This week we celebrate Palm Sunday, the portal to Holy Week, the day Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the praises of the people, calling, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” Five days later the same crowd, bitter with disappointment and whipped up by the religious authorities, would take a very different tone, yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
It is obvious that these were two very different moments, each decisive in its own way, on Jesus’ way to the cross. Yet, inexplicably, the two events were combined into one by the editors of the Book of Alternative Services, the standard liturgical resource for the Anglican Church of Canada, on the Sunday before Easter, a day they called “The Sunday of the Passion, with the Liturgy of the Palms”. In that service the people join in greeting Jesus in a Palm Procession at the start of the service and then, in a matter of minutes, they are hearing an agonizing account of Jesus’ death on the cross.
No one knows exactly what those editors were thinking (were they concerned that attendance at Good Friday services was down?), but the effect of the Sunday observance they created was nothing short of emotional whiplash. Fortunately, churches across the country, including our own, have returned to the older custom of observing Palm Sunday alone, focussing only on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, while reading the account of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday, five days later. Both events warrant our observance, but separately.
Back in September five Anglican clergy stood with our rector here to bless a “Queer” marriage between a woman and a Transgendered person, the legal ceremony having been conducted by a provincial marriage commissioner. Such blessings are prohibited in this diocese, though permitted in almost half the Anglican dioceses across the country—and in all other Canadian urban centres. As a result, the six clergy were chastised by the diocesan chancellor and threatened with disciplinary action by the archbishop.
Subsequently, the archbishop has initiated a series of study sessions called “Generous Listening” as a way for the diocese to discern its way forward on this issue. The first session featured two biblical scholars who took opposing sides while modelling a respectful dialogue. At the second session people gathered in small groups to share stories and then were invited to stand in larger groupings on a continuum of opinion from “Never” to “Now”, with over half the assembly crowding around “Now”, representing a clear majority who are ready to see same-sex marriages performed in this diocese.
Meanwhile, the lay people of the diocese who are concerned with the snail’s pace of progress on this issue (some have called it “glacial”) have banded together to apply pressure so that the issue is resolved quickly. Our own church members are invited to attend a congregational conversation, hosted by our churchwardens, on Sunday, April 9, following the 10:30 service, to consider our own ongoing actions. All church members are invited to attend and participate.
This weekend the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary convenes to consider the election of a Suffragan Bishop, elected from among the Indigenous clergy of the Diocese, to provide spiritual leadership for Anglicans in the Treaty 7 territories of Southern Alberta.
For almost fifty years the Anglican Church of Canada has been working toward a new relationship with its Indigenous peoples. The 2001 report, “A New Agape”, articulated a vision that emphasized Indigenous self-governance, self-determination, and partnership within the church nationally. The election of a National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald, in 2007 was a major step toward this vision, as was the creation of the Diocese of Mishamikweesh in 2014, encompassing over twenty-five First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.
As a precedent to this week’s motion in Calgary, the Diocese of Saskatchewan elected its first Diocesan Indigenous Bishop in 2012 to provide spiritual oversight for Anglicans of the Cree First Nations, which comprise over 60% of the membership of that diocese.
Questions remain about the voting process—which asks that a bishop be chosen by the Treaty 7 peoples for the Treaty 7 peoples—as it remains unclear if this bishop would become the automatic successor to the diocesan bishop in the event of illness or death, a position not supported by a general election of Synod as a whole.
But clearly, we are moving in the direction of greater autonomy for the Indigenous congregations of our diocese, a move that carries the potential for both healing and empowerment.