by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - “Churches need to step out of the box in unique ways,” said Mary Fontaine, a Presbyterian pastor and member of the Cree Nation from the First Nations in Canada.
Pastor Fontaine - Cree
Fontaine is the first Indigenous person elected to a senior post in a global organization of Reformed churches. She serves as vice-president of the North American region on the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).
“I welcome the commitment of the World Communion of Reformed Churches to enter into dialogue with the world’s Indigenous Christians on how to create new models for mission,” commented Fontaine.
At its founding meeting in the United States in June 2010, WCRC - a global network of churches including Presbyterian and Reformed denominations in 108 countries - announced plans to work towards reconciliation and healing with Indigenous peoples.
Fontaine is in Geneva this week for discussions on adopting a strategic plan for the organization. Programs in mission, theology and justice linked to Indigenous issues are on the agenda.
In recent years, churches in North America have been involved in legal cases brought by Indigenous people who attended church-run residential schools where they suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Some former students have experienced “cultural genocide”. The efforts by teachers to impose rules that forbid them the right to speak their language and cut them off from their cultural traditions and religious practices.
Churches in other regions of the world are grappling with similar negative legacies of abuse of Indigenous peoples by early Christian mission practices.
In ministries with Indigenous peoples that seek to incorporate traditional music, dance, ceremony and art, leaders are gathering intergenerational and intercultural groups for positive experiences in churches.
As founder and director of Hummingbird Ministries on the Pacific west coast of Canada, Fontaine has initiated events held in churches that incorporate ceremonies such as the ritualistic entry of tribal leaders carrying the cross, accompanied by powwow dancers.
“Some people say this is the first time they have been in a church since they left residential school,”
“They are amazed to see such ceremonies as part of a church gathering.”
Hummingbird Ministries is supported by grants from the Presbyterian Church in Canada, a WCRC member church.
Photo Credit Erick Coll
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