A deacon’s response to “Occupy the Pews”

The Quebec Diocesan Gazette was kind enough to reprint an article I wrote in March for The Tyee.

This month, the Gazette published a response from Cynthia Patterson, a newly-ordained deacon and a dear friend. As it’s not yet available in digital form, I wanted to share her letter here, with thanks:

Kai Nagata’s finely written article on the Anglican church and prophetic ministry (“Occupy the pews,” April 2012) covered plenty of territory geographically, historically, and theologically. I found it helpful and interesting to reflect on our current diocesan and national church’s challenges within the context of social gospel ministry in the 1970s and the emerging, as yet not fully defined, global protest movement.

I would, however, disagree with Kai’s thesis that the Anglican church’s “step away from prophetic ministry” to focus instead since 1986 (according to him), on institutional survival and same-sex unions reduced their relevance to “the 99 per cent” of the population.

Although the ministries addressed by the church in the 1990s and since are different in content and style than those of the 1970s, they are in some ways even more prophetic. I speak of our church’s covenant with the indigenous peoples of this country.  Since 1993 when our primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, made his formal apology to the indigenous peoples for the church’s role in the residential schools abuses (the Anglican Church of Canada was the first church to do so), our national church has devoted great amounts of love, prayer, financial and human resources to trying to live out a new covenant between the dominant culture, our church as an institution of that culture, and indigenous peoples.

The Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples was created as a standing committee of the national church, indigenous bishops began to be elected, a healing fund was set up, and strong participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is ongoing. More recently, the position of national Anglican indigenous bishop was created, an area mission elected the first indigenous woman bishop, the Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa, and the Council of the North initiated a suicide prevention project.

And while our church (like most others) remains male dominated in positions of power and decision making, we have over the past 30 or so years ordained increasing numbers of excellent women priests and, yes, impressive women bishops. Our leaders have taken and continue to take “heat” for this internationally, but stand firm.

The rising of indigenous voices, the emergence of the indigenous spirit in Canada and world-wide, the recognition, acceptance and incorporation of the spiritual gifts and distinctive voice of women are essential if our good earth, and all living things, including ourselves are to be redeemed, healed and resurrected into a new way of life.

The Anglican Church of Canada has quietly laid the foundations for significant advances in these critical areas of prophetic ministry.

We wish Kai well in his continued exploration of personal and institutional prophetic ministry and ministers. He will certainly find many more inspirational examples in our church—even some who are not white males!

Cynthia Patterson

Quebec City

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