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Photo: Mark Charles
Synod 2016 delegates participate in the Blanket Exercise.
Photo by Mark Charles

Delegates to Synod 2016 participated in the Blanket Exercise on Saturday afternoon. Acting out history as experienced by indigenous people in North America helped participants to feel some of the emotions involved.

The Blanket Exercise begins with a beautiful picture, as people walk barefoot over a floor covered with brightly-colored blankets. These represent indigenous peoples before Europeans arrived.

As the story progresses, the blankets are folded back and eventually removed by invading settlers. Through disease, heartache, and death, many of the indigenous people also leave the scene.

“At the end you are by yourself and no one is approaching you. There is a loss of community, a loss of connectedness,” said Sarah van Breda, a woman adviser to synod.

From papal edicts designed to “vanquish pagans,” to indigenous children forced into boarding schools, some participants felt the betrayal and the injustice. “My heart and mind screamed for God’s grace,” said Dick Mulder, an elder delegate from Classis Holland.

Laws and declarations were read aloud, including a vague 2012 apology from the United States that ended with a disclaimer that nothing in the apology was legally binding.

“I wanted to dismiss that apology from the United States. It helped me appreciate that those words are hollow. Something else has to happen,” said John Aukema, a delegate from Classis Zeeland.

Afterwards, participants walked in silence back to their committee rooms, where they shared responses to the exercise. Some wept.

“I’m grateful that God is my judge, because if I were my judge I’d probably be in pretty deep trouble. I’m grateful and a little ashamed that the worst I have to face is a little bit of the grief for . . . that 1,600 years of sin,” said Rev. Daniel Zylstra from Classis Eastern Canada.

“I knew these things in an intellectual way, but this experience was so much different than reading a book,” said Karen Wynbeek, an elder delegate from Classis Central California.

For continuous coverage of Synod 2016 including the live webcast, news, video recordings, photos, liveblog, social media links, and more visit www.crcna.org/synod.