‘To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea’

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says one of Canada’s greatest mysteries now has been solved, with the discovery of one of the lost ships from Sir John Franklin’s doomed Arctic expedition.

“This is truly a historic moment for Canada,” Harper said. 

At this point, the searchers aren’t sure if they’ve found HMS Erebus or HMS Terror. But sonar images from the waters of Victoria Strait, just off King William Island, clearly show wreckage of a ship on the ocean floor.

Franklin Ship found

A sea floor scan reveals one of the missing ships from the Franklin Expedition in an image released in Ottawa Tuesday. (Parks Canada/Canadian Press)

The wreckage was found on Sept. 7 using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada. When Harper revealed the team’s success at Parks Canada’s laboratories in Ottawa Tuesday, the room burst into applause. 

Read the rest here.

‘Ah for just one time I would take the northwest passage,
to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea,
tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage,
and make a northwest passage to the sea’.

 – Stan Rogers

Our last view of Aklavik…

…where we lived 1984-1988. At the end of August 1988 we flew to Inuvik and from there across to Holman (now Ulukhaktok), where we lived from 1988-91.

In this shot you can see Aklavik, situated on the bend in the Peel River, centre-right in the photograph. The Richardson Mountains are off in the distance, and all around are the many channels of the Mackenzie Delta. Wonderful country in winter and in summer.

Yes, I am a fan…

…of Arctic Air.

Maybe it’s because I spent seven years living in the Northwest Territories – although I only once flew on a DC-3. Many Twin Otters, King Airs, Electras, Hawker-Siddeley 748s, and various kinds of Cessnas, but only one DC-3.

Or maybe it’s the strange collection of people and their slightly soap-opera like ways.

But no – I actually think it’s the Arctic landscape, seen from the air, that gets me every time.

(Photo credit)

Hunting Song

When I lived in the Northwest Territories I was lucky enough to make regular trips out on the land with local hunters; those were some of the best experiences of my Arctic days. Sometimes we made one-day trips; at others we stayed out on the land in tents or in cabins. In the latter case we usually travelled out the first day, hunted the second and then came back to town in the dark, arriving home frozen and tired and ready for a hot bath and a hot meal!

This photo was taken on one such trip I made up into the mountains (probably across the border into the Yukon, actually) in the spring of 1988.

This song lyric is an amalgam of some of the trips I took when we lived in Aklavik in the Mackenzie Delta. It starts on the second day, waking up in the cabin. The tune doesn’t have a regular time signature; I’ll try to post a recording before too long.

Hunting Song

© April 2012 Tim Chesterton

 Deep in the northern forest
Stars shining bright in a sable sky
Wind in the trees comes whispering through the night

Deep in the heart of winter
Hours yet to pass ‘til the shortness of day
Creatures of night slip silently on their way

I wake in the dark of the cabin
Fire in the woodstove takes the chill off the air
Wood smoke and coffee warming us into dawn

Breakfast of bannock and oatmeal
Kamiks and parkas with wolverine trim
Stillness of morning split by our engines’ roar

Our/snowmobiles follow the river
Snow-covered ice shows the promise of prey
Caribou tracks are leading us on our way

Up on one knee I’m riding
Weight of the rifle across my back
Off in the distance moving specks catch my eye

Speeding toward the horizon
Wind on my face cuts as sharp as a knife
All my pretences finally stripped away

Now in this one vital moment
Food for the winter is all that we know
Crack of the rifles echoes across the snow

Bishop Jack Sperry, 1924-2012.

I heard tonight that Bishop Jack Sperry died yesterday in Hay River, Northwest Territories at the age of 87.

Bishop Jack has a lot to answer for in our family. He was born in the same city as me, Leicester in the English midlands. As an Arctic missionary, he would come home on furlough in the 1950s and early 1960s and it was he who got a young couple from St. Barnabas’ Church called Bob and Shirley Chesterton interested in serving in the Arctic. As it happened, Arctic life wasn’t for them – they stayed only one year, from 1967-68 – but my brother and I were with them and it was this that sowed the seeds of Arctic ministry in my own mind.

Years later, Jack invited Marci and me to go north to Aklavik, and we ended up spending seven years in the Northwest Territories, in Aklavik and Holman. I was a Church Army officer at the time, but it was Jack who ordained me as a deacon in October 1990.

Jack Sperry was born in Leicester in 1924. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Navy, first on a destroyer escort vessel in the Battle of the Atlantic and later on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. He once told me that the most important part of his training to be a minister was not his seminary education but the years he spent living in close quarters with fellow crew-members in the navy.

He left the Royal Navy in 1946 and shortly thereafter emigrated to Canada where he did his theological education. He moved to the Diocese of the Arctic in 1950 and became the missionary-in-charge at St. Andrew’s Church, Coppermine (now Kugluktuk), where he spent the next nineteen years. In those days English was only spoken by white people who lived in the settlement, and so missionaries were silent until they could learn to speak Inuktitut. Also, the majority of the people were living out on the land for most of the year, working traplines and hunting and fishing as their ancestors had done. So as a young missionary Jack spent months every year on the trail, visiting people in small family groups in snow house villages. In this way he clocked up thousands of miles of dog-team travel every year, ministering to people not only in the Kugluktuk parish but also in what are now the parishes of Cambridge Bay, Bathurst Inlet, Bay Chimo, and Ulukhaktok (Holman) as far north as the old Walker Bay HBC post some fifty miles north of Holman on Minto Inlet.

Jack had a tremendous gift for languages and became a recognised authority on the Copper Eskimo (Inuinaktun) dialect of Inuktitut. He wrote some excellent grammar notes for the use of young clergy like myself who were just coming into the diocese and trying to get our heads around this amazingly complex language. He translated the Four Gospels and the Book of Acts into Inuinaktun; he revised an existing translation of the Book of Common Prayer and also many hymns. Later in the 1990s he produced a new translation of the Book of Common Prayer which also included some features from the Book of Alternative Services.

Jack married his wife Betty Maclaren, a nurse who had been serving in Aklavik, on April 14th 1952, and they had two children, John and Angela. His wife died some years ago, and their children and grandchildren still live in the north.

The Sperrys left Coppermine in 1969 and moved to Fort Smith where Jack served for a few years. After a brief stint in Yellowknife he was appointed as the Third Bishop of the Arctic in 1973 and served in this role with distinction until his retirement at the end of 1990. He continued to live in Yellowknife until his last years when he moved to Fort Smith to be closer to his family.

As I said a couple of months ago, I remember Jack as a down to earth, ordinary Christian; he loved the Gospel and he loved the people of the Arctic, and he loved most of all bringing the two together. He was an old-fashioned evangelical, but not of the sort who get things out of proportion and major on the minors. He was a man of prayer and a man who knew how to build things with his hands (you had to do that a lot as a missionary in the Arctic). He knew that his first job was to care for his clergy and their families, and when he came to visit us he always made time to play games with our children, draw pictures for them, and talk with them. Episcopal visits in the Arctic always involved staying overnight in the mission house, of course, as there were no roads in and out of most of the communities, and very few had more than one flight in per day. But with Jack, it wasn’t a case of necessity but of vocation; he knew how isolated his clergy were and he did his best to care for us as individuals and as families.

One of the best times I ever spent with him was in the early winter of 1988 after we moved to Holman. I was learning to negotiate a new language, and so Jack came to stay at our mission house for a week which we spent in intensive language study. For eight hours a day we poured over the few written resources available (most of which he had written himself), and it was then that I discovered that I not only enjoyed language, but I had a pretty good ear for it. But we also visited and told stories, and each night the local people would arrive at our door and come in without knocking, as was the custom, to sit and drink tea with the man who had once been their minister (Holman had been part of Jack’s patch in those nineteen years when he used to travel up the western side of Victoria Island by dog team each winter). The respect and affection they felt for him was quite obvious.

Jack Sperry has been known and loved by generations of northern people and hundreds of Arctic clergy. To me he was a true Christian hero and I will always look up to him. God bless you, Jack, and thank you for everything you did for me. Rest in peace, dear older brother in Christ, and rise in glory.

Links:

CBC: Arctic bishop John Sperry dies.

Nunatsiaq Online: The Arctic loses a dear old friend.

UPDATE: Some pictures from our family archives:

Above: Confirmation with Bishop Sperry in All Saint’s Church, Aklavik, probably about 1987.

Above: Jack sitting in the living room of the mission house in Holman about 1989-90, visiting with his old friend and trail companion Sam Oliktoak.

Above: Jack baptised our son Nicholas in the Church of the Resurrection, Holman, in January 1989.

Above: Jack at the Holman airport with catechist and old friend Morris Nigiyok.

Above: Jack ordained me as a deacon in the Church of the Resurrection, Holman, October 1990.

Above: The people of Holman give Jack a retirement gift, October 1990.

‘Who presides?’ (part one)

I expect that this will be the first in a series of posts on the subject of whether or not a person who is not an ordained priest may legitimately ‘preside’ at the Eucharist or Holy Communion service. This series will inevitably include some theological discussion, but I want to begin, not with theology, but with a practical issue.

In the Diocese of the Arctic, where I ministered for seven years, there were in those days a number of what we would call in the south ‘multi-point parishes’ – that is to say, parishes in which one full-time ordained priest looked after churches in two or three different communities. The reason for this was of course financial; there was not enough money to pay a full-time priest to live in each community. This situation is common in rural Canada, and in the south it isn’t too complicated; a priest becomes a road warrior who gets up on Sunday morning and drives between the communities of his or her parish, leading two or three services of Holy Communion in different places each week. The different congregations all fight for prime time, of course, which is a drawback (11.00 Sunday morning is always better attended than 3.00 Sunday afternoon), but for the most part the situation is workable, and parishes celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper frequently, if not every week.

In the Arctic, however, there was the added complication that the distances are much greater and the only way of getting between the communities is by air. This was ridiculously expensive and so, rather than the ‘out stations’ receiving communion every week or two at less convenient times, they actually received a visit from their priest three or four times a year, and when he or she came, they stayed for a week or more, visiting and catechising and administering the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion and so on (I should point out that this was the situation when I lived there twenty years ago; it may have changed since then).

Many of those out-stations actually had quite well-trained lay readers or catechists resident in the community: locally raised-up leaders who had received a pretty good preparation for the work of leading services of morning and evening prayer (which was the usual Sunday fare when the priest was not present), preaching and teaching and so on. For the most part these were well-respected local Christians. However, they had not been to seminary, and there was a long-established tradition in the Diocese of the Arctic (for reasons involving complicated family dynamics) that when a person was ordained they were not sent back to their own community as a priest. As a result, rather than the bishop giving permission for a perfectly competent local leader or leaders to preside at Holy Communion on a more frequent basis (which would be contrary to ancient ‘catholic’ tradition and practice), these communities became what we might call ‘occasionally sacramental’ – that is, their customary form of worship was Morning and Evening Prayer with sermon, and once a quarter or so a priest was flown in, at great expense, to provide sacramental ministry to the community.

The irony here is that this is the very kind of parish life that the Anglo-Catholic revival of the nineteenth century found so problematic. It was common in England in the early 1800s for churches to celebrate Holy Communion once a quarter, even though they had resident priests; it was the Anglo-Catholic revival (which insisted that Holy Communion was the only form of Sunday service instituted by Jesus) that aimed to change this. The high sacramental theology of Anglo-Catholicism insists that a weekly celebration of Holy Communion in each parish should be the Christian norm, and yet its high theology of priesthood in the apostolic succession (another feature of Anglo-Catholicism, but also one which all Anglican Christianity practices, whether it agrees with it in theory or not) coupled with the desire for a properly educated priesthood (hence the requirement in many places for a Master’s degree and a full- or part-time salary for the priest), have made such a weekly celebration impossible for many parishes around the world in the Anglican Communion – for my story about the Arctic could be duplicated in many parts of Africa and South America.

Consider further the situation that occurs in parishes with their own full-time priest when the rector goes on holiday. In my parish I usually go away for a three-week holiday in the summer time, and take a couple of other weeks at other times during the year. What happens when I am away? Well, we are not quite so insistent on a weekly celebration of Holy Communion as many Anglican parishes (it is our custom to have a ‘service of the Word’ on the last Sunday of the month), so usually we arrange for a priest to visit the parish during the middle week of my holiday, and for our lay-readers to lead Morning Worship without Holy Communion on the other two Sundays. It is not always easy to find a visiting priest, but usually we are able to do so with a bit of effort.

We do of course have four perfectly competent lay-readers in the parish, who are well-respected local Christians and have been properly trained for their ministry of leading non-sacramental worship and preaching; they are also up-front with me and share in the leadership of the Holy Communion service every week, although not saying the Eucharistic Prayer (the part of the service reserved, in our Anglican polity, for the priest).  But once again, rather than the bishop giving permission during the priest’s holiday for one of the lay-readers to preside at Holy Communion and consecrate the bread and wine, we are obliged to bring in a stranger to the parish (who has to get used to our way of doing things) to consecrate the elements. Either that, or in some parishes they ‘reserve’ bread and wine from a previous celebration of Holy Communion and have what is called a ‘reserved sacrament service’ – i.e. something resembling a Holy Communion service, commanded by Jesus to be done ‘in remembrance of him’, without actually including the specific prayer that remembers him!

And this is where the discussion about lay-presidency at the Eucharist (as it is called) needs to begin, in my view. It is often caricatured, by opponents of the idea, as a free-for-all: members of the congregation presiding at the service in a haphazard, random sort of way, without any proper preparation or training or order of any kind, so that the Eucharist becomes, not the sacrament of the whole catholic Church presided over by the local representative of the universal church, the duly-ordained priest, but a purely local thing, the property of the local congregation or, worse, of individuals within it, each of whom feels that he or she ‘has the right’ to preside.

This caricature needs to be knocked on the head immediately. I am aware of no responsible advocate of lay-presidency who is suggesting such a thing. In the second century A.D., Bishop Ignatius of Antioch laid it down as a rule that no celebration of the Eucharist should be considered valid unless it was presided over by the bishop, or one who had been appointed by the bishop. The question I would like to consider in this series is whether this ‘appointment’ should be understood strictly as permanent ordination as we now understand it, or whether the bishop might legitimately and validly appoint other, non-ordained persons to preside at the sacrament of Holy Communion, in the full sense of saying (on behalf not just of the congregation but of the whole catholic Church) the Eucharistic prayer or prayer of consecration, by means of which the bread and wine of Holy Communion become for us the Body and Blood of Christ, .

Next up: who actually presided at the Eucharist in the early church?