Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Bearing witness face to face

Bearing witness to truth is a first step toward healing and reconciliation. Facing one another as we speak truth holds the promise that we might truly listen to the depth of our own truth and the depth of others’ truth, that we might hear the cry of our own souls and the cry of others’ souls.
Yesterday Evelyn Broadfoot reminded us of the importance of all three words: truth, healing, and reconciliation. Evelyn was one of an impressive group of United Church presenters, including residential school survivors, to a full Interfaith Tent here at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission meeting.

Marie Dickens and Evelyn Broadfoot, residential school survivors involved in the United Church presentation. Marie serves on the General Council Residential Schools Steering Committee. Photo: Cecile Fausak.

Marie Dickens and Evelyn Broadfoot, residential school survivors involved in the United Church presentation. Marie serves on the General Council Residential Schools Steering Committee. Photo: Cecile Fausak.

The day before, the way toward healing began here with truth-telling in many ways and places, focused though on the first Sharing Circle in the Commissioners Tent. A dozen former students told their stories with great courage, as did a former teacher and a bush pilot who lives with the dreadful memory of a day decades ago when he took two small children—an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl—away from their parents, who were left standing alone a remote shoreline. All four were clearly distraught over what was happening, and yet the parents had no choice. He flew the sobbing children far away to a place where he wondered if they were even welcome. It wasn’t until years later that he came to fully understand what a dreadful system he had played a part in. The trauma of that day and his involvement haunts him still—but yesterday he got to tell his truth, face to face with student survivors, in a process of healing toward reconciliation.

Our own Jamie Scott, General Council Officer: Residential Schools, participated in that first Sharing Circle. It is obvious that Jamie is highly respected by the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners—for good reason. The Commissioners invited Jamie into this first circle, where he served as the face of the church, face to face with others witnessing to truth. As I watched and listened to Jamie over those hours, I was deeply moved by how well he listened and spoke for us as church. What I heard from him helped me hear what was happening in my own soul, and perhaps it will help you too.

Sharing Circle (Jamie Scott is in the red vest). Photo: Cecile Fausak.

Sharing Circle (Jamie Scott is in the red vest). Photo: Cecile Fausak.

Jamie said that whenever people tell the truth, it is sacred space. He spoke of the shock in learning about what had happened in those schools. Shock is an apt word. He spoke of the longing to ask our forebears, “Why?” As he spoke of this with such passion, I found myself wondering what it would be like to be face to face today with those who ran the schools. What might they say about what was in their minds and hearts? It is so difficult to even imagine, let alone have compassion for those who caused so much harm in the name of Christian love. (And yet we know that while the system caused harm, not everyone in it did. Some teachers were agents of healing, health, and sanctuary in the schools—more about that in a next blog.)

“I don’t understand how and why people who bear witness to Jesus could do the things that they did,” Jamie said, going straight to the heart of our pain as the body of Christ. And then he went on to say, “It causes us to rethink our theology and to face the fact of racism in the church, of our own racism still today.”

Jamie is right in saying that we each have our own healing journey to pursue, that there is much in us as Christians and as church that needs healing. We are indeed humbled—especially by student survivors who show us the way of courageous, face to face, bearing witness to truth.

And the face of government was humbled in that circle as well. Canada’s Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl demonstrated his own broken-heartedness in that Sharing Circle, saying that governments are interested in legislation, not relationships. And First Peoples are interested in relationships—in relationships of mutual respect and justice.

We have some truth-telling and related work to do not only as Christians but also as Canadians about our hopes for our own governing.

What truth is stirring in your soul as you imagine yourself in this Sharing Circle?