Clergy letter for September 2018 by the Rev’d Derek Hinge
I am writing this at our third son’s apartment in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where he emigrated eighteen months ago. We are coming to the end of a three-month extended holiday. During our stay we have worshipped at the Anglican Church of St John the Divine, and we have received a very warm welcome. Reflecting on the rich experience we have had is hard to do in a few short paragraphs, but I would like to share just two thoughts.
On the front of the service sheet every week, there are these words: “As people of God, we celebrate Christ in the heart of Victoria through joyful worship, building inclusive community, and putting faith into action. St John’s acknowledges these ancestral territories of the Lekwungen people”. A similar statement to that last sentence is made verbally at the start of every act of worship.
So, my first reflection begins with a reminder that this is a very young country. There is not much, in terms of buildings, that is more than 150 years old. Before that time, there is archeological evidence that people have lived here for thousands of years. When the first pioneers came from the east, Europe in particular, and discovered the riches of this land, they began to settle, build their own communities, and establish their own culture. As there was no political or legal structure through which the indigenous population could establish their claim to the lands of their ancestors, the immigrants just took the land they needed, and gradually began to build, to trade and to establish law and order, based largely on the Christian culture that they had come from. This was not necessarily totally to the detriment of the indigenous people, but as we have discovered in various ways, there is a growing acknowledgement that wrongs were done to the First Nations people which should be admitted and confessed, so that forgiveness and reconciliation can be achieved. Only by such a process can First Nations people feel that they are fully integrated into today’s world while maintaining their culture and traditions. St John’s church stands on the ancestral lands of one particular people, the Lekwungens, and the church is active in seeking reconciliation with the relatively small numbers of these people who live in reserves, and struggle to survive.
All this was a reminder to us that many mistakes have been made by good, well-meaning, Christian people who have sought to impose their beliefs and culture without first trying to understand the culture and way of life of the peoples they encountered. Sadly, this is a mistake that many Christian missionaries have made, and I fear still do, in seeking to spread the good news of the gospel which is for all people.
My second reflection is to do with the beauty of this place. British Columbians live their lives outdoors at all times of the year, especially here on the Pacific rim where the climate is similar to southern UK. The sheer beauty of the land and sea-scapes all around shout to me of the Creator, and the gift of the created world that daily provokes awe and wonder. One Sunday morning on the cruise ship we took to Alaska, there was a moment when the ship was a few yards from a huge glacier spilling into the sea. The guide asked us all to be quiet as the engines were silenced. All that could be heard was the cry of a few seagulls and the cracking of the glacier as it gradually receded. It was a moment of reverence, awe and humility that we had been entrusted with the privilege and responsibility of caring for the world in which we had been placed.
Experiences like this lead me to reflect that local people have developed, subconsciously perhaps, a special understanding of man’s relationship with the environment; a deep sense of the interconnectedness of all things, known, but in unarticulated ways, by the First Nation peoples who have lived here for centuries. Such observations lead me to suggest that this sense of oneness with the natural world provokes friendliness, politeness, welcome, a lack of rush, a ready smile. In economic terms this has produced, for example, a proliferation of local enterprise in the establishment of fruit and vegetable farms and markets, not to mention the development of crafts, selling direct to the public. And this in its turn creates a deeper sense of community, something that the Christian churches should always be seeking to do in the belief that the God in whom we believe is a community of Father, Son and Spirit.
I hope these few sentences have provoked some thoughts as, day by day, we try to look behind the nitty-gritty of life and see our creator, redeeming, reconciling, ever loving God at work in all that is.