Rev. Anne Hines writes how their church’s Truth and Reconciliation project transformed not just their walls, but also their lives.
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Truth and Reconciliation is teaching us that harm occurs when we tell others who or how to be in the world. So, when Roncesvalles United Church asked renowned Indigenous artist, Philip Cote, to paint on the inside walls of our church sanctuary we decided on a commission with a difference. Instead of us dictating what we wanted him to do, Philip was invited to paint anywhere he chose and anything he chose. We committed to giving him full agency to create in our sacred space, having no idea what the outcome would be.
Across three 30-foot walls, Philip painted vibrant symbols of an Ojibway creation story. He called it “Eighth Fire;” a term his peoples use to describe a phase of existence when all of us will recognize and honour our shared humanity. We will finally become One.
Now, sacred Indigenous stories live alongside the sacred Christian stories in our stained glass windows, sharing the same authority, the same “pride of place.”
Through the generosity of The United Church of Canada, we were able to commission a companion film that shares Philip's cosmology and vision beyond our walls. From 100 applicants, Philip chose Canadian/Latino filmmaker PJ Marcellino and Indigenous filmmaker Jo Proulx to create "Eighth Fire." And, on PJ's recent trip to Cape Verde, West Africa, filmmakers there asked to translate it into Portuguese to show at their national film festival. They believe that the story of a church letting go of control and honouring Indigenous spirituality in our space can play a part in helping them confront their own tragic history as the original site of the sale of enslaved peoples.
Philip Cote says, “This mural is a visual story of our beginning. It’s the first of its kind in a church in North America. This is how the narrative is going to change. Our story needs to be inside all institutions and across the country. Sharing our voice and our philosophy is the only way to break down the barriers of systemic racism in our country.”
This is not just paint on a sanctuary wall. This is the “Eighth Fire.”
— The Rev. Anne Hines, Roncesvalles United Church, Toronto
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.