WHEN Hudson Stuck wrote his book, The Alaskan Missions of the Episcopal Church, he closed it with the sentence:
"The present writer, on the point of returning to Alaska, solemnly commits this cause to the people of the Church."
Archdeacon Stuck's commission was accepted and through good years and bad years Church people continued to believe in the Alaska Mission and to support it so that it grew steadily.
The story of the Church in Alaska is largely a story of great missionary personalities, beginning with the pioneer missionary, the Rev. Octavius Parker, who journeyed up the Yukon River five hundred miles and established what is now the mission at Anvik. In 1887, the Rev. John W. Chapman became the Church's second ambassador to Alaska, remaining for forty-three years of service to the Indian people in and about Anvik. Eight years later (1895) the Church sent a Bishop to Alaska, in the person of the Rt. Rev. Peter Trimble Rowe. His personality and his heroic endeavor attracted other great personalities--Hudson Stuck, C. E. Betticher, Annie Cragg Farthing, John B. Driggs, Bertha Sabine, Mary Glenton, Frederick B. Drane--both men and women, who wrought with him to carry the Gospel to Alaska's scattered peoples.
To the patient labor of Dr. Chapman at Anvik there must be added the story of the journeys of Archdeacon Stuck over the snow trails in winter and along the rivers during the three months of open water; the persistent work of the Ven. F. W. Goodman, now in charge of the Archdeaconry of Arctic Alaska; the heroic ministry to body and soul of Grafton Burke, physician-in-charge of the Hudson Stuck Memorial Hospital at Fort Yukon, and the unceasing journeyings by boat and dog-sled, of the youthful and vigorous Suffragan Bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Boyd Bentley, who was consecrated in 1931, after previous service as a missionary in Alaska.
TRAVELS by airplane, travels by motor launch, travels by dog-sled and on snowshoes, travels of the Suffragan Bishop in his little open boat with outboard motor--a constant effort to go to people who cannot come, make up the story of the Church in Alaska.
This constant movement of mission workers is readily understood when it is realized that Alaska has a total area of nearly 590,000 square miles, about one-fifth the area of the United States, an ocean coast of 4,750 miles, not including coastlines of islands, inlets, and bays, with a population of 60,000 whites, Indians, and Eskimos widely scattered in little villages and with few large cities and towns. There are two classes of people in Alaska that need the ministrations of the Church: the native Indians and Eskimos, who must be shepherded and protected, and the white people who have become residents of the Territory and often live in inaccessible places.
The greater part of the white population is in the small towns along the coast, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Sitka, Cordova, and Anchorage. A shifting white group is, also, found in the camps and canneries. The natives of the interior are Indians, members of the great American family of Athabascans. The people of the southeast and southwest coasts are Indians too, but they differ greatly from their kinsmen of the interior. Along the barren shores of the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea live the Eskimos. These people have pushed their way up the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers for two or three hundred miles and have claimed almost the entire length of the Kobuk and Noatak Rivers of the North. The Aleuts are related to the Eskimos and are to be classed with them. These native peoples today number about 30,000.
Native religions are animistic and superstitious. Beliefs of natives, untouched by Christian efforts, are gloomy and degrading, and the medicine man is supreme. In the old religions witchcraft was the great power in the world. Sickness and death were caused by it, and by it alone might be cured or prevented. The forces of nature were controlled, floods provoked, good or bad seasons brought about, personal disasters induced or averted, children obtained or denied by the charms and incantations of the medicine man. The people were not idolaters; they simply had no notion of worship as other races entertain it.
STATISTICS of missions in Alaska are but slightly revealing, for while the Bishop's annual report may show but twenty-three stations, that figure will fail to take into account scores of tiny places visited irregularly, where there are little groups of Christian people. The services and sacraments of the Church--baptism, confirmation, marriage--are brought by visiting clergy, and accepted gratefully and devoutly by these isolated people who carry on the Christian tradition implanted by the pioneers.
The archdeaconry of Arctic Alaska has its center at Tigara, Point Hope, on the Arctic Coast. This is the Church's only mission to the Eskimos. Founded by the Rev. John B. Driggs, M.D., in 1890, the work at St. Thomas' Mission had the benefit of this pioneer missionary's leadership for eighteen years. More recently, Archdeacon Goodman has had the responsibility for the care of this congregation, and for those people who live in widely-scattered villages along the barren and forbidding coast.
In the Archdeaconry of the Yukon, missions are located at Allakaket, Anvik, Arctic Village, Eagle, Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, Nenana, and a dozen or more other organized centers, with, as throughout the field, many little unorganized groups, ministered to occasionally by the Bishops and other clergy.
At Allakaket, St. John's-in-the-Wilderness was organized by the late Archdeacon Stuck. It is the only station that ministers to both Eskimos and Indians. For ages the two races were bitter enemies. Now, under the influence of the Church, they have become fast friends. This mission is regarded as one of the most hopeful in the interior country.
ANVIK was, as has been said, the starting point, and Christ Church there was the first Episcopal Church building to be erected in Alaska. It was built with a part of the first United Thank Offering of the women of the Church.
The Rev. H. H. Chapman, son of the founder and the first white boy born in the valley of the Yukon, is in charge of the mission. He also has the care of three other congregations.
The Church of England in Canada started missionary work at Fort Yukon in 1861, but the Episcopal Church later took over the territory, and there is today a simple log church, St. Stephen's, and the Hudson Stuck Memorial Hospital, operated by Dr. Grafton Burke, who has been there since 1908. Much of what is to be seen at Fort Yukon is a monument to the faith and courage and zeal of Dr. and Mrs. Burke. A missionary's wife is not technically a missionary, yet few women who have served as missionaries in Alaska have been of more abundant and gracious usefulness than Mrs. Burke. Dr. Burke is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and the hospital is recognized by that society as a standard hospital. It has a modern, well-equipped X-ray room, operating room, and other facilities which make possible the handling of thousands of cases each year. Near the hospital stands the mission residence, the home of Dr. and Mrs. Burke, which is, also, the home of some twenty children cared for by Mrs. Burke.
The strongest white congregation in Alaska is that of St. Matthews, Fairbanks. It is an active and well-organized congregation with a log church building and dignified and attractive furnishings. Work at Fairbanks began in 1903 with a service held by the Rev. Charles E. Rice, in a tent that was used as a saloon. At the time of the gold rush, Fairbanks grew rapidly, but when the gold was taken out, the people moved on. The town seemed about to die, when a large mining corporation came in and installed giant dredges to work the ground. Men came back, and the town has a new life, and prospects of future development for years to come. The people of St. Matthew's assume a large share of the support of the mission.
The University of Alaska, the farthest north college in the world, the President of which is a Churchman, is near Fairbanks.
The white town of Nenana came into being during the construction of the Alaska Railroad. It is the point where freight and passengers for the Yukon are transferred from the railroad to river steamers. Near the town stands St. Mark's Mission, and the Church's only boarding school for native boys and girls. It cares for about forty children, who come from all over the interior. Some of them are orphans, though the school is not an orphanage. It was established and is maintained to educate and train native boys and girls in the fundamentals of the Christian faith. They are then returned to their own homes and communities to become teachers and leaders of their people. Parents are expected to pay something toward the support of the children. Sometimes this is paid in money, but more often in meat or firewood or work.
IN Southeastern and Southwestern Alaska, centers of work include such well-known names as Anchorage, Cordova, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, and Wrangell, with about eighteen other stations included in the area. Juneau is the capital where the Governor lives and the Territorial Legislature sits. It is the largest town in the Territory with a population of about four thousand. Just below the town is the Alaska Juneau Mine, which operates continuously and employs about eight hundred men. Here, too, is Holy Trinity Church, which is the pro-cathedral of the Missionary District of Alaska. The cathedral church is an attractive and well-appointed building. It has good congregations.
Ketchikan is the first port of call in Alaska, 750 miles north of Seattle. Like many Alaska coast towns it has the appearance of being pushed into the sea by the mountains that surround it. Every advantage of space must be taken. It is a busy town, second largest in the Territory, and boasts of canning more salmon than any other city in the world. There are two churches, and two resident priests. The white congregation worships in St. John's, erected by the Rev. Thomas Jenkins, now Bishop of Nevada.
St. Elizabeth's is the church of the Indian people of the town. The Rev. Paul J. Mather, the priest-in-charge, is the only Indian priest in this field. Ketchikan is considered one of the growing towns of Alaska, and the Church should grow with the community.
CONSIDERATION has been given to some of the highlights of the adventurous past of Alaska, and to examples of the present more stable activities of the Church in this field. But what of the future? It is bound up, of course, with the future of the country and its people. Alaska is a new country in the sense that it is new to white men, and especially to the white men who now own and govern it. It is a frontier country!
Most of the towns continue to be more camp than town. People have paid little attention to their homes and gardens and communities. Now they are beginning to pay that attention. They are beginning to see the value of spiritual things as compared with material things. They are beginning to recognize the need for splendid traditions and ideals. The Church must encourage and satisfy that hunger for finer things.
Many of the white towns, especially those along the southeast coast, will remain and will increase in size and importance. There the work of the Church will increase too.
But Alaska is an old country in the sense that its native peoples have been there a long time. The interior of Alaska is an Indian country, not a white man's country. The white men came into the land to get gold. When the gold is taken, and much of it has been taken already, he will depart. The white population of the interior is not increasing, but decreasing. From Eagle on the upper Yukon to St. Michael on the sea, there is not a single white community that has as many white people as it once had. The great interior country is reverting to the Indian. More and more the Church's Mission in the Valley of the Yukon must be to the Indian people. It will be a mission of widely scattered posts, a mission requiring almost constant travel on the part of missionaries, and especially on the part of the Bishops. The time cannot be foreseen when such work can be self-supporting. It cannot be foreseen when the number of Church people can be greatly increased. But it is possible to foresee a land peopled by a simple, humble, Christian folk, men and women who appreciate and are grateful for what the Church has done for them, and who will want their children to be reared in the faith.