Canadian parish on ‘companion journey’ with First Nations people

By Erin Green
Posted Feb 21, 2014

[Anglican Church of Canada] More than a decade ago parishioners at North Saanich’s Holy Trinity Anglican Church began responding to challenges faced by nearby Tseycum, Tsawout, Pauquachin, and Tsartlip First Nations. In discrimination and need they saw opportunity for new relationship and a new way of being church in this Vancouver Island community. With the blessing of then-rector, Archdeacon Bob Baillie, Holy Trinity launched what would become its Companion Journeying ministry.

Today, Companion Journeying is a lively ministry drawing in many from the congregation and broader North Saanich community. It started with biannual community suppers and Christmas hampers. These communal meals continue, along with an expanding number of programs including Trinity Time — a lunchtime learning opportunity guided by First Nations participants and supported by the parish. Holy Trinity’s relationship building also includes support for the Diabetic Circle at Pauquachin First Nation and a fruit and vegetable program that facilitates healthful eating in underresourced homes. Thea Dickson, a parishioner who helped initiate Companion Journeying and continues to coordinate the ministry today, remarks,  “Through these different connections, we are building trust. It’s an ongoing thing.” When asked how other parishes might start their own companion journeying ministry, Dickson replied simply, “Don’t have any preconceived ideas of where it’s going to go. Just open your heart up to God.”

Companion Journeying celebrated a community meal in late January. It was attended by well over 100 people, including Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, Diocesan Administrator, Diocese of British Columbia, parishioners, and elders and members from Tseycum, Pauquachin, Tsawout, and Tsartlip First Nations. The evening of food and fellowship saw spirited sing-alongs, outreaching giving to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, and the presentation of a scholarship to a First Nations youth for post-secondary studies. That evening, remarked Hiltz, “Holy Trinity was alive with a sense of good spirit and hospitality.”

Parishioners at Holy Trinity have been transformed by this journey. Along the way, they have taken Indigenous language lessons and have learned more about the distinct cultures of the four First Nations. In a spirit of reciprocity, indicative of the trust Holy Trinity has cultivated with its First Nations neighbours, they have also been invited to potlatches and funerals. Through Companion Journeying, these new relationships are now characterized in part by friendship and laughter. Reflecting on his time with the Holy Trinity community, Hiltz remarked, “What stood out for me was the fact that Holy Trinity extended the hand of fellowship, and that this space belongs not to us, but to the community. Everyone is welcome.”