Anglican bishop pledges renewed outreach, community wellness

“[This fire] confirms that we have not been doing enough”


The Diocese of the Arctic’s Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk was moved to tears on Tuesday as he recalled his first trip inside the charred remnants of St. Jude’s Cathedral.

“The site was devastating, but I saw a new hope in there,” said the bishop, who wore a blue fleece vest embroidered with an image of the planned cathedral expansion, and the words: “A new beacon for the North.”

Atagotaaluk was traveling from Yellowknife to Salluit when he heard about the fire. By coincidence, he passed this week through Iqaluit, where he paused to meet reporters while en route to Qikiqtarjuaq.

Information on whether the church will be restored or rebuilt has been delayed, in part, by the busy schedule of a structural engineer who specializes in oddly shaped buildings, and who has yet to make it to Iqaluit to look at the igloo-shaped cathedral. Atagotaaluk believes that whatever happens, the building will become a symbol of a renewed self-image.

“This will be part of a new future that we can be proud of,” Atagotaaluk said. “Where we can be proud of ourselves again, and not just see ourselves as unfortunate people.”

In Atagotaaluk’s view, an arson attack on the most religious symbol in the Arctic is a sign that the church needs to intensify its outreach efforts – not just relating to the ministry, but also to heal a community that includes “many troubled kids, and many troubled young people.”

“[This fire] confirms that we have not been doing enough.”

That’s the message the church’s new fundraiser, Doug Little, will be taking to potential donors in southern Canada and beyond.

The Anglican Church of Canada has a 200-year history of supporting the Arctic diocese, but Little, who was also in Iqaluit Tuesday, suspects that this time, donors won’t be limited to people of faith.

“The work that’s done in the diocese certainly goes beyond religion. I see it as a wellness issue.”

Little, a marketing and communications manager based in Ottawa, was hired on Oct. 1 to start fundraising for the church’s planned $7 million expansion. The fire, he says, has added some urgency to that effort, adding that the diocese has received calls from as far away as Australia.

Meanwhile, Anglican church services continue in the parish hall where attendance has been strong, said the pastor, Capt. Ron McLean.

A silver baptism bowl has been polished up as good as new, and its wooden base – made by Harry Kilabuk – will be stripped and refinished.

Unfortunately, the bowl’s marble base – along with two narwhal tusks that formed the arm of the cross and two walrus tusks from a smaller cross on the altar – were stolen when the church was set alight.

A letter is on its way to the governor general’s office to notify the Queen of the fire.

“I’m sure the Queen does know,” said McLean, pointing out that she not only turned the sod for the building, but returned twice to worship in the cathedral. “This church is very important to her.”

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