National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 2021

    Dear friends in Christ at Wesley United,

    Today is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or "Orange Shirt Day."  

    As a country and as a church we have a difficult, often humbling, history with Indigenous peoples.  On the one hand we in the United Church of Canada are people of good will and concerned with making a difference in our world and in the lives of others.  We pride ourselves on being committed to justice and living this out in our lives. We could say the same for many in Canada. Yet, we are often drawn up short by new revelations of atrocities that have happened, and need to reflect on how we have been complicit in these.   

    It seems to me that part of the purpose of a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is to reflect on how we have corporately and personally failed to live in life-giving ways with Indigenous peoples, honouring and respecting them, working to ensure that their lives are surrounded not only with safety and having basic needs met, but also treated with human dignity and kindness.  We lament that as a country, and sometimes as individuals, we have failed on all these counts. It is not like this is a new revelation for us, for we have heard many official reports over the years pointing to abuse of every kind, marginalization and lack of support.  We have not treated these people – who were the original people in this place we now call Canada, who agreed to share this land with us – the way that we would want to be treated. We have failed to honour the treaties and agreements that were made. Drastic changes are needed.  It is a day to acknowledge the truth and to intentionally move toward reconciliation.

    Another part of this day is reflecting on who we are and who we want to be. As I reported to the Wesley Executive on Tuesday night, our role as the church is to be a voice for the voiceless. The values that we embrace are of reaching out to the marginalized, the overlooked, those who are vulnerable, those without a voice, and those who are often treated as "the least."  On this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we recognize and lament that Indigenous peoples have so often fallen into this category.   As a church, following the example of Jesus, we take the next step of translating our values into action. We seek to be a welcoming place to all people, treating all others with kindness, respect and fairness, creating a safe place where all feel valued and affirmed.  Our additional role is to speak truth to power, be that to the larger public or to politicians, and to call them to this vision.

    Our sacred scriptures have much to say about how we treat "the other."  The Bible often names these as "foreigners," but in our place and time they could be Indigenous people (even as we acknowledge that Indigenous people are the first people of this land, and we, as settlers, are the foreigners), Black people or other people of colour; it could be those from differing faith traditions, or anyone who is somehow different from us:

    "Long ago I gave these commands to my people: 'You must see that justice is done, and must show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners who live among you, or anyone else in need.'" (Zechariah 7:9)

    "Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt." (Exodus 23:9)

    "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)

    "Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. Treat them as you would an Israelite [native-born], and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34)

    "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (Matthew 25:35-36)

    May this day, and the difficult reflections that it brings, become a blessing for us and for others, so that all may know wholeness and fullness of life.  This is the dream of God.

    Looking forward, I will only be with you as your minister for another two and a half weeks.  My final Sunday will be October 17.  After that I will become the minister of Marshall Memorial United Church in Ancaster.

    In solidarity and toward shalom/Salem,

    ~Rev. Keith Hagerman


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