We have an opportunity to show love to others who will benefit from our love. Specifically, we have the opportunity to show love to people who are, all too often, disparaged and disregarded within our community. We are partnering with Beausoleil First Nation Social Services to provide gifts for children who are a part of that community. We are called to be people of love - who seek justice, love mercy, and walk with humility - and this is one way we have the opportunity to practice this each Christmas!
This year the list of children we are serving through providing gifts, along with all the instructions for how to participate, is available at https://www.covenantchurch.ca/news/be-a-blessing. At the time of this writing, there are still a lot of children left. Please consider the possibility of joining in the generosity and being a blessing to a family this year.
As you consider it, please let me explain why I feel this partnership is so important to us.
There is a lot of history in our community. When I was first moving to this area I soon discovered that, in my experience, our history was one of the main reasons people outside this community tended to know us.
Champlain's arrival here over 400 years ago, and the subsequent French presence, is significant. The Jesuit presence that Sainte Marie Among the Hurons commemorates is important. The British presence is also significant and the area now known as Discovery Harbour played an important role during the War of 1812. This is the history most people outside our community is familiar with.
But our history did not begin with Champlain and the French or the Jesuits or the British. For centuries before there were indigenous people on this land. I am nowhere near an expert on the events that occurred over the latter third of the 10th century in what is now known as Canada. What I do know is that the land that Covenant's facility at 95 Robert St., Penetanguishene is built on was obtained by the British in 1798 as a part of Penetanguishene Treaty No. 5 (or the Penetanguishene Purchase - see https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1370372152585/1581293792285#ucls8) for the purpose of establishing a naval base in the harbour. I also know that the precise terms of the treaty are not universally agreed upon (see https://anishinaabek.com/2019/12/04/1798-penetanguishene-harbour-purchase-a-continued-history-of-dishonourable-relations/) and the British (in this case) certainly often negotiated with ulterior motives and with a hidden attempt at alienating, harming, or eliminating the indigenous people. In addition to such atrocities as the residential homes and the 60's Scoop, this is seen at a massive scale at the end of the War of 1812 when the Indigenous people, under the leadership of Tecumseh, largely saved British North America from defeat but were then completely left out of the land negotiations that followed the war. The result was that the promise of an independent Indigenous land that had been made to Tecumseh was ignored for the mutual benefit of the British and the Americans. (See more about the role of the Indigenous people in the War of 1812 and the promises that were made and subsequently broken in the PBS documentary at https://www.pbs.org/video/wned-tv-history-war-1812/)
What does all of this have to do with Christmas gifts in the present? First of all, it reminds me that, although I was not present during any of that history, I am a direct beneficiary of that history. The land I live on and work on is accessible to me because of that history and the mistreatment of Indigenous people. That is something that I, that we, need to acknowledge. Secondly, it motivates me to think about how I should think about and respond to Indigenous people currently living in our community. Without dwelling on this too much, I have seen both overt racism and subtle negative aspersions cast towards Indigenous people within our community. While at the governmental level there is lip service paid to "Truth & Reconciliation" there is still a lot of work to do to bring it to bear on the ground among us. I need to be reminded to consciously consider this question, "Will I act in ways that foster reconciliation, or will I act in ways that maintain division and endorse (even silently and tacitly) the mistreatment of an entire group of people, past and present?"
For many years Covenant Church has sought to bring some level of reconciliation through inviting people in our church and in our community to purchase gifts for children who otherwise wouldn't receive anything at Christmas. When I first arrived, this giving of gifts was accompanied by a trip to Christian Island to deliver them to Social Services. While the intent was good behind the venture and I personally appreciated the chance to go to the island and engage with some of the beautiful people who live there, I wondered why making an occasion of going to the island was necessary.
The following year we purchased the gifts, but circumstances prevented us from delivering them. I had someone complain and ask why we should give "them" gifts if we didn't get the chance to go and have the party with them. It struck me how easy it is for us to give the impression of compassion and pursuit of reconciliation when really I'm gaining a sense of superiority through "helping" and, at the same time, it's feeding an "us" and "them" perspective. This is the opposite of reconciliation!
Now, I don't think the solution is to not be generous. We have people in our community - men and women and children who are equal and beautiful image-bearers of God - who are often treated or spoken about poorly. Specific families and children within our community have needs. We should be generous. Not because we are in any way better than or above them. Not because we feel guilty about something that came before us or the benefits we receive from it. We shouldn't even be generous be because we have more. (Some of us may not have more and are still called to be generous.)
We should be generous because we are the recipients of great generosity and we are rarely more aware of that than during this season of celebrating God with us. And we should be generous to these particular families and children because they are too easily and too often forgotten by those who have benefited from their mistreatment for generations. These families and children aren't on any other lists for assistance at Christmas. These are the exact people that the way of Jesus calls us to serve and love.
Not only should we be generous, but we should also do it with humility. Our posture is one of serving these amazing families. We submit to Beausoliel First Nation Social Services as they determine who has needs. We submit to the families as we simply give the gifts to social services who then get them to the moms and dads and grandparents to give generously to their kids. It's a string of generosity and we're honoured to be a part of it!
I hope you will join us in being a blessing in this way this Christmas! For more information visit https://www.covenantchurch.ca/news/be-a-blessing.