Calgary church preserves red paint splashed on doors to start conversations about truth and reconciliation

After its doors were splashed with red paint, a southwest Calgary congregation committed itself to action on the Sunday ahead of Truth and Reconciliation Week in Canada.

Grace Presbyterian Church, at 1009 15th Ave. S.W., was among at least 10 others in Calgary that were splattered with paint on Canada Day, following a national reckoning over the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at residential schools.

But instead of wiping it away, Rev. Jake Van Pernis decided to keep it in an effort to encourage conversation with the community about the history of residential schools and the involvement of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

It hosted its first community event dedicated to reconciliation on Sunday, when worshippers smudged, lamented and prayed together with Indigenous neighbours.

“When we had the red paint splattered on our doors, we recognized that we didn’t have really great relationships with Indigenous people,” Van Pernis said.

“We had to start to form them and recognize that we were going to make some mistakes … but be brave enough to risk making those mistakes, and asking for forgiveness, to kind of continue moving forward.”

‘It starts in our hearts first’

Red paint remains on the front of Grace Presbyterian Church months after was splashed across the face of the building. It was done in the wake of unprecedented attention about the unmarked graves of children at residential institutions across Canada, many of them operated by church organizations. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Speakers at the event included Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi; Tony Snow, the Indigenous lead at Hillhurst United Church and the Indigenous minister for the Chinook Winds Region of the United Church of Canada; and Elder Shirley Shingoose Dufour, a social worker and residential school survivor.

“I believe in reconciliation, but I believe it starts in our hearts first, for us to be able to move forward,” Dufour said during an emotional testimony about healing.

Nenshi told media at the event that for progress to be made on reconciliation, it has to be a collective effort.

“We have an idea of what the destination is: a life of dignity and prosperity for everybody,” Nenshi said.

“I don’t know all the steps that need to be taken to get there, but I hope all of us will be open-minded and open-hearted enough to be able to take that journey together … because, well, a lot of people’s hearts are broken now.”

On Sept. 30, Canada will hold its first Truth and Reconciliation Day, continuing the conversation brought forward by the Every Child Matters movement. 

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