Blind Moses and Blind Paul were native catechists who worked together near the Arctic Circle during the first years of the 20th century. Though usually a footnote to the story of clergy, they contributed much to the life of the church. I believe they are, along with many others across the North, the courageous and visionary prophets of a new (old) way of being the church.
Up until the late 1960s, non-ordained church ministries, like those of Blind Moses and Blind Paul, had been the mainstay of indigenous churches. Though effective and widespread, the use of these church offices was often criticized. Non-ordained ministries were frequently used as a way of expanding the ministry of indigenous peoples who were generally considered, by the culturally biased agents of a culture-based church, to be incapable of effective ordained ministry. The church, in a laudable response to this recognized bias, focused its work on the creation of ordained indigenous ministers. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence was the weakening of one of the most effective elements of gospel ministry among indigenous peoples.
Lay readers, catechists and other non-ordained ministers expanded the ministry beyond the confines of the institutional church and its buildings. They brought the gospel to communities that could never afford a church, to people who would rarely be approached by a church-prisoners, patients, trappers, workers and isolated families. In many places where this ministry developed, lives were challenged, changed and blessed.
The best lay workers, like Blind Moses and Blind Paul, ask, “How can I bring the gospel to this person or community? How can I make it a part of their daily lives?” Unfortunately, extending the reach of the ministry of the gospel can be lost when the emphasis is on the church building and congregation alone.
Blind Moses and Blind Paul brought the Good News to thousands of people who would never be touched by the ministry of a church program. The church in the Yukon is, to this day, a living legacy of this vital team. They showed us a way to extend the ministry of the gospel to those beyond the reach of the church. (I am convinced that the church will benefit.) Untold numbers of people are waiting for their successors.
Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.