FEATURES: Around the Arctic June 05, 2012 - 5:25 am

Rebirth of an Arctic church “a glorious moment”

Hundreds gather for dedication of restored St. Jude's Cathedral


Maybe it’s true that St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases long despaired of.

But the congregation of the fire-gutted Anglican church in Iqaluit that bears his name never did abandon their hope. This past Sunday, after nearly seven years of struggle, they realized the great cause of rebuilding their landmark gathering place.

“This is indeed an awesome and glorious moment for all of us,” Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk declared in a sermon given during a three-and-a-half-hour dedication service June 3 inside the restored St. Jude’s Cathedral.

To mark the significance of the event, Rev. Capt. David Parsons of Inuvik and Sammy Peter of Iqaluit gave a reading, in English and Inuktitut, from the second book of Chronicles that describes the opening of King Solomon’s temple.

St. Jude’s Cathedral may never again see a morning more cold and more dark than Nov. 6, 2005, the first Sunday following the arsonist’s fire that turned the church’s interior into a blackened ruin.

Dedicated by Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Iqaluit in 1970, the original St. Jude’s held a trove of precious cultural objects from around the Eastern Arctic, including tapestries from six Arctic communities stretching from Nunavik to the Kivalliq.

Even Atagotaaluk admitted that he felt not entirely hopeful then when he pondered the idea of bringing the dead structure back to life.

“It was difficult to see the future of this cathedral,” he said in his sermon.

After an engineer concluded the wooden shell of the old building suffered too much damage, in June 2006 the structure was bulldozed away.

But by then, a small army of fundraisers, under the leadership of cathedral fundraising campaign head Ed Picco, were on the move.

Only a few days after the fire, donations — some large, some small — trickled in, starting with a $10,000 gift from the Nunavut Investment Group, whose Nunavut Construction Corp., through NCC-Dowland, eventually rebuilt the cathedral.

Parishioners in Iqaluit began a non-stop fundraising campaign that still continues, including sales of arts and crafts, baked goods, luncheons and loonie-toonie sales.

Through fundraising, local Iqaluit volunteers, led by Picco, have raised about $500,000 so far. Contributors from across Canada have given about $4 million, and an insurance policy on the old building supplied about $1 million.

The estimated cost of restoring St. Jude’s runs to about $8 million. This means fundraisers are still working to cover a $2.5 million shortfall.

But NCC-Dowland, the NCC partnership whose shareholders include Nunasi Corp., Qikiqtaaluk Corp., Sakku Investments Corp. and Kitikmeot Corp., agreed to finish construction of the cathedral while fundraising efforts continue.

“They [NCC-Dowland] have given more than we could pay. That is grace,” Atagotaaluk said, provoking a long round of applause.

Construction began in earnest in 2010, after some setbacks.

A company originally hired to supply wooden beams for the dome went out of business in 2009. Organizers then scrapped a plan to have the new cathedral assembled from blocks of wood similar to the snow bricks used in igloo-making.

The igloo-shaped roof is now made with fire-resistant steel beams and metal cladding, with layers of fire-resistant insulation.

The restored church seats about 350 people, roughly twice the capacity of the original structure. Its 11 rows of circular wooden pews, made by the New Holland Church Furniture firm of Pennsylvania, were installed just recently by company employees who flew in from the U.S.

And various precious items have been salvaged, including a silver bowl presented by the Queen in 1970 and a cross made of narwhal tusks that hangs above the altar.

So this past June 3, many of those who participated in the rebirth of St. Jude’s could not contain their joy.

When Atagotaaluk used his shepherd’s staff to bang three times on the restored cathedral’s massive door in the traditional commencement of the dedication service, some members of his procession burst into tears.

These included Anglican bishops and priests, all clad in white surplices and red stoles, from across Canada and the Anglican Arctic diocese, an adult choir dressed in burgundy surplices, and a children’s choir dressed in white.

The dedication service also featured the consecration of the Anglican church’s new Inuit-language Bible, produced in Inuktitut syllabics after 34 years of work by a team lead by Bishop Benjamin Arreak.

Atagotaaluk said that for the first time, readers of syllabics from Nunavik to the Central Arctic may read all books of the Old and New Testament in the Inuit language.

Also on June 3, Rev. Capt. David Parsons of Inuvik was consecrated as the new bishop of the Arctic diocese. He succeeds Atagotaaluk, who retires later this year.

Regular church services will start next Sunday, June 10, with an English service at 9:45 a.m. and Inuktitut at 11:00 a.m.