When Archbishop Fred Hiltz celebrates Canada Day the sun will rise in Whitehorse at 3:35 a.m. and won’t set until 10:33 p.m., but the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada may need those long hours of daylight to see and do all that his hosts have planned throughout the diocese of Yukon.
“We’ll keep him busy, I tell you,” said Bishop Larry Robertson with his typical merry laugh. He told the Anglican Journal that the visit will not be centered on many formal events, but rather on the informal opportunities to get to know the diocese and its people. “He’s been up twice but only to Whitehorse. We want him to see the Yukon as it is, outside of the main city and into the small communities,” said Robertson, adding that he’s been trying to arrange such a visit for the last two or three years.
Hiltz will arrive on June 27 and tour the diocese until July 5, and there will be many kilometres and hours in between travelling throughout the vast and sparsely populated diocese.
The first stop will be on Sunday, June 28, in Atlin, a community in northern British Columbia, where the parish of St. Martin will be celebrating its 115th anniversary. The primate will meet the two non-stipendiary deacons who serve the parish as a mother-daughter team. The Rev. Vera Kirkwood is now 90 years old, and Robertson says it was an emotional moment when he ordained her daughter, the Rev. Dorothy Odian, last year and her mother put one of her stoles around her neck.
There are only three stipendiary clergy in the diocese, aside from the bishop and the diocesan administrative officer, the Rev. Sarah Usher, said Robertson, noting that Usher is also the priest in the parish of St. Philip in Teslin, a Tlingit community that is the next stop on the tour. He himself will be soon be doing parish ministry as well. “That’s something new… a directive from the synod,” he said. “It’s just a goal to try and get more pastoral care for our people. ”
The three stipendiary clergy, who were all trained at seminaries, are expected to teach and train local people for ministry through the Bishop’s School for Yukon Ministry. “We have sort of broken the box of what a parish priest is,” said Robertson. “If you come north and you are seminary trained you have to share that skill around.”
Students at the school are people who feel called, and who have also been identified by people in their parish as being called, he said. The school offers different models of education, “we have some who are doing correspondence from places like Thorneloe [University in Sudbury, Ont.] or EfM [Education for Ministry, a theological programme for lay people], we have others who are working with local [clergy],” said Robertson.
From Teslin, the primate will travel to the parish of St. Christopher in Haines Junction, where the Rev. Lynn DeBrabandere has established a “ministry of presence” over the last three years. Robertson said that the program was established to bring experienced clergy, often retired, or long-term lay readers who already have an income from the south to live in the north. “They have to have an income because we can’t pay them,” he said. They also need a car and house insurance, but if so, they can come and live in one of the empty rectories. “Lynn has done women’s retreats for us and she does a lot of children’s things in her parish, so it’s been a real blessing,” said Robertson, added that she’s starting to make inroads into the First Nations community, an area that has been neglected for a long time.
On July 1, the primate will be in Whitehorse for Canada Day festivities and events organized by the Indigenous community and at the cathedral to meet local Anglicans.
The next day, he will travel to Carcross for a view of diocesan history when he visits “the bishop’s palace,” a one room log cabin, where the first bishop of the diocese, Bishop William Bompas, used to live.
“In the evening there will be a dinner for him [Hiltz] with all the local clergy and their families, and when we say local we mean within three or four hours drive,” Robertson said with a laugh.
On Friday, July 3, they will travel to Mayo, where they will visit and stay the night in the rectory with Charles Maier and his wife who will have just arrived from Ottawa in the weeks before to start a new ministry of presence.
On Saturday, Hiltz and Robertson will go to the most northerly point of the tour to Dawson City, about 600 km from Whitehorse, where they will meet the Rev. Laurie Munro and the parish of St. Paul, the Gwichin council and participate in Sunday services.
On Monday morning just after sunrise, an undoubtedly road-weary primate will board a plane to return home to Toronto.