In October 2019, I returned to Frog Lake for the first time in 15 years, with the Rev. Nick Trussell and the Rev. Elizabeth Metcalfe, to assist with the first Sunday service to be held there in several years. On that day, we celebrated the eucharist and baptised nine people. The Holy Spirit was present and at work in the community.
I would return to Frog Lake on the third Sunday of each month, to help lead the Standing Stones service. Soon, I discerned a need for more than just one Sunday service in the community each month. Those who had been baptised needed support to grow in their faith journey and live out their baptismal covenant. It was an opportunity to identify the needs of the Frog Lake community to the Church and work together for healing and reconciliation.
So, after discussions with the Venerable Travis Enright, Archdeacon for Indigenous Ministries, and the blessing of Bishop Jane, I took on a different role. Beginning in the new year, I was to go out to Frog Lake on the second Saturday of every month to meet with people in their homes ahead of the worship service the next day. A lot of time was spent in prayer with the people I visited that first Saturday. Unfortunately, poor weather conditions and the current COVID-19 pandemic have prevented my in-person visits from continuing. Instead, after much time in prayer, I decided I would use these circumstances as an opportunity to do something a little different.
I began leading virtual Morning Prayer, via Facebook Live, at 9:00 am on Sunday, March 30. Using the service of Morning Prayer in the Book of Alternative Services as our foundation, we begin each service with a short prayer of healing and a smudge. Encouraging viewers to follow along in their bibles, I read through the scriptures appointed in the lectionary, followed by a short reflection on the readings. We then recite the Apostles Creed. After brief intercessions and the collect for the day, we pray the four directions prayer and, finally, the Lord’s Prayer. We then end the service with dismissal and the Grace.
The online Morning Prayer service for Frog Lake has a modest attendance averaging 25 viewers. Our highest attendance was on Easter Sunday when the peak number of viewers was 30. Initially, online comments and feedback during the service were few and far between. However, in the last three weeks, more and more people, including the community’s elected Chief, have expressed their appreciation.
Leading a community in virtual worship certainly has its challenges. I had to learn to use the technology quickly. It was also a challenge to determine what elements of Morning Prayer I could modify to make it more culturally appropriate, leading to the decision to include smudging and the prayer of the four directions. In the future, I will add music, including the drum, the rattle, and Native American Flute, to add more Indigenous content to the service.
Leading virtual worship for Frog Lake has been a blessing. It allows me to stay connected to a community that I have come to care about. More importantly, it allows our brothers and sisters in Frog Lake to stay connected to God’s word in a way that doesn’t reflect the spiritual arrogance of our colonial past. I pray that someday soon, we can be together again as a community sharing in God’s Word, fellowship, and the breaking of bread.
Fred Matthews is an Indigenous Anglican in the Edmonton diocese. He worships and is a Lay Reader at St. Thomas’, Sherwood Park and at St. Faith's, Edmonton. Fred continues to be an active member of the Messy Church Reconciliation Team and assisting with the ministry at Frog Lake First Nation.
Photos are of the old Frog Lake church building, the baptism service which took place in October 2019, and Fred Matthews' 'sacred space' at home.