Monday, July 28, 2008

Welcome to Anvik

Anvik lies 18 air miles downriver from Grayling at the confluence of the Anvik and Yukon Rivers. Christ Church is the oldest Episcopal Church building in the State of Alaska. It was built in 1894. Embedded in the stairs to the altar is a brick from Jamestown, Virginia, the oldest Anglican settlement in North America.

The Rev. John Wight Chapman served as mission priest with his wife May Seely Chapman from 1887 until 1930. He was succeeded by his son Henry who stayed through the 1930’s. Henry’s daughter Laura, who now lives in Los Banos, California still returns to Anvik in the summers to do vacation Bible school. Since I heard she was around, I was delighted when my friends T. and Abby offered me a ride in their boat. We went south under soft, gray skies.

The Yukon holds a great deal of natural history. It is shallow in many places, allowing sandbars to form which, under the right circumstances, turn into flat, willow covered islands. Near Grayling is Hot Dog Island, where the village goes to barbecue, swim and celebrate the Fourth of July. Another island, a little further down stream, is named after a well known ancestor. It is not uncommon to find fossils jutting out from high mudbanks. I’ve seen a number of mastodon tusks. At about six feet in length, they give one a sense of impossible hugeness and a world very different than our own.

Laura came down to greet us and take us up to the large Mission House where she was staying. Unlike in Grayling, the clergy did not live in the Mission House, but in a separate Rectory, which, alas, has now washed away. The Mission House originally held a boarding school for girls. It later became a girls’ day school, and still later a wilderness lodge. It is now largely a place of memories. As you walk up to the entrance, a sign advertises a cafĂ©, a pool hall, and the Iditarod Trail Headquarters. One fully expects to find Holling and Shelley serving up Mooseburgers, but instead, we found the Rev. John and Roberta Hanscom from Anchorage. John is a retired Air Force technical officer. He transferred up from Sacramento in 1975 for a tour of duty in Alaska that turned out to be the rest of his life. He is now a deacon in the Episcopal church and hopes to be priested when the next bishop is chosen. With Laura was her friend Chris, also from Los Banos, who at one time repaired stringed instruments for the San Francisco symphony. Nicer, more down to earth people I have never met, full of the joy of welcome and good travelers’ tales.

John and Roberta

Laura, John and Chris toured us around the church, while mosquitoes served as clouds of witness. The church features chandeliers which burn both electric and candlelight, a pump organ, and an ambulatory at the back which also serves as sacristy. The acolytes’ vestments are red cotton long parkas or parkys, worked with gold rickrack.

We arrived back in Grayling in time for evening services. My first arrival was a little camp robber who wanted to check out the community hall. Camp robbers are gray jays, very cute, very mischevious. This one found a nut on the door sill, bowed its feathery head and was gone. Later, ten of us gathered for Holy Communion. I brought leftover communion to one of my favorite elders. The town was in a joyous mood. The firefighters are home at last from Redding.

This morning, the local youth all turned up for community service. The children’s program is being passed over to a new, young leader, who has never done camp before. She planned some splendid activities, did all the right permission slips, and tomorrow, at long last, the kids are finally going swimming!

I miss everyone. I never realized what a gregarious and restless little thing I really was until I finally made it to the bush. Blessings.

The cross marks where the old church and rectory used to be.

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