Two and a half years ago, the Rev. Rebecca Osborn had never heard of the diocese of the Arctic. This winter, now an assistant priest at St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut, she delivered her first sermon in Inuktitut-and hopes she will be there long enough to give many more.
“We certainly want to stay in the North, want to stay in the diocese,” says Osborn, who moved to Iqaluit from Pittsburgh with her husband, Jared, also a priest, and their two young children in August 2015. The city of some 7,000 people now feels like home to them, she says.
It all began, as she told the CBC in January, with pizza. She happened to have a craving for pizza on the same evening an information session on the North-with pizza on the menu-was being held at her seminary.
She and Jared had been considering going overseas for many years, she says, but had never considered the North. But the information session changed that.
“It just sort of stuck in our minds,” she says.
The Osborns got in touch with the diocese, and had online video chats with diocesan bishop David Parsons and suffragan bishop Darren McCartney. The bishops challenged them to visit Iqaluit to check it out, and they did.
“We just kind of fell in love with it, and we felt a lot of affinity with the people and the culture,” she says. “And they liked us, so they invited us to stay.”
They returned to pack up their things, and in a matter of months, they had moved.
“It did happen kind of quickly-it was about 10 months in between hearing that the diocese existed and moving up here,” she says. She and Jared share the assistant priest position at the cathedral.
Osborn says they have found the people very welcoming, and they enjoy the closely-knit community. They also like what they find to be a slower pace of life, and the opportunity to discover the Inuit language and culture.
Part of the North’s appeal to them, however, Osborn says she finds hard to explain. It reminds her, she says, of someone who’s spent his or her whole life dreaming up the perfect spouse based on set criteria-only to end up making a choice based on a flash of insight instead.
“You think you know what you want, but then when you actually meet the person, sometimes it just happens really fast-like, ‘Of course, they’re right’ -even though you never knew that person,” she says. “It felt like that-it felt like we wanted this kind of experience our whole lives, but we didn’t know the specifics.”
Osborn got a basis in Inuktitut by taking courses at a local language school, and still works on it every day. She now answers her office phone in Inuktitut, and is able to have basic conversations in the language-to talk about the weather or to ask people she’s visiting in the hospital how they’re feeling, and to offer up prayers. She gave her first Inuktitut sermon this January, relying only on St. Jude’s Dean Jonas Allooloo, a Native speaker, to look it over beforehand for anything that didn’t make sense.
Jared is also learning the language, Osborn says, but was not able to take the courses. He is not yet able to preach sermons, but he is able to celebrate Inuktitut Eucharists and do readings.
Osborn says she’s enjoyed the challenge of learning Inuktitut, which is very different from English, not only in vocabulary but in structure also.
“It’s not just a matter of learning new words. You kind of have to reorganize your thoughts, and that’s a really long process!” she says.
Osborn says she believes all languages, including Inuktitut, will be spoken in heaven. Her education in the language, she says, has shed some light for her on why Inuit people tend to interrupt less than southerners. Sometimes, Osborn says, what English expresses in a whole sentence, Inuktitut will say in a single word, with many prefixes and suffixes attached. The indication of who is doing the action doesn’t come until the end of the word-so anyone who interrupts will miss something essential.
In the South, she says, “We’re kind of trying to rush people along, so we cut people off, but the Inuit way of doing it is, you wait until someone’s done speaking and you pause to make sure they’re done. And now I understand why-it’s because you have to make sure that you got the whole word, or else you won’t understand what they’re saying!”