On Sept. 16, the Rev. Georgina Bassett made history by becoming the first person of Slavey heritage to be ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Bassett will continue to work at Grace-St. Andrew’s, a joint Anglican-United congregation in Hay River, N.W.T., where she assists the Rev. Vivian Smith, priest-in-charge.
“I’m hoping that people will see me as an aboriginal (person) and be comfortable about coming to church and knowing that the church is for everyone, [it’s] for all people,” she said in a telephone interview with the Anglican Journal.
Being the first Anglican priest from the Slavey people is “very special,” said Bassett, who is a member of the K’atlodeeche First Nation. The Slavey are a major group of Athapaskan-speaking or Dene people and, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, their areas extend into the Great Slave Lake region of N.W.T., into northeast British Columbia, and the Hay Lakes region of Alberta.
Andrew Atagotaaluk, bishop of the diocese of the Arctic, ordained Bassett at the church, which was jam-packed with members of the community, and Bassett’s family, some of whom flew in from Vancouver and Yellowknife.
“It was such a special and awesome day,” said Bassett. “I had a little bit of butterflies (in my stomach), but I just knew that the Lord was going to be with me through the service.”
Three years ago, Bassett had been ordained a deacon but had nagging doubts about whether she would become a priest. She often wondered, “Am I qualified enough to be able to work as a minister?”
Last year, while attending a morning service in Yellowknife, Bassett said she distinctly heard God say to her, “You need to be a minister.” But her first thought was, “Oh, I don’t know.”
Returning home to Hay River, Bassett mentioned her experience to Smith, adding that she was going to “leave it in God’s hands and that He can lead me if that’s where he’s going to be taking me.”
Bassett said she had often wondered who the next aboriginal Anglican priest in her community would be. “I was just amazed that God chose me because I didn’t go to seminary school,” she said. Bassett took theological courses online from Thorneloe University and said she plans to further her theological studies.
Bassett lived with her parents on a reserve until she was 11 and recalled growing up with a grandmother and aunts who were “very spiritual women.” They attended the Anglican church on the reserve, St. Peter’s; the church was closed after it was damaged in a flood nearly 40 years go, and Bassett has expressed the hope that it can be rebuilt one day.
She expressed the hope that her being ordained a priest will help encourage aboriginal people, especially the youth, to attend church.
“I have a testimony. My walk hasn’t exactly been with the Lord faithfully for many years,” she said, noting that while she went to Sunday school as a child, she walked away from the church as a teenager.
In 2001, she came back to church with the help of her husband, Steve, and together they raised four “amazing” sons. Her experience proves that “even though we become lost, God is always there, waiting for us,” said Bassett.
Her job as minister is “to reach out to as many people as we can” and “just being there for them, loving them for who they are,” said Bassett. The church’s parish ministry extends beyond the four walls of the church – Smith and Bassett conduct regular pastoral visits at the correctional centre and the community hospital.
St. Andrew’s, which was established in the late 1800s, assumed care of Grace United Church at Hay River several years ago, and has a membership of about 75 families.