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I'm not an Expert: Growing with the Blanket Exercise

In the space of two weeks in June, over 400 people participated in two mass Blanket Exercises. Wow. Each one was significant in its own way.

I first participated in the Blanket Exercise (BE) just a few short years ago at a meeting of the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee. Since that first experience, I have participated in the BE, led the BE as a facilitator, and taught dozens of people to be facilitators. I’ve done it with small and medium groups and large groups of up 200 participants or more. What a journey!

My most recent experience with the Blanket Exercise is the one that just happened at Synod, the Christian Reformed Church’s annual decision-making gathering. Last year, Synod asked the Board of Trustees to encourage classes and churches to participate in the Blanket Exercise and for the Blanket Exercise to be on the agenda at Synod 2016. My role was to work with colleagues to bring the Blanket Exercise to churches and classes and to Synod.

It’s rare that time is made in the busy Synod schedule for a significant learning opportunity like this, and we were excited that those thinking about the Doctrine of Discovery report would be prepared by the heart learning of the Blanket Exercise. What an opportunity!

This was quite the task. The Blanket Exercise has been around in Canada for over 15 years but was unknown in the States. My colleagues and I set to work immediately on creating awareness and information about the Blanket Exercise and training facilitators for the future requests in the first half of the year and in the second half on leading the Blanket Exercise and preparing for the Blanket Exercise at Synod.

A lot of careful planning went into the Blanket Exercise at Synod. Numerous meetings were held to keep all involved updated and a new script was being worked on to combine the US history and the Canadian history right up until the day before.

My most profound memory of June 11, the day of the Blanket Exercise at Synod, was the walk back to the rooms for the sharing circles, where participants would have a chance to share what the experience had been like for them. We had asked that all participants use the time to walk back to their rooms to reflect internally. And everyone walked back in silence. It was so very quiet. I understood this to mean that the delegates were reflecting on their thoughts and feelings. I also felt really respected that the request was honoured.

This was very different from the Blanket Exercise that I helped plan in Winnipeg, one of many mass Blanket Exercises happening across Canada in June to mark the first anniversary of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's summary report. The Winnipeg Blanket Exercise was a public event, happening at the Manitoba Legislative Building, and we had no idea how many participants would attend. One thing that we emphasized was the importance of incorporating Aboriginal culture throughout the Blanket Exercise. Nearby was a ceremonial fire, smudging was offered before, and drum songs were sung before and after the Exercise. There was even a jingle dress dancer to honour the residential school survivors. The most special part of this Blanket Exercise for me was the participation of my family and friends--my uncle, two aunties, and my close friends were a part of it.

The Blanket Exercise has taught me lots. My first lesson was that God could reach a skeptic like myself and touch my heart to learn, listen, and to give grace to realize that there are people who genuinely want to understand.

Each and every time I am involved with the Blanket Exercise, I walk away with new knowledge, wisdom, teachings, and most importantly, humility. I do not want to consider myself an expert because then I will stop learning and then God will have to teach me another lesson as well.

The Blanket Exercise is just the beginning. If you are one of the hundreds (even thousands!) of people across Canada who has experienced the Blanket Exercise and you are looking for next steps, we have also developed a small group curriculum called Living the 8th Fire, based around the CBC’s excellent 8th Fire video series. To learn more and download a free copy of the facilitator's’ guide, visit the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee’s toolkit. (This curriculum is meant for Canadians, but Americans can find Blanket Exercise follow-up suggestions here.)

[Image: Joseph Visser photography]


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