Recent fires at churches cause concern for Walpole Island rector

·2 min read
Rev. Mark Loyal is the rector at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church on Walpole Island. He also serves as the minister at Walpole Island United Church. (Submitted by Mark Loyal - image credit)
Rev. Mark Loyal is the rector at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church on Walpole Island. He also serves as the minister at Walpole Island United Church. (Submitted by Mark Loyal - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

An Indigenous priest serving on Walpole Island First Nation says he's concerned about the possibility of arson in the wake of fires at some churches in Canada.

Rev. Mark Loyal, the rector at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church and a minister at the Walpole Island United Church, said he has a "medium to high" level of concern.

Loyal joined CBC Radio's Windsor Morning on Friday, following a series of incidents at Catholic and Anglican churches across the country, including one in Ontario at St. John's Tuscaroras on Six Nations of the Grand River territory near Brantford.

Loyal, who is a member of the Six Nations band and knows the church well, said the incident brought "great sadness."

"Here on the island ... I haven't heard direct threats, whereas I believe the rector on Six Nations had threats that their church might be burned down," said Loyal.

But Loyal said he believes there will be more unmarked graves found in Canada, and that could spark threats. The church building on Walpole Island dates back to 1875, he said.

"The concern is, it's such an old church that it wouldn't take much to go up," he said.

Loyal has seen the intergenerational effects of the residential school system in his own life. His grandmother went to residential school for several years.

"She never spoke of her experience but I do believe she actually was abusive physically to my mother, and I think that stemmed out of her experience in residential school and her other brokenness as a human being," he said, describing his own mother as emotionally distant.

Several churches including the Anglican church have apologized for operating residential schools, which in Canada until the late 1990s. The Catholic Church, which operated the majority of the schools, has yet to offer a formal apology, though Indigenous leaders are set to meet Pope Francis later this year.

Loyal said the recent discoveries of remains at residential schools have sparked anger and frustration in his community, but it also wasn't a surprise.

"This is just ... the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.

Asked about how his congregation deals with being Christian despite the harm churches have done to Indigenous people, Loyal said it comes down to faith.

"The people I serve in the church are those who can differentiate between their relationship with The Creator and their relationship with the institution," he said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by these reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for residential school survivors and others affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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