Grayling: “Love is patient and kind…but only to a point.”

Planes get canceled for many reasons in the Alaskan Bush: below minimum visibility at the point of departure; poor visibility at the point of arrival; equipment failure; personnel failure; perhaps even a shortage of duct-tape.  There are any number of reasons for a flight to be canceled, and so people in the villages learn to be flexible…or adaptable.

Since I had slept with the light on all night (see previous Blog), I awoke with no sense of the current weather in Anvik.  It was light inside, but I had to get to a window to see what was doing outside.  To my comfort, the day had dawned clear and calm.  I could tell by the sheen on the puddles that it was also cold.  But the sun was rising and it looked promising for a warming trend.

A perfect day to fly!

I was on my way to Grayling, today.  A young couple was planning to be united in Holy Matrimony in the evening–my first marriage ceremony as a bishop.  Also, there were a couple of babies to baptize the next day, Sunday, at St. Paul’s.  I was looking forward to the experience and the arrival of my plane at 10:30.

At 11:30 I received a call from the Hageland Air representative in the village.  “Fog in Aniak.  The plane will be here at 3:30 to take you to Grayling.”

“Fine,” I thought.  The wedding ceremony was scheduled for 7 o’clock and the flight to Grayling, I knew from experience, was only 15 minutes.  A 3:30 departure would leave plenty of time to get settled and prepared for the nuptial celebration.

I used the time to tour the Anvik Historical Society Museum.  An extraordinary place, every surface and wall area was covered with some fascinating piece of indigenous artwork or artifacts.  There were baskets so finely and tightly woven that it seemed beyond comprehension that the work was done by hand.  Every manner of leather clothing and fur, including a parky made of ground squirrel fur.  A ground squirrel is not a large animal, yet this parky would have fit an average man.  The number of pelts, and the mastery of sewing to assemble the coat was stunning.

A poster-sized color photograph caught my eye.  The picture was of an elderly woman working with an Ulu, a traditional knife used by many indigenous Alaskans to cut fish for drying and smoking.  The photograph was afire with the deep reds of King Salmon flesh hanging on drying-racks.  The woman was surrounded by cut fish—enormous pieces of fish that I ignorantly and humbly predict were once 25 to 30 pound fish.  She held a large fish in one hand, her Ulu in the other.  Her hands looked stronger than any I have ever seen.  Her face, however, was as tender as any grandmother’s and there was a wonderful and distinct joy in her eyes.

It was an inspiring picture: a tale of abundance, hard work and dedication, preparing for predicted periods of scarcity.  The stories this woman’s hands could tell: thanksgiving and effort overcoming want and hunger.

I thought of all the lives nourished by the work of her hands and the gift of God’s.

3:30, no plane.  “Maybe by 4:30.”

Something in the Hageland Air representative’s voice made me think 4:30 was just as unlikely to see the arrival of the plane for Grayling.

At 5 o’clock my new friend Tammy called to tell me that a worried bride was dispatching her brother and his friend to come and get me by boat.  “Did you bring any warm clothes?” Tammy asked.  “It can get a little cold on the water.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine.”  I was so excited at the prospect of a Yukon River boat ride that I would have been warm in shorts and a tee-shirt.

It was getting close to 5:45 when the boat, a large (18-20ft) flat bottom Jon-Boat was ready to take me up-river to Grayling.  The boat had a ‘custom-made’ cabin at the stern-I remain impressed with the creative uses of 2x4s, plywood, and plexiglass. It was plenty warm out of the wind, but it was loud. This would not be a serene river cruise.  Nevertheless, I was completely taken-in by the experience of running up the Yukon in an open boat.  The water was flat on the surface, but I could see the power of the churning flow of the current.  The trip took about 30 minutes, when my captain brought the boat to shore at Grayling.

I was met by an ATV driven by my captain’s wife and she that took me to the Tribal Office, which is housed in the old Episcopal Mission house.  I had about a half-hour to prepare for the wedding ceremony.

Fortunately, someone had already started a fire in St. Paul’s wood stove.

St. Paul’s, Grayling, like many other village churches is a simple stick structure.  Unfortunately, this building, too, is in need of some attention.  The wooden steps into the building are broken, the doors are not secure, and the floor seems to slope in every possible direction.  Although it is wired for electric lights, there is no electrical service to the building.  I found this fact of great concern as darkness was approaching.  I did not relish the idea of reading by candle light or the additional risk of fire.

Fortunately, a portable generator provided by the bride’s brother was somehow rigged to the electrical main and, thus, the lights were on and the growing darkness of the night was cast out.  This wedding ceremony was happening for the most part thanks to the efforts of the bride’s brother.  I half expected him to also be the Best Man.

The bride and groom arrived and, after some introductions, planning on the fly, and a review of the necessary documents, the ceremony began.  It was sweet.   Both the bride and groom were visibly moved at the exchange of vows, and the atmosphere was warm, familial and, loving.  By the end of evening, I had no fewer than two other couples wondering if I would consider celebrating their wedding in the coming year.

Following the ceremony, there was a reception at the bride’s house.  While the guests watched, the couple did all the ‘traditional’ things a wedding reception is supposed to include.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, the traditions followed were from Western culture.

The couple cut a beautifully decorated cake, fed each other a piece with a modest amount of icing smearing on the face. The father of the bride offered a toast and then followed the first dance.  Gifts were offered, we ate a potluck dinner, and joined in an after-dinner ‘dollar-dance.’

My favorite moment happened as the music from the dollar dance ended:  the bride thanked everyone for coming and bid us good-night by saying: “okay, it’s time to go.”

It was time to go.  It had been a long day.  Love is only so patient.

Posted in Journal entry | Leave a comment

Anvik: Chasing Birds and Ghosts

There are three villages in the Lower Yukon that support Episcopal congregations: Anvik, Grayling, and Shageluk.  It is a matter of coincidence that an alphabetized listing of the three follows the logical flight path of air service to these villages.  Leaving from Aniak, the ‘typical’ flight plan would follow a tear-drop route: first to Holy Cross (to quote Anna Frank, my Archdeacon for Native Ministries: “That’s a Roman Catholic village: you better stay on the plane!”), next to Anvik, Grayling, and Shageluk.   Leaving Shageluk, it made sense that the next stop on my visitation schedule would be Grayling—the reverse order.

No plan, including the Bishop’s, is typical in Alaska, nor does it even have to make sense.

While the plane would stop in Grayling, it was only to discharge five boxes of chickens (see my Shageluk journal).  I was going on to Anvik…but not without a brief delay.

As it turns out, an unsealed cardboard box is a poor container for the transport of live chickens, especially chickens that have just experienced the joy of flying at 1500 feet.  Perhaps hoping to claim a seat back in the plane, a cockerel escaped his cardboard prison and began to run around the airplane and the parked cars at the Grayling airport.  While a chicken’s flying abilities can be questioned, there is no doubt that they can run and elude capture.  And this bird had to be captured before any other bird, including our Cessna Stationaire, was going to fly.

Let the fun begin! All hands, and legs, became involved in the chase.

Finally, a human-wall surrounding a Ford Pick-up truck was sufficient to capture the would-be stow-away, and he was unceremoniously returned to the flock.  I must admit that watching people chase a chicken is rather entertaining.  It seems most of those at the Grayling airport that day would agree with me on this point.

With all the chickens home to roost, we were finally on our way to Anvik.  Little did I know, this would not be the last bird to cross my path and delay plans this day.

Grayling to Anvik is a short flight, and fifteen minutes after take-off we were landing at Anvik.  I was greeted at the airport by Tammy, who was accompanied by her son and nephew, both10 years old.  They were a delightful, if not energetic, welcoming party.  Somehow we all packed into the cab of Tammy’s pick-up and started off on a tour of Anvik.

The first stop was the school.  Like most, it was well equipped, although the Anvik school is in the process of some impressive building projects.  New housing for teachers is being constructed and a new playground is in the process of being erected.  Unlike many of the other schools I’ve visited in the interior, Anvik has a native teacher who is a life-long member of the community.  Moreover, she is one of the nicest, energetic, and dedicated people you could find.  I could tell immediately that she cared deeply for the children in Anvik and for the village.

But a pot-luck dinner to celebrate my visit was scheduled to start soon, and Tammy needed to get to the Community Hall and set-up.  We were going to be late, and I hadn’t even seen the church or where I was staying.  We had to get a move-on.

Fortunately, Anvik is about 10 square miles in area and home to about 40 households. A tour was not going to take a long time. After seeing Christ Church, the Old Mission House, the village building, and the Historical Society Museum (yes, Historical Society Museum–it is delightful and very informative), we were doing pretty well with time….until we started down the road towards the dump.

“Mom!  That’s a grouse!”

Sure enough, a grouse was sitting in the road not 30 yards ahead.  I had never seen a grouse in the wild before this moment.  For some reason I believed that this fact was due to a grouse’s keen senses and the instinct to get away when danger approaches.  Evidently this grouse lacked one the other or both.

“Mom, can I shoot it?  Please.  Please.”  A boy of 10 years sounds just the same asking for a new video game as he does asking to hunt a grouse.

“Okay, dear, but we only have time for one shot.  One shot, that’s it!”

Two shots from a 410 shotgun later, and two beaming boys were walking back to the truck proudly holding that grouse by the legs.

“Well now we’re really going to be late,” said mom.  “I told you only one shot!”

Frankly, I was feeling very proud for those boys, and thought it was worth it if the dinner needed to be delayed a bit.

“I expect to see that grouse at the pot-luck dinner tonight,” I added, thinking how unlikely it would be that those two boys would be able to clean and prepare that bird in-time for our dinner.  I’ll never see that bird again, I thought.

I was wrong.  Grouse is delicious.

After dinner I celebrated Holy Communion in Christ Church. The building is beautiful.  Located right on the bank of the Anvik River—which flows into the Yukon which is less than a quarter of a mile downstream, in fact, you can  see the Yukon River from the bank, Christ Church has the honor of being the first Episcopal Church in Alaska.  Although the history of the Anglican Church’s presence in Alaska can be traced to Fort Yukon, those who were “first” in Fort Yukon were from the Church of England.

Besides that, for a long time, they thought they were in Canada.

In 1887, two men, the Rev. Octavius Parker from Oregon and the Rev. John Chapman

Christ Church, Anvik

from New York City, established Christ Church Mission in Anvik.   Today, both the church building and the mission house remain.   The Mission House, which once provided refuge for orphans and the sick, is showing its age.  It was sold to a private owner many years ago, and, so I’m told, has been used even recently to house mushers during the Iditarod.

Anvik (Shageluk, and Grayling, too) are on the Southern Iditarod Trail which is run on odd years.  2011 will be a big year for these villages.  Perhaps for the old Mission House, too.

Christ Church, on the other hand, has been lovingly tended and is in wonderful shape.  Communion worship was a delight.  My young grouse hunter was seated in the first pew along with his cousin and three other young men.  Their energy filled the church, as did our a cappella offerings of Holy, Holy, Holy and Amazing Grace (congregational choices).  No baptisms or Confirmations this visit.  But I left with promises that some of the front pew would be ready for Confirmation in a couple of years.

I’ll hold them to that promise.

It had been a long day, and I was ready for bed.  Tammy took me back to the Village Office and showed me my room.  I had the entire upstairs to myself and my bed was a set of mattresses stacked together.  I thought to myself there would be no “Princess and the Pea” tale tonight.  I was ready to sleep through just about anything.

“There will be a few people downstairs tonight playing cards,” Tammy told me in her matter of fact way.  “So if you hear voices or sounds downstairs, that’s what it is.  I say that because this is the building where we used to have all our Memorial Potlatches and many people say that they often hear things here…and sometimes see spirits…you know, the ancestors.

But if you hear anything tonight, it will probably just be those people.  And you don’t worry about that other of stuff, anyway, do you?  Bishops aren’t superstitious, right?”

“Right,” I said with all the Episcopal authority I could muster.

I slept that night with the light on.

Posted in Journal entry | Leave a comment

Shageluk: The Church is always growing, and chickens really can fly.

1,500 feet above the surface is a delightful altitude for flying over the wilderness.  One really gets an appreciation for the diversity of the land, its flora and fauna.  Flying low, however, is also the best way to find a little village, especially the little village of Shageluk.

Shageluk is the home of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.  Unfortunately, the church

St. Luke's, Shageluk

building, a log-cabin with a tin-roof and bell-tower constructed of 4x4s, is showing significant signs of deterioration.  The sides are bowing out, the roof is sinking in, and the floor feels dangerously spongy.   Although I was comforted to find a circle of small chairs set-up in the middle of the church, evidence that, perhaps, a group of children engaged in a Sunday School classes had used the church last, it is clear that the community is too concerned for safety to use the building for regular worship.

Inspection of the parish register revealed that it had been a long time since a Prayerbook service of any kind had been conducted in St. Luke’s.

This is not to say worship isn’t happening in Shageluk.  While it would be an important boost to this community’s spiritual life to have the necessary work completed on the church building, it is clear that there remains an abiding faith within the community that keeps the body of Christ alive, even though the building is in disrepair.  Nevertheless, the faithful seemed glad for a visit and the spiritual boost that comes from a physical reminder that the rest of the Church cares about them, is connected to them, and shares their witness to the hope of Christ.

There is a reason we pray for the Church throughout the world.  We are one body—catholic.  Without the discipline of praying for our brothers and sisters throughout the world, it would be is easy to forget that our common life includes churches as small and remote as Shageluk, AK.  Yet, without St. Luke’s, Shageluk, we are not a whole church.

And the Church gives thanks for the community of St. Luke’s; for from them three new members of the Christ’s body were baptized and welcomed into our sacred fellowship.

Holy Communion and the Baptisms were held in the upstairs hall of the Tribal Office building.  St. Luke’s Church provided the vessels, and a folding table served as the altar.  But the greatest gifts were presented in the form of three healthy babies, Arabelle, JosieAnn, and Hunter, the newest members of the Body of Christ and the parish of St. Luke’s, Shageluk.

I was treated with wonderful hospitality.  A delicious pot-luck dinner with wild goose and irresistible chocolate chip cookies was a delight to my palate, and a spacious room with a choice of beds   was offered for my rest.  I give thanks to God for the spirit of welcome that Shageluk extended to this visitor.

My flight to Anvik the next day was delayed.  This provided the opportunity to spend the morning with the school children at the village school: The Innoko River School—home of the Wolverines!

Invited for breakfast, I sat in the gymnasium—which also serves as the cafeteria, at table with 8 elementary aged children.  We enjoyed pancakes, grapes, and sausage while I entertained them by ‘magically’ pulling my thumb apart.  Of course it wasn’t long before everyone was onto my trick and the entire table was engaged in the act of popping off the tips of every possible digit only to magically reattach the same with increasing flourishes of magic style.

I felt delightfully silly and extremely blessed.

Typical of most villages, the public school in Shageluk is well equipped with the newest technology and resources.  By necessity, classrooms are multi-age, but the student population is almost entirely in the Elementary age range.   Most High School aged students travel to another village where a critical mass of students can be assembled.  Nevertheless, on this day, a young lady of Secondary or High School age was engaged in a Public Speaking class by video-conference.  She was participating from the Shageluk School Library and was joined by students in Holy Cross, Russian Mission, and Bethel.

Maybe this technology holds possibilities for the church in these villages, too.

When the time to meet my plane arrived, I had spent the entire morning at the school.  In addition to breakfast, I was invited to join the students for lunch—hamburgers and french fries.  Following lunch we played basketball, and I watched while the more adventurous children dragged each other around on floor scooters in a mock dog-sled race.  They all seemed just as happy to be the ‘dog-team’ pulling as the ‘musher’ riding.  It was reckless, and fun, and I thought the activity would never fly in the lower 48.

Before I could leave for the plane, the Principal and teacher of the school asked if I would take several boxes of chicken with me to the airport for transport to Grayling.  To my amusement, the boxes contained chicken, sure enough, but live chickens.  Yes, that’s right, live chickens….5 boxes full…16 chickens to be precise.  Evidently, the school in Grayling has room for chickens, where the school in Shageluk has not.

Curious thing, sharing a small plane with 16 live chickens while flying over the Alaskan bush: over the drone of the engine and the sound of wind rushing around the duct-tape sealed windows, the clucking and crowing of poultry seemed almost normal.  And from the din of the cargo area, one would surmise that it was a very happy little flock.  And why not, it seems only fitting that the dream of every domestic bird would be to slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies.

Who ever said chickens don’t fly?*

*Yes, I am aware that chickens are ‘Flight Capable’ in their natural, or unclipped, state.  And while it may be that no one ever did say that chickens don’t fly, I do remember an episode of the 70s television show “WKRP in Cincinnati” that proved turkeys don’t fly, especially when dropped from a helicopter.  But just to be safe, we kept the chickens in the plane.

Posted in Journal entry | 1 Comment

Lower Yukon: The Romance of Bush-flying….?

My first flying lesson was in a Cessna 150.  This particular aircraft, N844OU, rolled out the doors of the the Cessna Factory in Witchita, Kansas only 8 years after my parents carried me out the doors of the maternity ward at the USAF Base Hospital in Puerto Rico.  Without disclosing too much personal information, the later event happened just about two years following the “Ton-Kin Resolution.”  The former was in 1975.

The fact that I was about to entrust life and limb to a machine nearly my age was of little concern to me.  One reason being that I was far too excited about the adventure of learning to fly to be concerned about much of anything.  Another reason was the confidence of my instructor, who not only had to function with the thought of flying an airplane that had seen over a score of years, but also allowing a complete novice to take the controls.

I believe there is a definition of true faith somewhere in that equation.

Since that first lesson, and many many hours of safe and joyful flying in aircraft of similar vintage, I’ve come to respect a truth that we all hope applies to aircraft and humans both: if properly maintained and treated with care, age is not a limitation to ability.  Moreover, while years (and the abuse of novice pilots learning to land) may take its toll on appearances, ultimately it is what is under the skin (or cowling) that counts.

Isn’t this what we learned in Kindergarten?  Don’t judge a book by its cover…or an airplane by its paint.  Beauty is only skin deep.

Nevertheless, when I walked out to the aircraft that would take me from Aniak to Shageluk on my first visits in the Lower Yukon, I found my commitment to looking beyond appearances more than a bit challenged.  Once strapped in my seat, and surveying the interior of this aircraft, I found it to be in full crisis!  My goodness, was that duct-tape around the windows?

Evidently, duct-tape is sufficient to seal out even 120 knot winds.  A good thing on a cold Alaska morning.

Once airborne, however, it didn’t take long before I was perfectly comfortable.  And as we leveled off at a  mere 2,000 feet msl, I began to really appreciate and marvel at the capabilities of this well-used Cessna 207 Stationaire.

Despite the fact that it was beaten-up and the instrument panel had more gaps and empty spaces than a hockey player’s smile, the plane was very well equipped.  Front and center was a Garmin 530 GPS navigation system, a system probably worth more than the aircraft alone.  At the tip of the pilot’s fingers were full color terrain awareness, a moving map display, every navigational whistle and bell, and even on-board traffic alert and read-out.  Nice.  The fact that this glorious piece of avionics technology was installed in an otherwise well-used aircraft seemed the essence of irony.

In the end, however, flying in Alaska is much more enjoyable looking out the window than at a cockpit display.  The scenery below was breath-taking, and from only 2,000 feet, I found myself once again enthralled by the natural wonder of this land’s rivers. wetlands, mountains, and wildlife.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of time to enjoy passing scenery.  The flights around the villages of the Lower Yukon or all rather brief affairs–15 to 20 minutes and you are preparing to land.  And landing at the villages is a rather simple matter, too, despite the perceptions of wild bush-pilot adventures.  Even though small and remote by ‘outside’ standards, every village we visited had an improved landing strip–rolled gravel with pilot controlled lighting, and even AWOS (automated weather observation systems–these transmit the local weather conditions to the aircraft radio).  There are more “airports” in Western NY that I’ve visited that are less well equipped.

Makes you wonder about the definition of Bush Flying.

In the villages, a landing aircraft attracts a lot of attention.  A fleet of cars and pick-up trucks await the arrival of the plane. But lest one think this is a welcoming party, the reason for the attention is not the passengers, it is the cargo.  I still marvel at the quantity of cargo that shared the aircraft with the people on-board.  Everything from US Mail to a new Sanyo LCD flat screen television was packed into every allowable space.

I am certain that the allowable space I was occupying others would have preferred to have been filled with more cargo.

The fact is cargo pays the bills for many small air service operators.  Flight schedules and plans are driven by the transport of cargo.  If there isn’t enough  cargo to make a flight economical, the flight doesn’t happen.

Even if there is a bishop waiting to get from Anvik to Grayling.  Even if there is a bride in Grayling waiting for a bishop to arrive to perform her wedding ceremony.

Evidently, romance and bush-flying don’t always mix.

Posted in Journal entry | Leave a comment

The Village of Minto: a journey, a potlatch, a visit.

Her name is Pearl.  She’s a good old gal; and like many of us, it isn’t so much the years that have worn her down, it’s the mileage.

180,000 miles to be exact.

Pearl is the pearl blue Ford Explorer that the Diocese of Alaska owns and cautiously sends the Bishop out in to do “mostly local visits and journeys.”  Pearl creaks, she whistles, and her security alarm will sound for no apparent reason at all, except, perhaps, as a loud complaint that her rest has been interrupted by someone looking for her to provide yet another trip out into the cold.

“You’re not going to Minto in Pearl, are you?”

I couldn’t tell if Ginny Doctor, our Diocesan Canon to the Ordinary, was asking me a question or telling me the facts.

“Why not?”  I assumed the former.  “Minto is on the road system, right?”

Ginny laughed.

“I’ll see if you can borrow Mary’s truck.”

The next day, Saturday, October 2nd (a day and half after returning from DMP in MS) I was on my way up Alaska Highway Number 2 (and on certain stretches of the road I thought it aptly named) bound for Minto.  Pearl had been left behind.  I was at the wheel of a Nissan Pathfinder.

When I arrived at the turn-off to Minto, I began to understand why it was a good idea that Pearl stayed home.

The road was unpaved, but it wasn’t  in bad shape. No doubt I was driving through wilderness, but never did I feel as if I would have been lost and forgotten had something happened.  In fact, it was a rather well traveled route.  Pearl would have been fine.

The road crosses Ptarmigan Hill, and on the way up and over, I encountered snow, slush, and clouds.  But breaking out of the clouds, I was treated to glorious vistas on both sides.  The Minto Flats were especially grand in the afternoon sunlight making its way through clearing skies.

Though I was enraptured by the drive and the views, Minto was a welcome site.  I had made it, and all by myself, too.

Pearl would have been so proud.

As I drove down the center street of Minto, I enjoyed seeing many children out playing.  Passing the local Cafe and continuing down the street I arrived at  the village store.  I stopped to ask where I would find Anna Frank.

I’ve come to appreciate that in the villages, there is always someone willing to “show you the way.”  A small pod of children led me back up the street to Anna’s house.

Unfortunately, Anna had been called back to Fairbanks earlier that day to tend to her husband Richard’s medical needs.  Richard remains in our prayers.

Not to worry, the village was delighted to have me there and I was shown to the comfortable home of Irene and Paul Sherry, where their son, Daniel, was graciously willing to surrender his bed.  I often worry that for many young people, the bishop’s visit will always be associated with sleeping on the floor, or is this case the couch.  I am grateful to Daniel for his hospitality.

Having settled in, I set out for a walk around the village to meet people and take-in  sights.  I found the Episcopal Church, St. Barnabas’, and was a bit disappointed by its condition.

Of course, it has been some time since regular worship services have been held at St.  Barnabas’.  Several years ago,  the Village of Minto made the decision to build an ecumenical Community Worship Center.  This new building, constructed through the combined effort of all the faithful in Minto, now houses regular Sunday services.

It is an impressive and comfortable facility.  And in an Alaskan village, the spirit of ecumenism that this worship center represents just may be the hope of the church.  I would celebrate Eucharist at the Community Worship Center the next day, Sunday.

The real excitement in the village wasn’t the Episcopal Bishop’s presence, however, it was a Memorial Potlatch to be held later that evening.

A Memorial Potlatch is the real deal: a huge celebration that involves all my favorite things: singing, dancing, learning, and…well..eating.  The food was extraordinary and, as always, there was plenty of it.  Moosehead stew is the traditional fare and always starts the epicurean marathon.

Preparing the stew is a ritual all itself.   I was blessed to have been able to listen in and enjoy some of the singing and celebration (and prayers) that went into the stew we would enjoy at the Potlatch feast.  I am grateful, also, for the gift of sitting and enjoying a cup of coffee with the elder’s as we shared stories of other bishops, life in the old village, and the nuances and challenges of travel to neighboring villages by boat–a river is a living thing: always changing.

Once again I was overwhelmed by the generosity I experienced.

I was also moved by the songs and drumming that filled the Tribal Hall while we waited for the feast to begin.  Young and old, children and elders, were all participating in their own way.  There was a spirit, an energy, in the room that bristled in the air.  It was a holy time.

And a very late night!

Sunday morning came very early, and though the original time for the service of Holy Communion was set at 11 o’clock, it was quite clear that time was going to serve only as a suggestion.  But, truthfully, the Eucharist–the Great Thanksgiving had already begun with the Potlatch.  The liturgy in the Community Worship Center was a final verse of a Great Song of Thanksgiving and Praise that had started in Minto with the preparations for the Potlatch even months before.

As I drove back to Fairbanks my prayer was one of gratitude to God for providing me a visit of Thanksgiving and Praise.

Posted in Journal entry | 1 Comment

On the Road again…well, in the air again. Next stop: Domestic Mission Partners

I’ve heard it said that Fairbanks, AK is a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there.

By the end of September I was beginning to believe this saying.   My flight back from the House of Bishops meeting in Phoenix, AZ touched-down in Fairbanks at 11 o’clock Wednesday, September 22.  On Friday, September 24, at, or around, midnight, I was back at the airport for a red-eye flight to Seattle.  It was the first leg of a 3 flight journey to Jackson, Mississippi and the Duncan Gray Conference Center for the Annual Domestic Mission Partners Conference.  Ginny Doctor and Shirley Lee were my travel companions.

In many ways, the conference had the feel of a retreat.  The Duncan Gray Center is an exquisite location with well maintained facilities and many attractive views and space to wander.  A chapel, outside labyrinth, hiking trails, and a large pond complete with basking turtles on a large tree trunk protruding from the middle, round-out the facility as a top-notch space for spiritual refreshment and recreation.

And the food was the best of Southern Hospitality.

Despite these amenities, the group had important and prayerful work to accomplish.  The main focus of which was to review grant proposals for consideration of funding from DMP’s budget.

Reviewing grant proposals and awarding funding based on the merits of ministry proposals is a terrible task.  Terrible because every proposed ministry was worthy of our support and our partnership.  I was pleased, however, by the good work that the group accomplished and that every grant received some manner of funding.

More important, however, was the opportunity to share our work and ideas with others and to forge partnerships between dioceses.

Alaska presented the EAGLE program for consideration.  The EAGLE program is designed to provide leadership training and experience to young adults 18-30.  The goal of the program is to nurture the future leaders of our parishes.

The Diocese of Mississippi was so intrigued by this program, that they have pledged to send one of their Youth Camp counselors to attend EAGLE training in Alaska.  In exchange, The Diocese of Mississippi will have the Alaskan EAGLE students come and serve as camp counselors for a week at the Diocese of Mississippi Youth Camp during the summer.

That is the sort of partnership and opportunity that makes serving the Episcopal Church a joy.

I am proud of the EAGLE program.  I hope for its continuing success and for the development of further partnerships within our church.

Posted in Journal entry | Leave a comment

My First House of Bishops Meeting

Episcopalians are “all about liturgy,” and I was delighted to discover that in Ketchikan, there is even a venerable liturgy to going to the airport in the morning.  A departing traveler must first form a procession through the drive-through window at McDonald’s.  While I do not recall learning about this in Seminary, I am willing to believe there is written somewhere an order for this rite, perhaps in the Book of Occasional Services

Having visited McDonald’s, taken the ferry to the airport, and boarded an Alaska Airlines 737 poorly camouflaged as Tinker Bell, I found myself winging my way to Seattle and on to Phoenix Arizona for my first House of Bishops Meeting.

I have never been to Phoenix.  If asked my first impressions of this lovely “jewel” of the Southwest, I would say only that it is HOT.  The buildings, on the other hand, are super cooled with air-conditioning.  Which creates a sort of inverse Alaskan experience of going from one extreme to the other.  In Phoenix there should be posted on the doors of buildings: “Caution: Contents May be Cold!”

I was very impressed with the ‘spirit’ of the House of Bishops.  The best description I can offer is that the House of Bishops is seriously informal.  Which is to say that while it is clear that the House of Bishops takes its work and mission with great seriousness–with integrity, prayer and respect, nevertheless, they do so with a disarming humility–with joy, camaraderie and, yes, even a good dose of humor.

I arrived in Phoenix with my suitcase packed with a wardrobe of insecurities, self-doubt, and not a few questions about my worthiness to be seated among such an “august group.”   Thankfully, the warm welcome and down-to-earth manner of my fellow bishops soon had me feeling confident enough even to stand and speak on a point in the discussion of Immigration Reform.

Immigration Reform and ministry opportunities with Hispanic communities were a large part of our work and study over the week.  The House received many excellent presentations and resources to assist the Church in welcoming and serving Hispanic members.  Additionally, the House produced a Pastoral Letter speaking in support of Immigration Reform.

The work of the House of Bishops is forged in prayer.  We began each day with devotions; every afternoon we celebrated the Eucharist; and we closed each day with some manner of evening prayer.  For me, the experience of prayer and communion was the highlight of our time together.

I was especially moved by the experience of saying the Lord’s Prayer together.  Although Episcopalians seem to value uniformity and proper order, when praying the Lord’s Prayer together  as the House of Bishops, we were encouraged to offer the prayer in the words and format native to our hearts.

What?  No uniformity?

The Book of Common Prayer invites us to pray The Lord’s Prayer  “in the words our Savior Christ taught us.”  However, it is often good to remember that Our Savior did not teach his disciples to say the Lord’s Prayer in either of the English versions printed in our prayer books.  Moreover, we are wise to remember that the majority of Christians throughout the world were not taught the Lord’s Prayer in English.

The Episcopal Church is not a national church.  It is international, with dioceses in Europe, South America, Central America, Taiwan, the Virgin Islands, and Haiti.

Listening to the many languages, versions, and phrasing of the Lord’s Prayer being offered together as we prayed, opened my heart to hear this prayer in unique and wonderful ways.  I became aware of the fact that the sound of those many and varied voices, initially to my ear little more than a cacophony, were exactly what the prayers of the faithful must sound like to God’s ears.

To the one who is present to all voices calling out in faith, there is no preference of style, language, tone, or voice.  God hears all distinctly.

I also found myself hearing single words out of the space created by our voices.  Hallowed, Give, Bread, Forgive, Power, these words struck my ear like a church bell rings through the murmur of a busy village din.  The result was deeply spiritual.  I cannot recall a more “prayerful” experience of saying the Lord’s Prayer.

With one House of Bishops gathering under my belt, I returned to Alaska with a growing of understanding the work and ministry of a bishop in the Episcopal Church.  It is a curious calling, the ministry of a bishop: on one hand the bishop is a diocesan figure, concerned with local needs within the boundaries of the See; on the other hand the bishop is a catholic figure, concerned with the needs of the whole church in every place.

The higher calling is to find the balance.

Posted in Journal entry | Leave a comment