On November 19, the Parishes of St. Anselm’s, University Hill United, and St Mary’s Kerrisdale, gathered at Epiphany Chapel, UBC, on the unceded territory of the Musqueam people, to take the next step together on the road of Reconciliation. Gathered with facilitators from the ecumenical group Kairos, and overseen by elders, the parishes explored the Blanket Exercise together. This visual and at times very personal reliving of colonial history from the point of view of Indigenous peoples, walks the participants through Canadian history as a reflective tool towards deepening our understanding of what colonization has meant for Indigenous people.
The day opened with a welcome, orientation, and then the exercise, when participants were invited to come stand on the blankets which represented the section of Turtle Island, which we call Canada. Slowly, as the history of colonization, treaties, disease, and residential schools was read out, people were either invited to sit down, because they represented the dead, displaced, or disappeared. As this work continued, we were asked to reflect internally on what it meant to be part of this history in such a physical way as the land became smaller and smaller. No longer was this just numerical history for many, now it became a living experience which asked the question of the room “how then shall we live.”
During the break, Kerry Baisley, Missioner for Indigenous Justice for the Diocese of New Westminster set up three table displays in the hospitality room, which explored the practical and real ways one might engage with the TRC’s 94 calls to action. Kerry asked us to think about what “our reconciliation plan” might be as individuals as we seek to live our baptismal call to be in better relationships with everyone we meet. It was remarkable to see how many ways we could deepen our understanding and support the 94 calls to action, ways which are already alive in the world.
The day began and ended with a Circle of Learning, which is an opportunity for equality of voice within the whole. Many moments of gratitude, deeper awareness, and wonderings for what next were shared. We were also honoured by the presence and testimony of a residential school survivor. Their testimony was a reminder that this exercise is not just some cerebral experience alone - all of it is a real and living history for many still in this land, which added another layer of humanity to the day. This humanity, this challenge, this sacred work, was wrapped deeply in the grace of God and the pastoral provision of the accompanying clergy from St. Anselm’s, Uhill United, and St. Mary’s Kerrisdale.
While this was a first step for many, it will not be the last. There are plans to hold a Mapping Exercise in June 2023, with some interparish formation opportunities and book studies between now and then. The resounding experience of grace that was felt that day was being witness to what the power of small things, done with great love, can do to influence a change in the world. Our small action, of showing up, with great love in our hearts to learn with openness about our shared history and deepening relationships, will continue to ripple throughout our communities as we take on the task of sharing what we witnessed on November 19 with everyone we meet.
“How then shall we live, church, because of what we’ve seen today” asked Reverend Alex Wilson in his concluding remarks to the group on November 19th. “By sharing what we’ve heard, seen and felt, with everyone we meet, as we set out again together on the road to right relationship with everyone we meet. May it be so in our lives, with God's Grace.”
Photos: Alex Wilson