Report for St Mary’s Anglican Church, 2014 by Sharon Pasula.
Indigenous Ministry (I.M.) is a response to the involvement of the Anglican Church of Canada in operating residential schools in Canada. Generally, the result of residential school was deliberate displacement of culture and identity within Indigenous communities which resulted in tragedy and great cost both to Indigenous people and Canadians. Unfortunately, the legacy of residential school continues. Nevertheless, reconciliation is ongoing and takes many forms. One way St. Mary’s Anglican Church is embracing reconciliation specifically is by working with the Oskâpêwis /Aboriginal Cultural & Educational Helper for the Diocese of Edmonton, Sharon Pasula.
September 17, 2014 was the first smudge ceremony facilitated by Sharon. As the weather was good, the smudge was initially offered outside at the front of the church building, Wednesdays 11:45-12:30 pm (during food bank hours) but later moved indoors with colder temperatures. The smudge ceremony is open to everyone, not only to Indigenous people. This is an opportunity to ‘pray with smoke’ both for oneself and for others. The ceremony can help people connect spiritually and has been well received. Averages of five people choose to smudge weekly, mostly Indigenous. A verbal explanation of the purpose of smudging is also accompanied by a written explanation (below) which people can take home. Offering the smudge to Indigenous people is an example of reconciliation because the ceremony was once outlawed and is now being reinstituted in the community. Several Indigenous people commented at the time, ‘I haven’t done this for a long time.’ Some people are surprised that “the church’ is doing this. It is hoped that offering this spiritual practice will help bridge the two communities, Anglican and Indigenous. Christianity and ‘the church’ have a negative image as a result of forcing Christianity on people, particularly in residential school so it will take time to build trust and develop relationships.
Many parishes offer an alternative service at Christmas for those who have experienced loss of some kind, making celebration difficult at Christmas time. In response to this St. Mary’s hosted ‘When Christmas Hurts Sharing Circle’, Dec 21, 7:00 pm. which began with a smudge and ended with healing prayer. A small group attended and expressed interest in more circle participation. Sharon facilitated the circle.
February 1st was the first ‘Healing/Sharing circle’. It will continue be held the first Sunday of the month, 7-9 pm. and everyone is welcome. It begins with a smudge and ends with healing prayer. A small group attended and several people expressed they had experienced healing. Sharon facilitated the first circle.
Smudging is a ceremony traditionally practiced by some Aboriginal cultures to purify or cleanse negative energy, feelings or thoughts from a place or a person. Sacred medicines such as cedar, sage, sweet grass or tobacco are burned in an abalone shell (other containers are also used). The shell represents water, the first of four elements of life; the medicines represent gifts from mother earth and the burning represents fire, the next two elements. The person puts their hands in the smoke and carries it to their body, especially to areas that need spiritual healing (mind, heart, body). The smoke represents air, the final element. From a Christian perspective smudging can be equated with Confession, the act of standing in the right light of the Creator. Holy Creator, Farther of all that is right and just, you sent your messenger Jesus your Son to earth. He came and taught us the truth about you. He came to fulfill our old ways. He died on a cross for the things that plague our people, despair and death. You raised Him from His death and now He reigns in heaven and will return again.
Respectfully submitted, Sharon Anne Pasula, Oskâpêwis / Aboriginal Cultural and Educational Helper