The town of Grayling, Alaska lies about 300 miles northwest of Anchorage on the west bank of the Yukon River as it curves down toward the sea at Bethel. On the east is the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, home to 130 species of migratory waterfowl over its 3,850,000 acres. Grayling lies in the Yukon-Koyukuk Borough, a large swath of the interior that stretches from Grayling in the west, all the way up to Arctic Village in the northeast which borders on the far more well known Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Grayling is a village of about 200 people, spread out along the bank of the river. Here are two images: one from Google Earth, the other from the Iditarod sled dog race which shows St. Paul's Church. Graying is a checkpoint in odd numbered years when the race follows the more difficult southern route.
All this is to say that on Monday, July 14, I am on my way to Grayling to serve as a parish priest for a month. The interior villages of Alaska are some of the most interesting and little known parishes in the Episcopal Church. During the early years of this century, missionaries, many of them nurses, braved isolation and harsh winters to share the life of the Native Alaskans. The Natives, for their part, found the Bible a reliable sacred text, as its stories were proven true in their own sacred traditions. Both Alaska and the Ancient Near East told of a great flood that overran the earth and an ark that saved the animals, although in the North, the raft was built not by Noah, but by Dotsen' Se, Great Raven. Jacob's ladder is paralleled in the story of "Eagle Man who Carried People Far Away." In another story, Dotsen' Se is killed by a chief who finds him nothing but trouble, but who is forced to repent and aid in Great Raven's resurrection. These are deeply true, earth and heaven based stories, just as our own faith stories are about the meeting of heaven and earth in the patriarchs, Balaam's ass, the prophets, the animals of Bethlehem and the Christ are true.
I go with a heart filled with gratitude that people yet live who know the land like a lover. I go with great humility because I know very little about life on the land. I ask your prayers. In turn, if I am able, I will post reports about life on the River, on the living waters of the Yukon, on my ongoing search to discover what does it mean to be a church, and my encounters with the real people whose lives have changed me in the reading of them.