Years of dealing with other people’s problems has led Chisasibi’s first Cree Minister, Jacob Sealhunter, to seek a temporary respite far away from home.
“Sometimes the job was difficult especially if you’re serving the community that you grew up in,” Sealhunter told the Nation. “When there was a death in the community, I knew all the people, so it was hard, especially when it was close family. That’s one thing that I found very difficult.”
August 29 marked his last sermon at St. Philip’s Anglican Church. For now, he will live with his son James in Ottawa and further his education by taking English courses.
Sealhunter said that one of the hardest parts to leave behind is the human element. “I’ll miss performing the services in the church and talking with the people.”
“It’s relief from his work, he was burnt right out,” said Eliza Webb, who serves as the rector’s warden. “He was at the end of his rope when he left. He should have left a year or two years ago, for a while anyway.”
Webb said that the main reason for his stress had to do with the numerous problems that community members would go to the reverend for advice. “I think people understand why he left,” she said.
With his departure, the task of keeping the church running falls on people from the community called the “lay readers,” who will be taking care of the sermons. They are limited in which ceremonies they are allowed to conduct, however, and cannot perform the same tasks as an ordained minister. Other reverends from neighboring Cree communities are trying to fill the void Sealhunter’s departure left on the Church.
Webb told the Nation that the minister had to deal with everyone’s problems so much that it almost caused a nervous breakdown. “I would see him sometimes and he’d be crying. I was relieved and sort of glad when he announced that he was leaving for a year,” said Webb, who has served in her current role for the last 20 years.
Sealhunter’s sister, Kathleen Kitty, was shocked and a little angry when he decided to leave. “The first reaction I had was how concerned was he about our parents?” Kitty said, who acts as the Church’s treasurer and has two elderly parents to take care of, one of whom is on dialysis. “Then I thought about it and I was pretty aware that he really needed a vacation just to get away for awhile for his well-being.”
According to the people’s warden, Charles Bobbish, the people of Chisasibi will miss Sealhunter. “Everybody will miss him. He’s well liked by this community and they appreciated the fact that they had a Cree minister here.”
Bobbish estimates that 97 per cent of the community follows the Anglican faith.
“My personal feeling is that he was really the right person for our community,” said Susan Reynolds, the Church’s organist who has been with St. Philip’s for almost 40 years. “We’re really going to miss him. I was surprised, I didn’t know he was contemplating leaving and I’m very sorry. I hope that he comes back, he’s a very valuable person and very sensitive to the needs of the people in this community,” she said.
Reynolds also spoke about the grueling schedule Sealhunter had to endure in his eight years as minister. “It wasn’t just a job where he worked every Sunday and that was it. It was full time, all the time.”
Sealhunter’s interest in becoming a minister started 10 years ago. Growing up in a religious family he became infatuated with the idea of doing God’s work. In later years he began to learn what it takes to represent the Anglican Church from Chisasibi’s reverend at the time, Bill Baldwin.
“I became a minister because I saw that whenever the people would speak to the other ministers, they couldn’t speak back to them in Cree,” said Sealhunter. “I thought that I could help out with that.” In 1996 he got his chance and replaced the retired Baldwin.