Stephanie Taylor, the information and knowledge manager at the Anglican Communion Office, reflects on the recent biennial meeting of Anglican diocesan archivists in Canada.
I have recently returned from Canada where I had the privilege of joining the Anglican diocesan archivists for their biennial meeting. It was an opportunity as fellow practitioners to come together and share knowledge and experience. It was also so much more than that. For me it was an inspirational gathering affirming the life-changing value of records and archives and ultimately of the need to learn from the past, inform the present and build a better future. That’s what archives are about and in many ways that is what faith and discipleship is about.
The evening before the meeting began the archivists gathered alongside the Canadian Church Historical Society and it was my privilege to address the gathering along with Mark Duffy, canonical archivist of the US-based Episcopal Church. I shared with the gathering my experience of working to restore the Anglican Communion Office archive. I drew on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon at ACC-16 in Lusaka, Zambia earlier this year when he said:
“The higher a tree grows, the more likely it is to need deep roots. When the storms come, only the roots make a difference. The older a society or nation becomes, the more it needs to tell its story; so that in each generation we renew the sense of who we are and why we are here now.”
I told the gathering that as archivists we are so often the stewards of stories, of memory, and that is both a vital and challenging task. The archivists in the Anglican Church of Canada knew that only too well for they had played a crucial role as part of the Church’s participation in and response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
The TRC, which released its final report late last year along with a series of Calls to Action, was mandated with informing all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools and documenting the truth of survivors and anyone personally affected. The TRC was a powerful example of the importance, and the pain of individuals having the opportunity to “tell their own story”, and the Calls to Action and the Church’s response are the beginnings of the hope of building for a better future.
The role of the archives and archivists within this was significant. Archivists attended numerous TRC sessions and met with survivors and relatives. As stewards of archives they had been able to provide survivors with “evidence” of their attendance at a residential school. In her homily, at a Eucharist presided over by Bishop-elect, the Revd Riscylla Walsh Shaw, General Synod archivist Nancy Hurn, shared powerfully of an occasion when she had been able to help a woman find out what had happened to her brother who had died whilst a pupil of a residential school. I personally have never come across a more powerful illustration of the value of records to give an account of, and help learn from the past.
In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll wrote: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” In other words memories and accounts are important for many reasons, not least in their ability to help us learn from the past to actively shape the future together and build a better world for all God’s children.
I also had the great honour of meeting Bishop Mark MacDonald, who since 2007 has served as the Anglican Church of Canada’s first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop. Bishop Mark joined the meeting fresh from the Standing Rock protest in North Dakota and spent an hour with the archivists before joining another Standing Rock action in Toronto that afternoon. That Bishop Mark took time out of his schedule amidst the events of that week spoke volumes to me. Bishop Mark told me: “During the TRC, we began to see how important archivists are to our past, present, and future. They were foundational to the search for justice.”
We are called to be salt and light in a dark and confusing world. I left Toronto with a powerful sense of how so many in Canada are doing just that.