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Reflections on the regional indigenous leaders gathering in Prince George, BC, September 9-11, 2016

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Indigenous leaders and friends from the dioceses of New Westminster and British Columbia joined with many from the newly-named Territory of the People (Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior) for a gathering that encouraged fellowship, relaxation and recreation.

The focus of our time together was healing and a looking towards the development of indigenous ministry. Tears and laughter, which were abundant, and prayer and story-telling marked our way. On the first evening, the Pastoral elders and Bishop Barbara Andrews welcomed us, and invited the sharing of our gifts. The evenings were set aside for people to offer these.

We sang. We listened (hardly breathing) as Dennis Saddleman, a Residential School survivor read his compelling poems arising from his school experience. We laughed at Jimmy Toodlican's story of a coyote's tail. We were moved deeply by the haunting sounds that came from Cyril Spinks' handmade flute.

Many had come by bus, and bus-driver Keith endeared himself to all with his infectious good humour and country songs. Each evening ended with the echo of drums, and we stood as the drummers led by Ernie Michelle sounded out honour songs.

During the day we heard a report from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and good news stories from different dioceses were shared. A moving and insightful presentation from the Anglican Provincial archivist, Melanie Delva, brought both tears and delight. Melanie's sharing of her own story gave us all pause.

Our bodies were cared for as well. Marilyn Charlie offered back massages, and many took advantage of the foot massages given by Nellie Joe and Marlena Anderson.

Suzanne Ehly, artist-in-residence at Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, helped us with breathing and body exercises. Bishop Barbara spent time with us to help us consider our vocation, and reflect more deeply on our call to ministry. She made it clear that we need to work at finding creative ways of education for ministry that draw deeply on indigenous models of learning.

In our time together, we were well-nourished in mind, body and spirit. On the Sunday morning, we gathered to break bread together with the parishioners of Grace Church and St. Michael's in Prince George.  In words and signs drawn from indigenous traditions, the liturgy celebrated our common life in Christ. The proclamation of the word, and the powerful preaching of Archdeacon Peter Zimmer, called us both to recognize our wounds, and at the same time to be confident that God was building a new creation in us and. In a time in which so many were retreating behind walls, Peter encouraged us to build bridges and be a part of the restoring of relationships.

The sound of the drums again both gathered us and sent us out into the world. As one called to offer the gift of song through this event, I continue to be so thankful for the invitation to participate, for the grace that flowed through the gathering, and for the generous and healing spirit that is evident and growing ever stronger in the hearts of all those in the Territory of the People. Gordon Light