Cree Pastor Leads Worship Workshop at CRC Justice Conference

Prayer is the bedrock of all Indigenous ceremonial life, said Harold Roscher, a Cree commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.

Based in Edmonton, Alta., Roscher recently guided participants at a justice conference in Toronto, Ont., through Christian worship rooted in the sounds, smells, and movements of traditional Cree rites. 

In collaboration with the Rev. Canon Travis Enright, a Cree leader within the Anglican Church of Canada, Roscher helped develop the Standing Stones Ceremony several years ago. It is slowly being introduced to churches of different stripes across Canada but is still new within the CRC. During the ceremony, worshipers smell burning sweetgrass, move rocks, share joys, sorrows, and stories, break bread together, and receive a blessing. The ceremony is performed in a circle rather than in pews. 

Nicole Vandenberg, who attends Immanuel CRC in Caledon, Ont., and was one of about 12 men and women who participated in the ceremony in a small basement room, said the experience was “life giving.” She added it reminded her that her own CRC background was just one flavor of Christian expression. The core of our faith is the same, even if the detailed ways in which we express it may be different, she said.

Roscher, of the Saddle Lake Cree First Nation in Alberta, and director and chaplain at the Edmonton Native Healing Centre, said he hopes participation in the ceremony will be educational as well as worshipful. “I read the Bible through a Cree lens,” he said, adding that North Americans can learn from Indigenous wisdom and traditions.

Of skeptics who question the legitimacy of integrating Christian worship with Indigenous practices, Roscher likes to ask, “When was the last time you prayed for an hour?” He added that the sweat lodge ceremony, a spiritual cleansing rite, asks participants to complete four lengthy rounds of prayer.

“I don’t expect people to fix issues I may experience as a Cree person,” said Roscher, “but I want them to come alongside me and grow their understanding of injustices suffered by Aboriginals in North America.” Edmonton Native Healing Centre is one of three urban Aboriginal ministries in Canada sponsored by the CRC.

Christina DeVries, who attends Bethel CRC in Waterdown, Ont., said it was an amazing gift to learn some traditional Indigenous knowledge and put it into worship. DeVries, who chairs the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee, said participating in the ceremony allowed her to expand her relationship with God. She added that sometimes we think worship needs to look a specific way, but it is possible to expand our thinking.

Roscher’s worship workshop was part of For Such a Time as This, a justice conference jointly organized by the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, CRC Worship Ministries, and the Institute for Christian Studies, held at First CRC in Toronto on October 21. About 75 artists, musicians, and social justice workers participated in the one-day event to strengthen their resolve to work toward greater equality in a more just society.

About the Author

Nandy Heule is a grant writer and visual artist based in Toronto, Ont. She attends First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto.

See comments (7)

Comments

I'm not quite sure -- I wasn't there -- of what to think of this.  This article reports that this worship was "rooted" in "traditional Cree rites."  I'm not a Cree expert but I can use Google.  From that use, it seems to me that "traditional Cree rites"  are certainly "religious" but just as certainly not Christian.

Its fine to read Scripture "through a Cree lens" (we all have lenses), but that doesn't mean that syncretism -- or worse-- is being avoided.  And prayers can be offered to Satan, or Baal, or Mother Earth, or other idols -- so praying for an hour does not mean concerns about the faith being promoted is the Christian faith.

Again, I wasn't there.  I don't know, but I can read the words in this article and use Google.  I couldn't care less about sitting in a circle instead of pews.  Indeed, that's cultural.  But Mother Earth is not the Triune God.

Strikingly absent in this article's reporting is anything that confirms that this declared "Christian worship" was actually that, but descriptions of the ceremonies do suggest otherwise.  

Doug, I'm happy to tell you that you don't need Google or to be a 'Cree expert' - because right in the CRCNA, our Brother Harold is a trustworthy gift.  I can tell you that Harold is a life-long member of the CRC, a long-serving and respected leader in a CRC ministry, a leader in Christian Indigenous Circles in Edmonton and Canada, and a friend and brother in Christ.  I encourage you to seek relationship with Harold and others, rather than leaning on Google to speculate on what might have happened in a room that you were not in.  

Well I'm not speculating Mike, but reading the article.  And yes, using the internet as a resource to define "traditional Cree rites," but that doesn't seem too out in left field.

It may be that the reporting is the problem.  Again I wasn't there.  But I can read the article, and it suggests what it suggests.

I have no idea how I would "seek relationship with Harold and others."  If you have contact with Harold, let him know I would welcome that.

I've had the opportunity to be in the room with Harold on many occassions. He is careful, thoughtful, profoundly committed to the work of the Christian Reformed Church in healing relationships with indigenous peoples in Canada given the distinct and painful history of residential schools on this side of the border. The gospel work being done here is admirable and appropriately contextual. It is certainly not syncretistic. We need to be careful in our comments in this tenuous and nuanced relationship. The way that we assert ourselves in other public spaces are not appropriate here. What we write and say has deep consequences in actual ministry. Your comments, Doug, while well intentioned, have likely damaged some relationships of trust by years. To the Banner editors - in the issue of indigenous relationships in Canada - I advise more careful moderation of our comments section.

Daniel (and Banner editors):  If this matter is really this sensitive, that is, that it can't be respectfully discussed in the "denominational living room" (which is what the online Banner has been touted to be) without "damag[ing] trust relationships by years," it should be reported on only in the paper Banner, not the online Banner, or only in the online CRCNA News and Views (which does not allow for commenting).

Dear Daniel and Doug,
Our community guidelines for online comments can be found here: https://thebanner.org/about-us/comment-policy

 

We would like to remind all our readers to use a respectful tone, even in disagreements. Finally, we would also encourage readers to read with a charitable light rather than a skeptical disposition, as befitting a Christ-like graciousness. 
Thank you.
Shiao Chong, Editor

Dear Readers,
Part of our Community Guidelines (Comment Policy) states that a good post or comment avoids "undermining the church or its ministries." Though constructive criticism is welcome, it is our determination that arguing about whether a ministry's worship or practice is syncretism approaches undermining the ministry, as syncretism is a serious accusation. It is true that we should avoid syncretism but it is equally true that we must contextualize the gospel and trust that the Holy Spirit "can transcend all cultures and speak to them and through them." (See: https://thebanner.org/departments/2011/01/walking-with-celindy)  

We believe in good faith that a CRC Commissioned Pastor in good standing, having developed and used a workshop for years, attested to by our news writer and participants as "a Christian worship," in an event that was under the supervision and sponsorship of CRC Worship Ministries, has met the test of faithful gospel contextualization to the Cree culture and avoided syncretism. We do not think that this is up for debate in The Banner's comments section. Any further comments of this nature will be deleted. Thank you.

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