Steven Seegerts, leader of Urban Aboriginal Ministry within the Anglican Church, shares his story of immediately responding to the latest forced removal of tents and displacement of unhoused people along Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, a neighbourhood where some of our staff call home.
What does it look like to be a person of peace in the midst of a police confrontation?
Steven is a follower of Jesus who incorporates traditional ways of being with his faith. These include leading a drum circle for Indigenous and Settler participants and teaching on smudging while offering prayers to Jesus.
Much like the Old Testament commandment to burn incense to symbolize the people’s prayers rising to God, Steven burns the four sacred medicines - Sage, Tobacco, Cedar, and Sweetgrass - as a physical expression of prayer and peacemaking in the Kingdom of God.
We are honoured to have Steven share with us his expressions of peacemaking and reconciliation with us:
On the morning of April 5, 2023, in the middle of Holy Week, I switched on the television news as I was enjoying my morning coffee. What came up were scenes of distress and chaos in the downtown core on Hastings Street.
The forced decampment of the unhoused tenters was underway, mandated by City orders. Police, protesters, city workers, and those being displaced were clashing as tents and belongings were shovelled into trash compactors.
I thought aloud - "I need to get down there with my Smudge pan and pray with them".
(Editor’s note: Indigenous people disproportionately represent those being among the unhoused community displaced by violence in the Downtown Eastside.)
I gathered the four sacred medicines in my medicine bag, Sage, Tobacco, Cedar, and Sweetgrass, put on my Ribbon Shirt, Beaded Cross, took my Eagle Feather and headed out.
When I arrived, I lit my smudge pan with prayers of peace and comfort for the people who are struggling. I walked slowly throughout the Hastings and Main area with my Eagle Feather fanning the sweet smell of smudge. Many people came to me and asked to be cleansed and prayed with.
Many thanked me and said, "This is exactly what we need down here at this time, thank you!".
I was glad to offer a reminder that Creator is present with and for them in the midst of chaos, displacement and injustice.
I walked throughout the neighbourhood for a couple of hours, refilling my smudge pan as needed. As my medicines were almost exhausted, I walked towards Hastings and Gore to my vehicle, planning to leave. I arrived on Gore Street to a line of 23 police officers standing shoulder to shoulder blocking Hastings with many emergency vehicles behind them.
I thought “They need prayer and smudging too.” So I added the last of my medicines to the smudge pan and began smudging.
One by one, I feathered the smoke towards the police officers as I looked each one in the eye and said, "Creator Loves You".
Some looked away, some gave me mean looks, and a few thanked me.
After I had smudged each officer, I knelt on one knee in the middle of the line and placed 23 cigarettes on the ground to offer more prayers for each officer. I closed my eyes and prayed, I asked Creator to enter their hearts and prayed for peace and reconciliation. I prayed with my eyes closed and my Eagle Feather held up before them for about 5 minutes.
During this time I heard three comments from the Vancouver Police:
"Who the F*&% does this guy think he is!"
"Oh look at this, we got a sober one here!"
and "What the hell, is this bull$*&t!"
I prayed harder. I forgave, I persevered. As I stood up, leaving the pile of tobacco before them, looked at them all and said to them, "You are all my relations".
We are so grateful for incredible Indigenous leaders like Steven who have been so profoundly healed by Jesus’ love that they are able to model peace and love to those who persecute them.
The Downtown Eastside - and other marginalized urban communities in Canada - needs more peacemakers like Steven.
What imagination does this story spark for you? What spiritual practices offered in the name of Jesus are new to you that you could learn more about? How might you be a peacemaker in the Jesus Way in your community?
If you or your church community is curious to learn from wisdom from Christian Indigenous leaders into your faith expressions, we have workshops and teachings developed with Indigenous leaders available.
Check out the Learning and Collaboration Portfolio on our Training page or reach out to our Learning and Collaboration Director, Krista-Dawn (email@example.com) to get a conversation going!