When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission opens next Wednesday, church folk will play to their strengths by offering hospitality, rides and even bagged lunches to residential school survivors.
But most of all, they'll be there to listen.
"For Christians, we like to talk about forgiveness, but now we feel helplessness, because we cannot even speak of forgiveness, we can only wait," says Thomas Novak, hired by Roman Catholic dioceses in Manitoba to run workshops for parishes in preparation for the commission.
"We wait, and we speak our words of sorrow, and we listen."
Leaders of the four denominations that ran native residential schools -- Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and United Church -- will be on-site throughout the four days of the first national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which opens at The Forks on Wednesday, June 16.
Representatives from the four churches will also be present at the listening tent to hear experiences from survivors and to offer personal apologies if requested, says Novak.
Over the last two decades, these four denominations have offered formal apologies to aboriginals for their churches' involvements in the residential schools.
People from these four denominations are also organizing events at the interfaith tent, providing pastoral-care workers for the listening tent, displaying photos and records of residential schools at the learning tent and offering billets or rides, explains Joan Jarvis of the United Church of Canada.
"One of our tasks is to be hosts, a welcoming presence in the interfaith tent," says Jarvis, who is co-ordinating United Church volunteers. "To welcome people and make them aware of the programming in the tent."
She says the four historic churches are also providing a bagged lunch at an outdoor reception for survivors following Wednesday's opening ceremonies.
But in the midst of all this practical help, the real role of people from the four churches -- as well as people of faith from other traditions -- is to be present at the event, says Rev. Murray Still, an Anglican priest on the interfaith planning committee.
"Every Sunday, I mention the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (event) and encourage people to go," says Still, priest at St. James Anglican Church.
"What we really want our Anglican people to do is show up and show their support to the survivors."
Still says the four denominations have also worked together to develop resources and prayers for use in worship services on Sunday.
And showing support may be as simple as taking in an evening concert or drama, or spending time in the learning tent to learn more about how and why residential schools came to be and the damage they caused, suggests Novak.
"To me, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a stimulus for a lot of public reflection and dialogue," says Novak, a brother with the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Catholic order that ran some of the residential schools.
"It gives Christians a chance to reflect on who we are as a country and how we can be a better country. It starts with the mistakes we've made, learning from those mistakes and asking those who were hurt how can we do things better."
For Jarvis, the upcoming event at The Forks is a public expression of how her denomination is attempting to acknowledge the pain of the past and to build new and equal relationships with aboriginals.
"What we can do as a church is to be present to hear stories, to challenge racism and attitudes of cultural and spiritual authority that led to this in the first place," says Jarvis.
"I think the wisdom of native spirituality has much to offer to the church."
In addition to the opportunities to listen to stories from survivors, the TRC event also is a place to celebrate aboriginal culture, suggests Rev. Peter Bush, the Presbyterian representative on the interfaith planning committee.
"The TRC is not just going to be about hearing bad, sad stories. There's also going to be great concerts and dramas and music and comedy," he says.
"I think our presence matters and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Tent of many faiths
Representatives of many faith traditions are part of the programming at the interfaith tent.
Here are some highlights:
10:45 a.m. Thursday, June 17: Native Traditional Spiritualities in Conversation With Christianity
7 p.m. Paths to reconciliation
12:45 p.m. Friday, June 18: We Are All Treaty People
10:45 am. Saturday, June 19: Signs of Reconciliation and Reflecting on Our Experiences
The public is invited to attend sacred aboriginal ceremonies at Oodena Circle at The Forks.
5:20-6 a.m. Wednesday, June 16: Lighting of Sacred Fire Ceremony
9 -10 a.m. daily: Pipe ceremony and Four Directions Drum Calling
2-2:30 p.m. daily: Releasing Tears prayer
7-9 p.m. daily: Sweat Lodge Ceremonies, Whittier and Birds Hill parks
For a complete schedule of events, go to www.trc.ca