Back to Top

Westside CRC Lives the 8th Fire

A Muslim man from Iran, a few students from the CRC campus ministry Geneva House, several First Nations or Metis people, and a couple dozen other members of churches from across Kingston gathered at Westside Fellowship CRC in Kingston. This motley crew was gathered to learn together about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians using the Living the 8th Fire workshop series, to “get to know the neighbours”, as the host of the CBC 8th Fire series around which the series is built puts it.

They started with a Blanket Exercise, a participatory exercise which literally walks participants through the history of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, using direct quotes from historical figures and the striking visual metaphor of slowly shrinking blankets spread on the floor. Around fifty people participated in the exercise, which was open to everyone, including those who didn’t plan to participate in the entire 7-session series. Gary van Loon, co-facilitator of the series and member of Westside Fellowship, said it was a very impactful time, “It wasn’t the intellectual content of [the Blanket Exercise] as much as having First Nations people there—we’re talking about things that really had an impact on people.”

Gary shares that another highlight of sharing this time and learning together was the participation of a particular First Nations man who had attended residential schools for several years. He spent the rest of his childhood growing up in the bush with his grandfather and captivated the group regularly with his insights and contributions. Gary had first met him at The Mess, an arts ministry supported in part by Diaconal Ministries Canada. On the first evening of the workshop series, he brought in a set of his paintings to share with the group.

The group did run into some tension around the use of the smudging ceremony, an Indigenous aspect of liturgy which informs people that worship is about to begin, in the workshops. The group was open to it, but one member of the Westside Fellowship congregation who counts Aboriginal people among their ancestors was opposed to its use. The facilitators finally decided not to use the ceremony, after dialogue with this person and church leadership (Westside’s pastor was an active participant in the whole series). They did use another First Nations ceremony called the travelling ceremony. (The CRC in Canada hosted fruitful discussions around the use of smudging and other First Nations ceremonies in worship in 2000, and the engaging report can be read here. The dialogue involved diverse participants and did not prescribe either the use or avoidance of Indigenous ceremonies, but set a foundation for respectful dialogue between diverse positions on the question.)

Gary’s advice for others who wish to run this series? Make a special effort to invite First Nations participants. “I almost wouldn’t do it without that participation,” he said, noting the transformative power of discussing this relationship between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians while in actual relationships across that divide. He also advises setting an atmosphere of openness from the beginning and being especially sure to let Indigenous participants know that, to respect adult participants’ experiences and opinions, views might be allowed to be aired that could be offensive, but in the context of a group learning to be in relationships of respect for all. 

The group got along so well that they’re now planning 3 weeks together this fall to reunite and learn more together, and several people who met in the group are now visit back and forth as friends. They are truly learning to “live the 8th fire”, echoing a First Nations’ prophesy that foretells a time when Indigenous people and settlers will be given a choice between two paths: one that leads to mutual destruction and another that leads to peace and unity.

You can learn more about Living the 8th Fire and download the full facilitators’ guide for free from the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee’s toolkit here:  

[Image adapted from image by Flickr user CaptureQueen]


The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.