Introduction to Ministries

This section is part of a larger story of Indigenous ministry in Alberta. To read it from the start, click here.

Having introduced the project, some of its key terms, and some of the underlying philosophical debates, we now turn to the historical facts of the story. This next section presents all the currently existing Indigenous ministries in Alberta that were discovered in this project, accompanied by their history. They are organized by ministry format, in order to give a more overarching view of the landscape of Indigenous ministry in Alberta: Denominational indigenous ministry, missionary organizations, stand-alone practical-type ministries, stand-alone advocacy-type ministries, and theological training institutions. Broadly generalizing, “Indigenous ministry” will also take one of two forms.

First, some denominations primarily recognize the Indigenous people of Canada to be a people group needing or deserving specialized, practical outreach. If the ministry’s intentions are primarily spiritual, Indigenous people will be regarded as an unreached or underreached people group, and their ‘Indigenous ministry’ will consist of evangelistic outreach to Indigenous communities. In the same way, non-spiritually-focused ministries would focus primarily on meeting physical needs with the same motivation. However, in this kind of ministry, evangelism is usually always either a main or underlying motivator. The philosophy is that of serving Indigenous peoples. This first type of ministry is more practical, and usually requires a literal, physical ministry centre that ministers to the people who come in contact with workers. Ministries in this first type practically minister to people’s physical or spiritual needs. Hereafter, this type of ministry will be referred to as practical-type ministry.

Second, some denominations primarily recognize the Indigenous people of Canada as being the recipients of harm at the hands of the church through the residential school system, and so their ‘Indigenous ministry’ consists of public reconciliation initiatives. In this kind of ministry, the main motivator is reconciliation. The philosophy is that of advocating for Indigenous people, in such a way that these ministries are justice-focused. This second type of ministry is more political, and although it may have a physical component, such as hosting events, it is also often simply a verbal ministry, consisting of written articles or books, and official statements and policies. They do not generally involve a physical institution or specific individuals who are served, and instead focus more on changing public perceptions. Hereafter, this type of ministry will be referred to as an advocacy-type ministry.

Obviously, these categories will not hold true in every situation, and many ministries may share characteristics of one, both, or neither categories. However, this may be a helpful way of categorizing and understanding the elements of the Story of Indigenous Ministry in Alberta, without undervaluing any component.

The next few sections discuss different variants on these two types of ministry. We begin with a discussion on what ministries exist that are founded, supported, or run by denominational bodies. This is an especially important discussion, as this is the best framework to understand the “story” of the Church, while accounting for the unique denominational structure of the Church and Church history. In addition, understanding this framework is essential to understanding the Church’s authoritative, corporate response to its past, and specifically to the political challenges and invitations issued by the TRC. The denominational responses are perhaps the best way to understand what the state of the relationship between the Church and Indigenous people is in an institutional sense. Denominational ministries may be either practical- or advocacy-type ministries.

The second most important understanding regarding the story of the Church and Indigenous ministry is that of missionary sending organizations. These are organizational bodies of the church which fall outside of (thought are not completely distinct from) the denominational framework. Such organizations are made up of Christians and represent the actions and character of the Church, without necessarily representing the Church in a corporate, authoritative sense. However, these organizations, even more so than denominations themselves, may best represent the content of the story of ministry to, with, and by Indigenous peoples. Missionary sending organizations are almost entirely comprised of practical-type ministries, with an emphasis on evangelism and spiritual needs.

Following these two categories, the full Alberta landscape of stand-alone practical-type ministries, and stand-alone advocacy-type ministries is then provided. To note, these ministries may be attached to a denomination or missionary organization. However, they also operate in local contexts as stand-alone ministries, so they receive their own categorical treatment.

The report finishes off with a discussion of a final major category of Indigenous ministry: theological training institutions. This is also an essential component in understanding the story of Indigenous ministry, as the training of leaders in the Church has implications not only in the past, but especially in determining the future of Indigenous ministry as well.