Listen with an ear to change

A pair of hands hoving over the keyboard of a laptop
 on May 1, 2016

“Inspiring reconciliation requires going far beyond our reach.” For this teaching, I am grateful to Commissioner Marie Wilson of our national Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. While sharing my experiences of the TRC with people in our diocese and expanding our work of reconciliation with our ecumenical partners, it has been a privilege and honour to connect with so many who are asking the questions, “What does reconciliation mean for me? What can be done to promote healing? What do we, as a church and a province, need to do to bring about reconciliation?”

More than saying the right words or simply empathizing, reconciliation is about listening with an ear to changing oneself. It is a willingness and ability to address policies and economic action, and to recognize and dismantle oppressive governance structures. Much good work is being done at local and diocesan levels to extend the discourses and frameworks of reconciling.

When I speak to local chapters of KAIROS, to parishes and in workshops, a common theme often emerges: “How do I do reconciliation?” From Marie Wilson: “We need people and commitments.” Now is our opportunity to pledge our long-term commitment to doing the hard work of partnering, theological reckoning and community healing. We are the ancestors of future generations. What legacy do we wish to leave? To answer this requires individual honesty, community honesty and Holy Spirit wisdom.

At our diocesan outreach and advocacy conferences in 2014 and 2015, we heard the question, “How can reconciliation be integrated into our way of life, especially when First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples aren’t in our spheres of influence?” It is a process: develop the ears to hear, and use them; teach listening; and invest in building relationships, which takes time. Reading through the 94 Calls to Action will remind each and all of us that we do indeed have a personal connection, no matter the sector in which we work and live. Attend a pow wow, visit a Native Friendship Center; spend time getting to know the first peoples of the land, who have generations of experience, wisdom and concrete ideas about how we can walk together into the future. (Be aware: one might not, at first, be comfortable with the concept of walking together. This will call for mutual respect, personal humility, a giving up of some firm beliefs.)

At a meeting with members of the Archdiocese of Toronto last June, I heard of many connections that our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers have developed for reconciliation – through the Catholic school boards, in parish and community partnerships, and in fundraising and sponsorship programs. Questions arose about ways to move forward in faith. “How do we bring the message of Jesus, which has the power to transform lives, through the same institution that brought messages of xenophobia and theological superiority?” The legacy that we as a church have inherited is not the same as the one we leave. As part of the colonization of this nation, the church often acted not in wisdom but in confusion and fear. But we share a future, we are bound together. Each and all of us have a role in realizing reconciliation, and the beauty of our efforts will bless our children’s children.

I have been asked, “How can we bring reconciliation into our churches? Into our holy conversations? Into our longing to be missional?” I pray and offer: let us expand our understandings and practices of reconciliation to redress and redistribute. This will require great courage in evolving from the colonial mindset to learning to trust, value and work for indigenous peoples’ self-determination, self-governance, sovereignty. How can we work toward recognizing the rights and responsibilities we each have for the up-building of all of God’s peoples, the sacredness of all creation? We remember that this story of our past is important for our healing, important for our national memory, for our church’s memory – and very important for our church’s future. There are things we can change. The past is not one of them. We need to address today head on – and to go beyond reconciliation. In the prophetic voice of Commissioner Marie Wilson: “We are here because we are not finished.”


The Rev. Riscylla Walsh Shaw is the incumbent of Christ Church, Bolton and an Ambassador of Reconciliation for the diocese.


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