I begin my work in the diocese. For me, that would be the ongoing work of reconciliation between the church and the indigenous people of Canada.
My motto, “Truth and Reconciliation,” is the same as that name given to the commission organized by the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The work of this commission inspired me but there is so much more to reconciliation and what it means for our diocese.
Since the time of the commission there have been great strides toward justice and personal healing. These are important and fundamental steps. But In order to truly get to the heart of reconciliation it is necessary to take the next step, which is about relationship. This is not an easy step because building and restoring relationships can be messy and the outcome of our efforts is not entirely in our control. We may get bruised and battered along the way, but the pains will be more than worth it.
In my two years as a pastor in the Arctic region of the diocese I have seen some wonderful steps being made toward relationship building. One example was a young missionary family moving into the rectory in Tsiigehtchic to look after the church for a year. The relationships between them and the community formed first and most quickly through their five children who made friends at the school. As the children of the community came over to play, the parents soon followed and the rectory became know as a place of joy and a safe place to be and where good memories could be made.
Reconciliation is made known by its fruit which is sometimes visible: when the phone is ringing, or people are knocking at the door looking to come in and visit. More often the signs of reconciliation are subtle and hard to quantify. It is like beautiful art which is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. There will also be effects of our reconciliation efforts which only God will know.
Reconciliation is not something that we can put on a timeline and schedule but, rather, it requires patience and perseverance on our part. It is also not something that we do through our will alone, but it requires God’s grace and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We don’t control the outcome but can only make ourselves open and available to God’s help and the people around us.
As I make the transition from a pastor to a bishop I am already encouraged by the signs I see, the first being the graciousness and welcome that has been shown to me by so many people in the diocese. It will be my joy to continue working on strengthening these relationships and forming new ones in my role as bishop.
I will do this to the best of my ability by going out to meet with the people wherever they are. Please do come and visit the church on Sunday but expect that the church will also come and visit you.
The church will help you to share your faith with your children in a way that honours both God and the culture in which you were raised. At the same time, I hope that you will share your culture with me to.
The church will walk with you as you journey through your life sharing the gift of the sacraments and will also join with you joyfully in your own family celebrations and milestones.
The church will be there to celebrate with you at weddings, baptisms and feasts and will also suffer alongside you at funerals and at the bedsides of your sick and elderly.
The church will continue to build with you as we restore beloved old churches and, where necessary, build new ones so that there will always be a place of welcome and worship in the communities.
There is much to be done but it is a work of love and meaning that will serve us now as well as future generations. Let us continue this work together moving forward with hope.