The Anglican faith in Chisasibi gained a much-needed shot in the arm recently as six new Cree deacons were ordained in an elaborate ceremony.
Annie Herodier, lay readers Clifford Bearskin, Abraham Cox, Stephan Pepabano and Samuel Bearskin, as well as the Rector’s Warden, Eliza Webb, were ordained deacons on August 30 at the Anglican Church.
“It was a packed church,” Archbishop Caleb Lawrence said of the event conducted almost entirely in Cree using a translation prepared by former Whapmagoostui Chief David Masty.
The ceremony attracted a large number of locals along with many other people of the cloth from other parishes and dioceses. “It means a great deal both to them and to the congregation,” said Archbishop Lawrence.
“Just over nine years ago I was here in Chisasibi, when the Reverend Jacob Sealhunter was ordained a priest,” he continued. “There was a lot of excitement around that. What I said at that time was my hope for the Chisasibi community was that Jacob would not be the only one. He would simply be the first of a number of people who would later be ordained. This was the dream; this was the vision. And here, under 10 years later, six of them have been ordained with the expectation that a number of them would later become priests.”
Large photos of each of the newly ordained deacons were presented to them as gifts. They also each received a Bible. The men were adorned with corsages, the ladies with a bouquet of flowers.
After the ceremony, a banquet at Job’s Garden was prepared for 1,500 people.
Robert Kanatewat spoke about the dream of having locals take this big step and how it had finally come true. Canon Sharon Murdoch from Cochrane, Ontario, even brought her bagpipes. The evening ended, as many Cree gatherings do, with a square dance.
Eliza Webb, the Rector’s Warden, was one of the newly ordained deacons. She told the Nation that she wasn’t always ready to become a deacon, but over the years she has became more and more comfortable with the idea.
“I feel that I’ve fulfilled a calling from God,” said Webb, who was asked by Reverend William Baldwin many years ago to get on the path towards ordination. “I always refused and kept trying to avoid it, but it kept coming back. Finally I said, ‘If that’s what you want me to be, I’ll do it for my people.’
“A lot of people wanted me to go higher in our Church, but I didn’t think I was worthy” she added. “Then I thought that in the eyes of God, everyone is the same, everyone is equal, so I’m worthy because God made me.”
It was a bittersweet moment for Webb, who started singing in the choir at 16. A grandmother of eight, she had been the Rector’s warden for 15 years.
“My first cousin was a catechist in our Church,” she said. “The last words he told me were ‘Don’t ever turn back what you’re doing for our community.’ So I thought of him. I’m also thinking of my husband, Tom. He knew this would happen before he died and he wasn’t here to see it. So it was very emotional for me. But I knew he was with me in spirit, he always is.”
Webb believes this multiple ordination is a sign the Church is going to get stronger.
“We hope to have young people follow in our footsteps because we’re not getting any younger,” said Webb, who admits that getting the message out to the young people is a difficult task, but she is not discouraged. “One day they’ll open their ears and we have to be there for them.”
Through a special license the six deacons will be able to conduct marriages and help in various services within the Church, but their primary responsibility is getting to the people.
“Largely, deacons were meant to be ministering outside the worshipping body,” said Archbishop Lawrence. “They were the ones available to people on the fringes, maybe shut-ins who are in institutions or at home. They would help people who were troubled in various ways. We had a deacon in Moose Factory who worked particularly with those suffering from drug and alcohol problems,” he said.
Archbishop Lawrence noted that this group is not the first ones to be ordained. “There was Reverend Jacob Sealhunter nine years ago,” he pointed out. “There was also Sidney Fort Chimo many years ago and much further back there was Canon Samuel Iserhoff. But the number of people in this case is truly amazing.
“The hope is that they will also be an encouragement,” Archbishop Lawrence concluded. “That the young people growing up will see the Church not so much as a white man’s institution, but will see their own people directly involved. This will hopefully help people to commit themselves to the Church and help strengthen the whole community.”