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
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.