Sperry, John. Igloo Dwellers Were My Church. 2001. Bayeux Arts, Inc. Calgary.
J.S.(Jack)- Jack Sperry moved to the tiny Canadian Arctic settlement of Coppermine in 1950. He spent 40 years in the Arctic as an Anglican priest and later became a bishop of the Arctic.
Although this story is about a priest whose church was made of igloo dwellers, this is also an intriguing resource of interesting Arctic history. The aborigines of the Arctic are a unique people and Jack has done an impressive job of including information about their life style and history. Jack was a ‘model missionary’ to these people during the last half of the 20th century.
John Sperry was a missionary to the Eskimos of the central Arctic. Born in England, he was educated and ordained as an Anglican priest. He was uniquely called to this special parish. He began his ministry in Coppermine in 1950. Two years late his bride joined him. They were married in Coppermine and raised their family (girl and boy) there.
Pioneer missionaries have some things in common. Language is crucial. It must be learned and usually put into writing for the first time. This was part of John’s assignment and experience. He became familiar with the beliefs of the people and saw a positive response to Christianity which gave them a welcome deliverance from the fear and bondage of superstition and the control of perceived holy men (shamans).
During John’s ‘tenure’ in the Arctic he saw many changes, some good and some not so good. Manufactured goods came from the south that were brought in by the Hudson Bay Company. Rifles made hunting easier and more productive. The introduction of snowmobiles and outboard motors brought a huge change in speedier travel. Increasingly locals lived in permanent all-season dwellings. The construction of the ‘Dew Line’ brought employment and wealth. With wealth came consumerism and all the negative things associated with it. The old society disintegrated. Family life was virtually destroyed. “The social fabric of the Arctic society was beginning to fray.” (158) The work of the RCMP changed from ‘managing’ people’s needs to law enforcement and dealing with the negative influence of alcohol and drugs. Suicides became more common. The work of the missionary changed dramatically.
In his Epilogue, Kuanakutin, who acted as editor of this book gives John this personal tribute. “Jack Sperry’s presence in our lives has meant the world to us. He has helped us through rough times, and his cheerfulness adds sparkle to our time in an astounding land.” (162)