Theology merges with the seal hunt

Published November 1, 2000

STUDYING for ministry at Arthur Turner Training School differs in several respects from courses of study in the south. For instance, students take days off to hunt for seal and caribou and fish for Arctic char. In a community where a litre of milk flown in from the south costs $4, game is an important, less-expensive source of food. Hunting is also part of the culture, since the students are all Inuit.

Arthur Turner is about to graduate its seventh group of students. Since its founding in 1970, 17 men and one woman have completed the program and been ordained.

The genesis of the school was in 1953, when Donald Marsh, the second bishop of the Arctic, wrote, “It’s my earnest wish that soon there may be established on Baffin Island a training ground for ? catechists which might become the nucleus of a college to train (Inuit) for an indigenous ministry.”

A building became available in 1970, when the federal government ended funding for the Anglican St. Luke’s Hospital in Pangnirtung (pronounced pang’-nur-tung) in favor of a new hospital in Iqaluit (ee-ka’-loo-eet), the largest community in the eastern Arctic.

The school was established in the former hospital and named after Arthur Turner, an Anglican missionary who served in the area from 1928 until his death in 1953. Of the18 students who have graduated since 1970, 13 continue to have charge of, or significant responsibility for, a parish in the Diocese of the Arctic.

The school, which offers a certificate of theology and is trying to upgrade to a diploma of theology, is unique among Canadian centres of study for Anglican ministry, noted the principal, Rev. Roy Bowkett.

Students enter the program at the start of a three-year session and no new students are accepted once the course has started. They and their families live in fully equipped, self-contained apartments at the school. The diocese absorbs the cost of utilities and students receive a monthly allowance from government for food and other family expenses. Support also comes from friends of the diocese and the national church.

There are currently three students, Mr. Bowkett said, although six began the course. “The Diocese of the Arctic has a canon that a student must be married to have a sexual relationship,” he said. Since two of the six students began relationships, they left the course, and a third student from the western Arctic became homesick, he said.

The principal is the only permanent staff person at the school, but many other people come as guest lecturers for periods ranging from one to three weeks. In the past, teachers from academic and church life have come from Canada, the United States and Britain. Guest instructors pay their own airfare and are not compensated, but the school provides room and board. Visitors also evaluate the competence of students in specific subjects, in order to maintain an acceptable level of academic proficiency.

Both Inuit bishops of the Arctic, Paul Idlout and Andrew Atagotaaluk, are graduates of Arthur Turner, Mr. Bowkett noted.

Mr. Bowkett, who is 66, grew up in Wales and taught school in Winnipeg before applying for the Arthur Turner job in 1991. He has three grown sons by his first wife and lives with his second wife, Annie, who is Inuit. His second family includes his wife’s four children and an adopted five-year-old daughter.

What’s on his current “to do” list? “I want to begin to spend more of (the school’s) resources, money, skills, on the men and women who are lay readers.”

Also, he said, he and the diocesan office are “hammering out” measurable objectives for deacons nominated by their communities. They hope to answer the question “what does the diocese expect of its men and women serving in ministry?” he added. Until recently, there was no central record of what educational programs people in the diocese had completed.

Mr. Bowkett also said his Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit, is coming along, but he is not fluent. “I do the communion services in Inuktitut and I’ve learned the syllabics (the written language), but I’ve had to work at it,” he said.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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