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The heart is a visible sign of our commitment to journey forward with our Indigenous siblings, to listening and learning

By Janet McIlwain

Following the discovery of the remains of 215 children lost at Kamloops Residential School, the parishioners at St. Michael and All Angels, London felt compelled to honour these little souls in some meaningful way. The goal was to provide our community with a visible and tangible place to connect with their spiritual home during a time of such grief while the doors were closed to in-person worship.

We created in our altar a holy space of honour, grief, love and hopefulness. A Maxine Noel image of Motherhood sits amid an orange fabric backdrop, alongside a pair of children’s shoes, a small teddy bear and a Circle of Friends. The space is illuminated by candles, reflecting the red glass hearts and clear glass beads representing tears.

The space continues to be focal point in our worship in the shadow of the discovery of more and more unmarked graves. Our worship services continue to begin with the lighting of a candle in memory of the lost children and a prayer of Reconciliation of Penitence.

In advance of our Truth and Reconciliation Sunday, our St. Michaels community was encouraged to wear orange to worship as a show our support of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. As parishioner after parishioner arrived, the limited capacity sanctuary filled with orange, a moving message of love and commitment.

In lieu of a homily, our priest, Ven. Sam Thomas, shared instead a time of learning, a history lesson, a timeline of our country’s relationship with its Indigenous Peoples, including the history of residential and day schools.

As source material for much of his reflection, Sam sought reference from the book “A Space for Race”, co-authored by our Resident Preacher, Dr. Wendy Fletcher and Kathy Hogarth. Sam concluded his message by reading Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 speech of apology to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada for the wrong doings brought upon them.

Following Sam’s reflection, life-long parishioner and Literacy Facilitator at London Public Libraries, Frances Cutt, shared a reflection on where we go from here. In her work, Frances liases regularly with representatives of the Indigenous community, and brings an informed perspective.

Following Frances’s reflection and Communion, Bishop Bob Bennett led the community as together, we prayed for the children who were lost through the residential schools, the families, communities and generations broken by their impact. Bishop Bob prayed the following Mi’kmaq prayer as we blessed the orange flags we would be placing on our front lawn.

“Creator, open our hearts,
To peace and healing between all people.
Creator, open our hearts,

To provide and protect for all the children of the earth.
Creator, open our hearts

To respect for the earth, and all the gifts of the earth.
Creator, open our hearts

To end exclusion violence, and fear among all.
Thank-you for the gifts of this day and every day. Amen.”

Following both services, we placed orange flags in a prepared heart shape on the front lawn. Some people took one flag, some took many, and some watched quietly from the sidelines. The placing of each one of the 1,600 orange flags was a reminder of each of the children affected by the residential schools, those who didn’t come home, those who survived and the generations living with the consequences.  

The heart is a visible sign of our commitment to journey forward with our Indigenous siblings, to listening and learning. We know more children will be discovered, and the path ahead will not be an easy one, but we trust that God, the Creator, is with us all as we journey toward real truth and reconciliation.

Janet McIlwain is a warden at St. Michael and All Angels, London.