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?”
“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.