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.