Catching up with an alumnus: Ministry in the Northern Yukon

As Canadians continue to come to terms with the legacy of residential schools and the Anglican Church works toward reconciliation, Dio graduate Jeffrey Mackie is ministering on the front lines, facing the realities of the residential school system within his own parishes, and learning to apply his ministry skills within a culturally diverse context.  

When Jeffrey Mackie started his studies at Dio in 2017, he never expected he would end up with a three-point parish in Northern Yukon, requiring him to take a plane to one of his churches. “When we think of two-point parishes or three-point parishes we might think of someone driving to the next town over,” he says. “But driving to the next town for me is 230 kilometers through Klondike roads.” Jeffrey works as the area priest for St Paul’s in Dawson City, St Mary’s with St. Mark’s in Mayo, and St Luke’s in Old Crow. “When I was working as a verger at Christ Church Cathedral, I actually saw a

picture of the church that I ended up working at here… I actually looked at the picture and thought ‘I wonder what it’s like to be a priest in Yukon?’… Sometimes it’s just like you get whacked on the head by God, right?”  

Jeffrey first went to the Yukon when he did a summer ministry placement in Mayo before his final year of studies. That experience, combined with a college trip to Waswanapi, a Cree community in northern Quebec, helped him realize his calling to work with northern and Indigenous communities and led him to seek work in the Diocese of the Yukon.  

His experience in Yukon is worlds away from his experience in Montreal or suburban Ottawa where he grew up. From heating his house with wood to waiting for the dentist’s periodic visit from out of town, there has been a lot to adjust to. “You learn a different style of life… but, it’s all part of the ministry because you’re also learning how the people in your community live.” He speaks of the strong sense of community in these small towns, each with a population of less than 1500. (Old Crow has just over 200 people.) “You meet the guy who supplies the wood, you meet the person who supplies the vegetables and fruit… if you don’t see someone in town in a week or so, you check on them.”   

Dawson City, Mayo, and Old Crow are situated respectively within the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Na-Cho Nyak Dun, and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations, and the unique cultures of each place infuse the spiritual lives of the parishes. “The three First Nations that I’m in each have slightly different traditions around a funeral or a burial and I’ve had to learn those.” Regular worship services, he explains, are often done at least partially in the native language of the Nation where the church is situated. In Old Crow they use a bilingual Book of Common Prayer, written in Gwich’in and English.   

When asked about his experience working within Indigenous communities as a representative of the Anglican Church, he spoke of how important it is not to shy away from the church’s violent history with Indigenous peoples. “There are residential school survivors in my parish… and so you very much respect that and keep it present and visible to show that the church is not shying away… it’s a liturgy unto itself, it’s an act of witness.” He explains that one of the most important things he can do as a representative of the Church is to show up. “There are of course people still who resent the church and I know I’m going to encounter that, but I believe that to be present is important.”  

He expresses gratitude that his time at Dio equipped him with the language to speak and minister not only to Christians but to people who have distanced themselves from Christianity and yet still see him and his ministry as a resource. The churches in Mayo, Dawson City, and Old Crow are focal points of the community so his ministry is quite diverse. Not only is he ministering to his parishioners but also to community members who rely on some of the Church’s ministries despite not being Christian themselves. For example, in Dawson City the church runs a thrift shop which many people rely on for affordable clothing. “It forms a ministry that has had such a long bearing; and its essential to the community.”   

He values his years at Dio and is particularly grateful for the strong sense of community and the intellectual challenges which he says augmented his faith. Many of the discussions he had with mentors and fellow students, he feels, have actively shaped his capabilities as a minister. Now, working as a priest, he feels immensely honoured. “I’ve become very aware of where God’s working, and also gained a deeper sense of myself, and also the privilege, the honour of being a trusted presence in other people’s lives. ”