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Photo: Chris Meehan
Harold Roscher
Photo by Chris Meehan

A few years ago, Harold Roscher, a Cree commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, was speaking with his friend, Rev. Canon Travis Enright, a Cree leader in the Anglican Church of Canada, about ways they might help the local Indigenous people grow excited about their faith.

After some discussion, they came up with the idea of creating a service called the Standing Stone Ceremony that could incorporate native traditions and beliefs into a format attractive to their people, said Roscher in one of the dozens of workshops and seminars at Inspire 2019, held Aug. 1-3 at the St. Clair College Centre for the Arts, Windsor, Ont.

“We could see that for many Indigenous people the church is not a welcoming place,” said Roscher, who serves as executive director and chaplain at the Edmonton Healing Centre in Edmonton, Alta.

Often the church is not welcoming, he said, because of the context of the traditional worship service practices used in many churches, including the CRC.

But using the traditional format of services in the CRC and the Anglican Church as a template, they crafted a liturgy that moves through such familiar elements as the call to worship, confession and assurance, Scripture reading, and communion by using sounds, smells, and methods of prayer that could fit contextually with Cree traditions.

Roscher said he now often conducts this ceremony at the healing centre in Edmonton, and he has been increasingly asked to demonstrate elsewhere — such as at Inspire, which featured seminars on many topics, ranging from how best to minister to youth to discussing emerging and engaging methods of church leadership.

During his seminar, Roscher gave a demonstration of the Standing Stone Ceremony to a group of participants who sat in a circle of chairs around a table on which were placed bread and fruit for communion, liturgical readings, and incense to be burned to signify prayers going up to God.

“The process of this ceremony has grown up organically from our community,” said Roscher, who was raised by a white Dutch CRC couple and learned later in life about his Cree heritage.

The ceremony refers to standing stones, he said, “because of the stones that our ancestors would lay down as markers showing where they stopped as they followed the buffalo.”

Roscher began the ceremony with an honor song which he sang in Cree as he beat a rhythm on a small drum. “We ask, ‘Why are we here?’” he then explained in English, before inviting people to close their eyes to pray.

From there, he moved into calling on God, the Creator, to help everyone taking part in the ceremony to gain insight into their purpose here on earth, and, said Roscher, “to ask the Creator to give us a sense of why we have that purpose.”

The mood in the room was quiet and reverent as he distributed prayer sheets to participants whom he asked to stand in the four directions — east, where the sun rises; south, representing summer; west, a symbol of our adult years; and north, representing our life journey.

Each person was asked to read their prayer, starting from the east and circling clockwise to the north.

In one prayer, a workshop participant read: “Thank you for the abundance and variety of creation. . . . Thank you for the sun that makes things grow, and thank you for helping us learn lessons hidden under every leaf. . . .”

As the ceremony unfolded, there came a time of prayer in which Roscher burned some incense and let the smoke rise. This helped to recall, among other things, he said, the fragrant incense burned by the Israelites in the morning and in the evening in the wilderness tabernacle, as described in Exodus 30:1-8.

While the sweet smoke dissipated in the room, Roscher walked around the circle and gave everyone a chance to dip their fingers in a bowl of water.

“As we do this, we can think of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman,” he said. “We can think of healing waters and pray for someone we would like to see healed.”

People dipped their fingers in the bowl. Some placed the water on their foreheads while others touched their chests or shoulders with it; others simply cupped it in their hands.

“We can think of our baptism,” said Roscher. “We can think of how, if we are children of God, we have the Holy Spirit and we have the power of healing. We can claim some of the power God gives us.”

From there, the ceremony moved into a time of reading a Scripture text from Hebrews that spoke of God’s family being brought together by Jesus.

Then someone read a story about a family whose grandfather was ill and had to sit in the corner of the room every night at dinner because he kept acting up by throwing his silverware and food. 

Like a parable, the story went on to show how a young son in the family ended up demonstrating, without even knowing it, how cruel it was to banish the grandfather from the table, and the parents suddenly realized what they had been doing and brought the grandfather back into the circle of the table.

“Let’s now engage everyone in real ways with the Word,” said Roscher. “We’ll go around the circle so that everyone has a chance to comment on what they heard.”

“Hebrews calls us all together, and that is what the little boy was doing,” commented one man.

“I think of all of the trauma and abuse the grandfather must have felt, but then also how there was such grace when the family set aside their pride and brought him back,” said one woman.

After this time of reflection, Roscher introduced a celebration of communion — in this case coming together in an unusual way, he said.

“I wasn’t sure this morning where I could get a loaf of bread or some juice to use,” he said. Then, said Roscher, he saw a small loaf of bread and some raisins at the breakfast buffet in the hotel where he had stayed — and he knew that would suffice.

“When we take bread and fruit, we remember our Cree people gathering for a feast, and we celebrate a ceremony from which we are to leave feeling full and having sustenance for the journey ahead. We need to leave feeling blessed,” he said.

As Roscher passed the bread, people broke off pieces and then waited for a chance to pick some raisins out of a bowl as it was passed. They then prayed the Lord’s Prayer together, after which Roscher said, “We take these in remembrance of what Jesus did for us, and we proclaim his death and resurrection.”

The communion ended quietly in an atmosphere that had taken on a holy quality.

In closing, Roscher took up his drum and urged people to think of themselves as warriors for God — not warriors that bring terror or bloodshed, but warriors who serve on behalf of God, working at all times to care for one another and for God’s creation.

“After I beat the drum, I want all of us to be warriors for God and to release our emotions and give out a loud warrior whoop,” he said.

Three beats on the drum followed, and many of the participants then raised their arms and let out a loud whoop.

Roscher commented later that he hopes this kind of ceremony can continue to find a place to be used to reach people in other places and contexts.

For more information on the Standing Stones Ceremony, visit here.  For more information on the Edmonton Healing Center, visit its Facebook page,  or you can contact the center via email at info@e-nhc.org.