Mary Fontaine's call to Ministry 2022

The Rev. Mary Fontaine

The Presbyterian Church in Canada announces that the nominee for Moderator of the 2023 General Assembly will be the Rev. Mary Fontaine, founding director of Hummingbird Ministries.

Mary Fontaine is Nehiyaw (Cree) from Mistawasis Nehiywak, Saskatchewan, where she grew up attending the Mistawasis Memorial Presbyterian Church with her family. Mary has a B.A. in Native Studies from the University of Alberta (1995) and an M.Div. from the Vancouver School of Theology (2003). She was on the Executive Committee of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (2010–2017). She convenes the National Indigenous Ministries Council of The Presbyterian Church in Canada and serves on the Special Committee re. Listening, Confession and Associations.

Mary’s mother trusted in Jesus Christ and was grateful for the culture and language he gave to her people. Her father made her aware of the suffering of Indigenous people and urged her to get an education to seek healing for them. The revelation of Indigenous history in Canada through her Native Studies degree was heartbreaking but the truth brought understanding and healing. Mary’s grandfather (a pipe carrier) modelled what it meant to be a humble follower of the Circle. He taught that the main purpose of life was to learn how to love. Her spiritual parents taught Mary spiritual discernment, and spiritual and emotional healing through prayer and the Word of God. She learned to facilitate healing circles through an integrated program developed by a team of Cree elders and psychologists.

Mary is the founding director of Hummingbird Ministries (2005), an Indigenous-led healing and reconciliation ministry. Through healing circles and the performing arts, Hummingbird Ministries educates the public and raises the profile of Indigenous people, especially Indigenous children. Mary writes plays and narrated stories which are expressed through dance performances by the children. Hummingbird Ministries’ annual events provide opportunities for reconciliation by bringing many cultures, faiths and classes of people together with Indigenous people. Mary preaches at local churches and special occasions, such as the 2019 General Assembly.

In spite of legislation which tried to extinguish Indigenous ways, Mary was given an honour song and her Indigenous name, Hummingbird. The Holy Spirit found a way to give her a drum song of thanksgiving, for the gifts of prayer, song and dance and the gifts of the hummingbird. The song and the name changed Mary’s life, leading her to the Vancouver School of Theology’s Native Ministries program, and eventually to founding Hummingbird Ministries.

Mary discerns the Spirit at work in Indigenous wisdom and spirituality and sees how this can enhance the church she loves, in various ways, including relationship-building and care of the earth. She hopes in the Indigenous vision (similar to that of Revelation), that one day, the nations will gather beneath the tree of peace and learn to love and live in harmony with one another.

The 2023 General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada will be held in-person at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, from Sunday, June 4, to Wednesday, June 7.

What two or three verses of scripture do you return to and find especially formative and sustaining?
Jeremiah 31:31–34,
Psalm 23,
Philippians 4:6–7
Luke 10:27,
Matthew 7:16

What is your image and vision of the church at its best?
The Church is welcoming and open to new people regardless of race, background or identity. Together we worship and honour God in ways that are meaningful to each of us. We worship everywhere in what we do, how we live and treat one another, not only in Sunday worship. We’ve learned to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our minds, our souls and our neighbour as ourselves, by caring for and helping one another. The church is buzzing with life everywhere, not only the Church, but it has also grown outside of its buildings. And it includes children and youth. Relationships are healthy and open between generations. Grandchildren are close with grandparents.

What would you say is the core calling of the church in Canada today?
The core calling of the Church is to set the example of emotional and spiritual maturity by demonstrating that WE are not all about material wealth but the spiritual abundance demonstrated by how closely we follow the path created by the One who died that we may live. To love justice by heeding the cries of the world and to be a friend, not judging or blaming but loving and caring for, even those who are different.

What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?
The Church needs to find ways of connecting with the people in its immediate vicinity and work ecumenically and with other faith groups where possible. When I was a student minister at the Mistawasis Presbyterian Church, one of my sisters said, “Now don’t stick by yourself at the church, be part of our community. Come to the school, come to community events, be with us.” I followed that advice by fundraising with the children and youth so they could attend summer camps and social outings during the winter. Fundraising barbeques outside the band office reached the staff who worked at the Band administration office. People got their bottles ready for our bottle drives. The women gathered at the church to make crafts to auction off at the school’s Christmas pageant. We had special winter events like sledding on Sunday afternoons, with an open fire roasting hot dogs, and sipping hot chocolate around the fire. This connection to the community motivated people to volunteer when we needed help for Church programs and we reached youth through our summer and winter outings and many children attended Vacation Bible School.

The Church in the cities needs to find new ways of walking and talking our faith in Jesus Christ by connecting with the people in our neighbourhoods. An outreach community group could be organized to visit and invite people to special events at the church. And result in a sense of warmth and community towards the church.

Often people need a safe place to go to be and to meet new friends. The Church’s work in overcoming the saga of the residential school system may lead to the creation of a new image of the Church, and unanticipated benefits and growth.

One way to reimagine the church is to think of it as part of a larger circle of life. One that is inclusive yet with a unique and valued identity. One that helps to set a standard of listening and respecting the gifts that God has distributed among the nations of the world. The Circle represents Indigenous theological concepts like harmonious respectful relationships, strong community, multiple connections and equal value among the nations and lifeforms of God’s creation.

The PCC could draw on the wisdom of Indigenous elders available through its eight Indigenous ministries for a deeper understanding of Indigenous theology gained through seeing God’s wisdom reflected in his creation. There are also some valuable books written by non-Indigenous people who have lived and walked with Indigenous people in various ways. The concept of everything we do is a prayer was demonstrated in a course at VST, about prayer, delivered by West Coast Salish elders who demonstrated how they built their canoes with prayer. A Salish woman did a weaving workshop for Hummingbird and described how weaving was a prayer.
Individual Presbyterians could learn and set an example for other Presbyterians by attending public Indigenous events and programs.

What concern of the church’s internal life and ministry should be a greater part of the PCC’s focus?
The PCC needs to finds ways to connect with the younger generations for the future life of the Church. And to reach other cultures, we need to change the language of church somehow.

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation within congregations. What does pursuing spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?

I think the Church and theological schools should do more work on the theology of the Holy Spirit. To practice discerning the guidance of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and in the Church through the Prayer Elders (male and female) and the minister. And to also listen to what the Spirit is saying through the men, the women, the children and youth. Where is the balance between the mind and the heart? The mind, body, soul and spirit are all important parts of the human being but in the Church, our custom is to rely on what is written in Scriptures. Sometimes we need wisdom, kindness, compassion and humour more that the “blue book” [i.e. The Book of Forms] in given situations, especially since the greatest commandment is to love others as ourselves. The Church could benefit by regular prayer Circles (groups). And the use of song, dance and drama are powerful ways of reaching hearts across differences. These gifts allow for joyful as well as solemn worship.

Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the church?
That the PCC has taken many good steps towards healing and reconciliation with Indigenous people. It has repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, responded to the final report of the MMIWG, confessed to its part in the residential school system and supports eight Indigenous ministries in its denomination. This is hopeful because it demonstrates love and acceptance of Indigenous people and our languages and cultures. It demonstrates the church’s openness to be guided by the Spirit as well as to traditional interpretations of Scripture. It is a hopeful sign that the Church is engaging in conversations about Climate Change because it shows that the Church is thinking about good stewardship of the earth. The Church continues to be a source of hope for eternal life through the sacrificial love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is your prayer for the church?
My prayer is that our church will grow in Spirit, in numbers and especially in love. That our Church will thrive in the midst of society as a place of healing and reconciliation, not only with Indigenous people but with God our Creator, with one another as human beings and with the Earth our Mother and her many gifts. I pray that as an entity of the human race, the Church nearing that time and place when we can gather beneath that great tree of peace, where we bury our weapons against each other, having finally learned how to love and live peacefully with one another.