In the Action Plan presented at the Annual Vestry, we identified strengthening ties with local organizations and particularly with indigenous communities, as one of our priorities for the coming year(s). Just a week later, I was at Stephen Maki’s induction in St.-Anne-de-Bellevue and happened to learn from Jim Pratt that he does a monthly service at Ullivik, the facility where Inuit people from the far north stay when they and their loved ones travel here to Montreal for medical treatment. The service is on the fourth Sunday of the month, so I went on the 23rd.
Worshiping in a language of which you know not one word is a profoundly humbling experience. So is coming among people whose worlds are so very different and who are going through difficult times in their lives. All I did was observe (and help distribute the communion wine) but the Holy Spirit was powerfully present in that room. The Inuit are people of deep faith, and incidentally, amazing singers. Three hymns are sung, chosen on the spot from an Inuktitut hymnal by whoever happens to show up, but the unaccompanied music sounds like the group has been singing together for their whole lives.
As the second hymn was being chosen, I was leafing through the hymnal and saw that there was an English index in the back. I saw that one of my favourites (“Shall We Gather at the River”) was listed, and turned to the page (#10) to see what it looked like in the Inuktitut alphabet. At that very moment, the man choosing the hymn said, “Number 10”, and we sang that very hymn, with me chiming in quietly in English. This is the kind of moment when you know the Spirit is at work.
It may be a few months before I’m able to go back, but I definitely intend to try to maintain and deepen this connection. We are, after all, the congregation closest to Ullivik in its current location, and there used to be a service every Sunday, instead of just once a month. I didn’t take any pictures of people this time around because I felt that I had done nothing worthy of the trust that that would imply, but I hope someday to get there. I would love to hear any other ideas we might be pursuing as a congregation to walk with the Inuit community.
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