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Petitioning for parishes

Newspaper ad campaign in Britain is sparking success for the Anglican Church

Dawn Ostrem
Northern News Services

Inuvik (May 25/01) - Finding Anglican priests isn't easy for the Diocese of the Arctic but newspaper ads in Britain are turning tea-biscuit tastes onto tundra-travelling adventures.

The diocese began running ads in British newspapers in 1999 and as a result Rev. Malcolm Palmer found himself in Inuvik learning Inuinnaqtun in April. He is preparing to serve as a parish priest in Kugluktuk in June.

He served for 11 years as a prison chaplain in England before an empty longing for fulfilment set in.

"There were stacks of jobs open in England," he said in his thick northern England accent. "But once I got the application forms I couldn't bring myself to post them."

Palmer said the ad he saw for work in the Arctic broke through the drab haze of dissatisfaction when he read the words "we are looking for a priest that will step out in faith."

He filled out the application and placed it under the alter cloth in his church in England before he told his wife. After telling her of his interest in moving to Canada she shared his excitement, he said.

"But once I said it might be inside the Arctic Circle she had a sense of humour failure."

The couple arrived in Inuvik after travelling to other hamlets and the Eastern and Western Arctic.

Palmer just returned from a trip to Holman, where Rev. Stephen Boot is preparing to leave his post after six years. The contrast of experience versus inexperience ministering in the North seemed stark when Boot explained the difficulties faced in his job.

"It's been a bittersweet experience," he explained, adding the number of suicides in Holman over the past years has been one reason he remained as long as he did.

"The community is a good community," he added. "It is friendly and easy-going."

Palmer is keen, a friendly and happy man filled with optimism. He said he is a little in limbo at the moment as he struggles to pronounce the Inuinnaqtun words he hopes to deliver from the alter and have echo throughout the parish of St. Andrews.

"I realize maybe this part of the world is not for everyone," he said. "It is cold up here but there are still people and they need a minister."

Larry Robertson, the regional bishop of the Mackenzie and Kitikmeot out of Inuvik, is teaching Palmer Inuinnaqtun.

He said there are about 43 ordained priests in the North filling the 42 parishes. About half of the priests are from the North, helping the church thrive here even though pay is far greater in the south.

"I don't know what makes people come," he said.

"I think it's a missionary adventure ... I've learned far more in the 25 years I've been here than I have given. It is home for us now."