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Edmonton church experiences blanket exercise

Donita Wiebe-Neufeld
By Donita Wiebe-Neufeld, Alberta Correspondent
Jun 28, 2017 | Volume 21 Issue 14

At the beginning of the blanket exercise, the floor is covered and people walk freely over the “land.” (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

On Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017, a spirit of truth and reconciliation filled the fellowship hall and sanctuary of Edmonton's First Mennonite Church. Instead of the regular Sunday School time, adults and youth gathered for a “blanket exercise.” Developed by KAIROS (an ecumenical movement for ecological justice and human rights) in response to the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the exercise is a participatory journey through 500 years of history, paying attention to the stories of Canada’s aboriginal peoples.

Blankets, brought by participants, cover all available floor space. At the beginning of the exercise, all participants walk freely on them.

As a leader tells stories of disease, settlement, reserves, and residential schools, the blankets are gradually folded up to represent loss of land, freedom, and rights. Many participants are asked to leave the blanket area altogether and watch from the sidelines. At the end, some blankets are partially unfolded to represent the resiliency of aboriginal people and the hopeful work of healing relationships and moving into reconciliation.

The worship service immediately after the exercise focused on peace and healing. A panel of four participants shared their observations and feelings as a way to allow the congregation to consider the stories they had heard.

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