Parishioners stand along the central aisle between the church’s pews while the Ven. Travis Enright walks down the middle with burning sage in hand.
Smoke flows off the dried leaves and swirls around the congregation, filling the room with an earthy scent.
As Archdeacon Enright approaches individual church-goers, he brings the smoke close to them: It is an offering. Everyone is encouraged – but not pressured – to scoop up the smoke with cupped hands, and then wash the plumes over their eyes, hearts and bodies.
The archdeacon of Edmonton’s Anglican Indigenous Ministry repeats this Cree practice, known as smudging, on the third Sunday of every month when he performs his Standing Stones service, a mass that infuses traditional Anglican worship with the Cree spirituality he grew up with.
For Archdeacon Enright, the sage smoke is meant to “wash over you and wash inside of you, allowing you to be a Standing Stone.”
When he was younger, Archdeacon Enright, whose mother was Cree, found himself turning to Christian and Cree spirituality simultaneously. On one hand, he felt connected to the teachings of Jesus Christ. On the other, there were moments when he felt more connected to the Creator through traditional Cree practices, such as participating in a sweat lodge or taking part in a sun dance.
Shortly before he was ordained, the archdeacon realized that the two spiritual identities don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“I can be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ in context,” says the archdeacon. “My context as being a Cree person can hold as much water as the Irish context or the Roman context.”
Archdeacon Enright’s revelation ultimately led to the conceptualization of Standing Stones eight years ago. For the past five years, he has performed the service at St. Faith’s Anglican Church in Edmonton once a month.
On the third Sunday of every month, he delivers the Standing Stones service to a congregation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous faithful. At a time when Canadians are grappling with reconciliation efforts, the services aim to heal the damage once caused by his denomination.
Archdeacon Enright acknowledges the Anglican Church’s history of colonialism and subsequent role during the residential-school era in Canada.
“The idea of early Christian engagement with Cree people was that of assimilation, so then out of assimilation grew residential schools and foster care,” he says.
He adds that “when an aboriginal person sees me, sometimes they don’t see the colour of my skin or my face, they only see the collar and they’re hurt by that. And I take that.” Conversely, Archdeacon Enright has also had to deal with racist slurs from some non-Indigenous worshippers.
I can be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ in context. My context as being a Cree person can hold as much water as the Irish context or the Roman context.— Archdeacon Travis Enright
When asked how he manages to reconcile his Christianity with his Cree spirituality, Archdeacon Enright explains that the question is misguided.
“Of course, I’d reconcile it. I think, sometimes, when we think of purity, you have to be a pure Christian or a pure aboriginal spiritual person,” he says. “It’s not an act of reconciling a balance sheet.” It’s not about choosing one over the other, he says.
Archdeacon Enright says the effort is to allow the service to follow a “very particular Christian theological perspective around grace and hope and love,” with traditional Anglican ways of performing mass.
Equally important, he says, “is a Cree way of expressing what it means to be connected, and what it means to see ancestors, and what it means to find the depths of your own humanity in relationship with the Earth, and with creation and with the creatures that are around.”
The Standing Stones service starts with smudging because in Cree culture, the smoke of burning sage creates a healing space.
“In Western Christian practices, the idea [behind confession] is what you have done wrong, and I want to step a little bit away from that” he says. “The smudge helps us to stand tall. To confess who God is. It also allows us to find places of healing.”
Archdeacon Enright invites Indigenous musicians to perform during the service and engages in “interactive preaching,” a style of sermon that mimics a talking circle. Parishioners are invited to answer questions and share their own stories about spirituality without interruption.
In services with fewer than 25 people, Archdeacon Enright uses an eagle feather to facilitate discussion.
“In a smaller Standing Stones, I’ve definitely had it where [attendees] have a feather and they have a choice to speak into it or they have a choice to pass it.” During this process, the eagle feather represents love between members of the congregation.
Archdeacon Enright estimates that 60 per cent of Standing Stones attendees are Indigenous, while the remaining 40 per cent have European ancestry.
Todzia Aird, who is not Indigenous, attended the Standing Stones ceremony for the first time in March, describing the mass as “beautiful” and “cleansing.”
“I liked that it was so spiritual,” she says.
Ms. Aird adds that the service is “a positive example of what really should be happening with many more churches.” She adds that integration of Cree spirituality into the service is a step forward.
“The idea behind Standing Stones is about a dance, it is how two cultures can dance with each other,” Archdeacon Enright says.
“Both of those things don’t need to be opposed to each other.”