The Rev. Joey Royal (centre) with his ATTS students Martha Kunuk, Esau Tatatoapik, Nina Kautuq, Sarassie Arragutainaq, Manasee Ulayuk and Annie Keenainak in St Jude’s cathedral.
Photo: Lucas Attagutsiak
JR: The Arthur Turner Training School first opened in Pangnirtung [on Baffin Island] and ran for 34 years. Many of our Indigenous clergy over the years have been trained at ATTS. The building we were using was a little mission hospital but it became unusable – the climate in the Arctic takes its toll on buildings! And so there was almost a decade when there was no full-time training. There was training going on in Baker Lake [on the mainland, just below the Arctic Circle]; there were sessional courses training lay leaders, and actually two deacons came out of that. But there was no full-time college training. The cathedral St Jude’s had burned down in 2005, and the last ATTS class in Pangnirtung finished in 2007 – and so there was a period where we had no cathedral building and ATTS was shut down.
TAP: How did the diocese manage to restart the school?
JR: A couple of years ago I was part of the diocesan education committee, which is chaired by Bishop Darren McCartney. One of our main tasks was to get ATTS reopened – and Iqaluit was the natural place for that. The cathedral is here, it’s the territorial capital and it is a hub for the prison, the hospital – it’s where a lot of the action is. We thought that for many reasons, this is a good fit. But then everything in the north is really expensive. There are no highways in Nunavut: everything is flown in in the winter, and shipped up in the summer by boat. So there is considerable cost to everything. There are housing shortages everywhere. So there are some obvious challenges with opening ATTS in the north, in one of the most expensive and remote places on the earth. Nonetheless the bishops and we as a group felt a real calling from God, that this was to happen and that we were to do this. Now with the reopening of the cathedral, St. Jude’s, in 2012, there are these wonderful facilities--and we make the most of that. Our newly reopened ATTS is in St. Jude’s, and we use it everyday – our classroom is upstairs in the cathedral. We do morning and evening prayer everyday with the students and clergy, and anyone else who wants to come: sometimes the elders come to it or other members of the community, and then Wednesday we have Communion. It’s been wonderful!
TAP: I understand you were able to get some student funding from the regional government?
JR: They are providing support for students and housing. Our operating costs still rely on donations – we definitely depend on the generosity of people to operate ATTS. But a couple of things helped to get the ball rolling. One was the rebate to dioceses following the residential schools settlement. That $50,000 was used for start-up. The other thing was our partnership with Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. We found them really keen to support us – they have a real vision not only to train ordinands for their own context, but also for the global church. They’ve been a wonderful partner: they’ve supplied us with is a curriculum, called Christian Foundations for Ministry, which forms the backbone of our curriculum at ATTS. But we also have permission to adapt it to our context.
TAP: What would be an example of that adaptation?
JR: Part of it would be the way it’s taught. Up here there isn’t a sharp division between academic pursuits and spiritual formation. So when we study the Bible, we leave lots of time and space to talk about how God is speaking to us through these texts, how we are processing this, how this affects us and our relationships and families, and we share our stories. There’s plenty of room for the way this connects with us on a deep level. Another thing is the language. I teach in English, but there is now an Inuktitut Bible. The students are all bilingual, and so they’re reading this in Inuktitut, and very often we will stop and ask how something is translated into Inuktitut, or ask how an idea comes across in their culture – and we’ve had wonderful conversations about that. People have shared stories their parents and grandparents told them, and it brings the Scriptures alive in a whole new way. So though I’m the teacher, when we open the Scriptures together, the Scriptures are in the centre of our gathering and we all speak, and through that encounter with the text, God speaks through us. I receive as much as I give – that’s the truth of it. We also have the elders and Inuit clergy come in. They speak the language and come from that culture. I’m also going to assign some reading that talks about the transition to Christianity within the Inuit culture, which is actually fairly recent, just a few generations back. Prayers are done in both languages. So it’s setting this down in the middle of a very different culture… and allowing Inuit people to process it in their own way…. It’s a very rich context in which to think about Scripture.
TAP: What is it about the Inuit culture that makes you feel it is such a rich context for exploring Scripture?
JR: There is an immediacy to their faith. Right now we’re going through the Old Testament and so much of it is about God calling people, being in very intense relationships with people and with people groups – and that is all an experiential reality. God appearing to people in dreams, God speaking, these are experiential realities for the people up here. They’re not just things we think about in our minds, they are things they are encountering. When I teach or preach in a more southern context, I feel I have to do some translation – there seems to be this huge gulf between the world of the Bible, which is a very supernatural world, and the world of 21st century Canada. But in this northern context, I don’t find that gulf very wide. There’s a real sense of the power of God at work in the world and at work in the church and at work in their lives. A real sense of the power of prayer, a real sense that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. That’s all very experientially real around here.
TAP: Tell me about some of the students.
JR: I have six students: all are Inuit and come from different regions of Nunavut. They’re all bilingual; they all speak English and various dialects of Inuktitut. They all have their own stories, their own journeys… In all of them there’s a hunger to learn the Bible and a hunger to learn about theology. Their goal is, while they’re here, to discern a call to ordained ministry – really a large part of the course has that discerning built into it.
TAP: Why is it so important to have Indigenous priests serving their own communities?
JR: We have a very strong group of Inuit priests who are getting up in years and either have retired or on the verge of retirement…we have fewer priests in general than we did 10 or 20 years ago. There is a need for priests to be in parishes. There are more parishes than priests. Why Indigenous priests? First, there’s the language piece. They can speak to people in both English – because in certain communities younger people speak more English – but also in Inuktitut, which is widely spoken across the territory. In this region of South Baffin, the traditional language is quite strong. Second, local people are better able to understand the unique struggles and hopes and needs of Inuit people and communities. There are people who come from outside and minister very faithfully and effectively, but it takes doing some fieldwork to learn the culture and the language. An Inuit person already knows that language and can speak into that culture – there’s a naturalness about it. For these reasons and more, my students fill me with hope.
TAP: When you’re teaching, you’re opening the Scriptures and teaching them about theology: I’m sure the subject of marriage comes up. Can you talk a bit about the recent events with the challenge to the Marriage Canon?
JR: There has been talk: we talked about it at our synod and we have conversations in our classroom. It’s obviously one of the big discussions of the day. I can tell you that what I hear is that the Anglicans up here, the people in leadership, don’t see any compelling reason to change the Marriage Canon, and actually think and fear that changing it will have the effect of undermining and destabilizing something that God has instituted. There are traditional reasons to think that. But the appeal, when we talk about that, is to the teaching of Scripture, which seems very clear on this matter.
TAP: I realize you can’t speak for every priest in your diocese, but is your general sense that many Anglicans in your diocese would be opposed to this change?
JR: Absolutely. Let’s just take our synod: the overwhelming majority of the people in that room, from different regions of the north, different backgrounds, different ages, the overwhelming majority were opposed to changing it and felt that the proposed change was destructive.
TAP: With what you said earlier about this sense of immediacy, and the lack of a gulf between the spiritual and everyday lives, perhaps they have a closer connection to the plain sense of Scripture – which is not to say they have a literalistic reading, but a way of reading that doesn’t allow the reader to distance herself?
JR: That’s it. We as a Diocese wrote a response to the report ‘This Holy Estate.’ That response was made available to our synod delegates in both English and Inuktitut. As a Diocese we found the revisionism of the report unpersuasive; the Scriptural teaching on marriage and sexuality seems quite clear to us. I suppose that it is, for many, as simple as that: that the Bible is quite clear.”
TAP: These students are considering ordained ministry, they’re thinking about going back to their communities, and dealing with all the problems and challenges their communities face.
JR: I think there would be a sense that this marriage discussion happening in the Anglican Church of Canada represents a deep confusion about authority, about marriage and what God’s purposes are for human sexuality…. And I think this is a time in the North to strengthen families, and to strengthen the social bonds and to do that with the power of God, to do that with Christian love.
TAP: Going back to the funding you receive from the regional government, to me that represents another difference between northern and southern culture – there seems to be less of a gulf between the Church and society in the North.
JR: By virtue of our relationship with Trinity, we are recognized as providing a post-secondary option for students. So that opens the door for students to access government funding, which is in an area that is so expensive. If they lived in the north Baffin region of the high Arctic, their flights to Iqaluit could be several thousand dollars. The cost is astounding, and rent in Iqaluit is upwards of $3000 per month; food is through the roof. So we really need government support to alleviate some of that and make it possible for students to come. And the government of Nunavut has been incredibly supportive in allowing us to tap into the resources that other students get.
TAP: Why is your regional government so supportive? That’s not a relationship that would necessarily be so easy to navigate in some parts of the South – why is it different?