Having recently become canonically resident and active in ministry in the Diocese of New Westminster, I am now also attending “clericus”, the regional meetings of diocesan clergy. I’ve been to these types of gatherings in four different countries within the Anglican Communion and they generally hold to a similar pattern: we pray, have coffee and cookies, share what is happening in our parishes and personal lives, express our “concern about where the diocese is headed” (no matter where it is headed), come to a tentative agreement about our next meeting date and pray again.
My first clericus was held at St. John the Divine in Maple Ridge. According to the commemorative plaque affixed to the portico, this small, wood-frame church is the oldest in all of British Columbia, having been built in 1859 and then barged across the Fraser River to its present location in 1882. So Christianity in any significant form arrived on the northwestern shores of North America a mere 166 years ago. Before that the Great Spirit was worshipped, for millennia, through rituals more ancient and indigenous.
As I stepped back and looked at the church in the bright, early spring sunlight, I recalled the words of two quite divergent authors. The first were of Maria Pascua, a member of Washington State’s aboriginal Makah people at Neah Bay, just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Vancouver Island. At the end of her 1991 article for National Geographic magazine (“Ozette: A Makah Village in 1491”) Ms. Pascua, a Christian, expressed her gratitude for her people having been introduced to Christ while at the same time acknowledging a deep sadness that remains for having been robbed by the European conquerors of a treasure trove of ancient rites and customs. Would it not have been possible to embrace Christ without becoming European?
The other words which came to mind were those of Robert Louis Stevenson on leaving San Francisco for the South Seas: “I was now escaped out of the shadow of the Roman empire, under whose toppling monuments we were all cradled, whose laws and letters are on every hand of us, constraining and preventing…”.
The Sunday previous to our clericus meeting was the Second in Lent and also St. David’s Day. On arrival at the church that Sunday I found the sanctuary decked out in daffodils; it was lovely and expected. But I also found the flag of Wales prominently displayed in floral arrangements either side of the altar and later as the icing of a large cake at coffee time. I gladly engaged the festivities, congratulating and thanking the Welsh contingent in our congregation, explaining a bit about St. David, and lustily singing “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” as we recessed out of the church. And yet, I left the church with questions on my mind.
I was ordained and served for over a decade in the Church of England and, even though I am not British and was serving in mainland Europe, never batted an eye about the “CofE” being a church so thoroughly British in all that it is and does. Ecclesia Anglicana; it makes perfect sense. Celtic enthusiasts and Robert Louis Stevenson know better of course but, those objections notwithstanding, the Church of England is a fairly indigenous expression of the Church in the British Isles.
However, after four years in Canada I’m still getting used to the Anglican Church of Canada being so British. Or perhaps more accurately, being so purposefully British. Yes, we should honour and be glad for our British heritage, its peculiar Saints and customs. The Queen is our Queen too and the Church which she governs gave birth to our own. That is our history and we cherish it. But as an independent Church in a multi-cultural society, especially a Church that wants to grow and be welcoming of all people of whatever background or pedigree, would we not do well to continue to widen our celebrations to include those of other cultures and peoples?
Coming home from clericus I set to work on my sermon for the next Sunday. The reading from the Gospel of John had Jesus driving out the merchants from the Temple. Surely among the possible motives for his protest is the fact that the currency trade and livestock market was being held in the Court of the Gentiles, thus robbing the non-indigenous worshippers of their access to unencumbered prayer. How often those of us of the dominant culture fail to appreciate what the marginalized have to bring, instead appropriating their space at our discretion and for our own purposes.
Our Church and our diocese have been blessed with some rich history of multi-cultural ministries. The Reverend Robert McDonald in the mid 1800’s and the Reverend Dr. Cyril Powles more recently come to mind. Today there are hopeful signs that we are becoming a true home for an even greater number of peoples from varying cultures and traditions. The Ecclesia Anglicana runs through our veins but, following the Spirit, we are becoming so much more than that. Thanks be to God!