Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 19, 2000
Ecumenical ministry takes to the air
Churches united in joint effort to serve far-flung northern missions
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Faced with an acute shortage of ordained clergy, Christian churches in northern Canada have come up with an innovative way to serve their faithful.
They have set up an ecumenical flying ministry that delivers religious and educational services to the faithful in remote and isolated areas of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
On Eagle's Wings, as the Edmonton-based ministry is called, was set up about a year and a half ago by the Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches.
"We provide Christian ministry in remote areas of northern Canada," explained group spokesperson Verna Klimack.
The ministry, with about 700 members in Canada and the U.S., has its own airplane, a twin engine Piper Aztec, and its own pastor pilot, Lee Berry, a Yellowknife-based Lutheran minister who has been serving remote places of the Northwest Territories for 18 years.
Berry was installed as first pastor of On Eagle's Wings in February 1999, when the ministry took off officially.
The ministry provides leadership training, pastoral care, counselling as well as a Bible school for adults and children.
Recently Roman Catholic Bishop Denis Croteau of Mackenzie-Fort Smith asked Berry to provide leadership training for Catholic lay leaders.
"We are all trying to work together to allow the Gospel to be present in the lives of people as they discover where their churches are going and how they are going to get there," Berry said June 5 from Pennsylvania, where he was at a meeting of the group's American branch.
Few priests and nuns serve in northern Canada - something which has forced the laity to take charge of their churches.
On Eagle's Wings was set up to support lay people in that role, Berry said.
"Lay people are becoming the leaders and the people who are shaping their churches. And what we are trying to do (through On Eagle's Wings) is support them as they become the Church, as they become the leaders."
This has resulted in a renewed emphasis on giving people skills in Bible studies and Church leadership, Berry said. "We do a lot with programs for children in the summertime."
On Eagle's Wings runs a Vacation Bible School "where teachers from the South join with teachers from the North to teach children about the Bible."
Last summer On Eagle's Wings held Bible schools in 10 communities in the N.W.T., Nunavut and northern Alberta with about 500 children participating.
Thirty-three volunteer teachers from the U.S., Alberta and Saskatchewan joined 25 northern teachers and helpers to make the Bible schools a success. Most teachers were transported to communities by the organization's Aztec airplane.
This summer, On Eagle's Wings is planning 16 Bible schools and anticipates that more than 700 children will attend.
The organization is run by a 12-member board with representatives from Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. An American board of On Eagle's Wings was elected June 3.
The group defines itself as "a Christian, ecumenical, non-profit organization dedicated to proclaiming Jesus Christ and serving the Church and people living in remote areas of northern Canada."
On Eagle's Wings is currently looking for volunteers to help children with reading and writing skills in the N.W.T.
For information about On Eagle's Wings contact Verna Klimack at the organization's office, 8405-83 St., Edmonton, phone/fax 440-6594.