Contemporary Church Organization

Throughout the Arctic, although Christianity has assimilated with Inuit traditions, the contemporary situation and organization of Christian churches remains complex and based on Western structures. In Greenland, the native church is part of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, but has functioned as an independent diocese with its own bishop since 1993. The church is divided into three main deaneries (South Greenland; Mid-Greenland, Thule, and East Greenland; and North Greenland) with five to seven parishes each and numerous parochial councils. In 1999, about 25 ministers, 46 catechists, and 30 unqualified catechists worked in

Greenland. Lutheran church services are presently held at 83 localities, but similar to other parts of the Arctic, other churches and sects such as the Peqatigiinniat, Roman Catholic Church, Adventist and Pentecostal churches, and Baha'i Assembly are also active. In Labrador, where approximately four ordained ministers served in 1980, the church ceased to be considered as a mission in 1990. Among the five Inuit communities, Moravian worship is still characterized by pietism or a devotional atmosphere with an emphasis on singing and music activities. Since the 1950s, education is no longer the province of the church but that of provincial authorities. From 1941 to 1971, Reverend F.W. Peacock acted as superintendent of the Labrador missions, and in 1980 the first Inuk, Renatus Hunter, was ordained minister.

In Alaska, many new churches appeared during the last 15 years of the 20th century, most notably of Baptist denomination. A huge diocese of Alaska, governed by the diocesan bishop, organizes the Orthodox Church in Alaska. The diocese consists of about 83 churches spread throughout the region. The contemporary organizational structure of the Catholic Church consists primarily of the archdiocese of Anchorage, the Diocese of Fairbanks, and the Diocese of Juneau. The Diocese of Fairbanks represents 33 major missions, 13 dependent missions that are visited by the priests, one radio station, and two schools with nearly 3300 children who receive religious instruction. The staff of the Fairbanks diocese includes 31 priests, two brothers, 15 sisters, 41 ordained deacons, and others who are involved in the Native Ministry Program. The Diocese of Juneau consists of 11 parishes and 13 missions spread along the Northwest coast. Anglicans are currently represented by many churches in Alaska. The Episcopal Church is well represented by a vast diocese divided into four deaneries. The Arctic Coast deanery consists of five congregations, all situated above the Arctic Circle that can only be reached by airplane. The Interior Deanery consists of 20 Episcopal congregations, and the South Central Deanery consists of 14 congregations with a remote group based on Kodiak Island and four congregations in the largest Alaskan city, Anchorage. The Southeast Deanery consists of seven congregations with a few located among the Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and Aleut that cannot be reached by road. The Anglican Church in America is also active in Alaska with a parish belonging to the Diocese of the West located in Fairbanks.

In northern Canada, the Diocese of the Arctic is the main institution for the Anglican Church. Created in 1933, the Arctic diocese covers one-third of the geographic area of Canada with congregations in about 51 northern communities grouped into 31 parishes. The majority of Anglican parishioners are Inuit but also

Amerindian. The church appointed many Inuit as ministers who are presently in charge of many local parish churches. The diocese is governed by synods that meet every three years and define church mission and direction. The Roman Catholic Church is also present in northern Canada, notably through the vast Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay, which is divided into three regions with over 15 mission posts, six missionaries, seven sisters, and 22 Inuit couples acting as local cat-echists. The diocese aims to establish a strong local parish tradition and to develop a lay ministry tradition. The Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay has published a bilingual journal since 1944, and administers a museum in Churchill and a catechist center in Rankin Inlet.

Today, in contrast to competition for souls in need of conversion of the past, Catholic and Anglican churches cooperate locally to face the challenges of incoming churches as well as secularization trends. The Pentecostal Church offers an interesting case: although the church unequivocally rejects shamanism, it has revived some of the old Inuit religious attitudes and rituals (personal relation with spirits, healing circles and confession rituals, etc.) within its practices. The sphere of religion thus remains a fascinating dimension of Inuit traditions.

Frédéric Laugrand See also Masks; Missionary Activity; Shamanism

Further Reading

Bobé, Louis, Hans Egede: Colonizer and Missionary of

Greenland, Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1952 Fienup-Riordan, Ann, "Negotiated Meanings: the Yup'ik Encounter with Christianity." In Eskimo Essays: Yup'ik Lives and How We See Them, edited by A. Fienup-Riordan, New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1990, pp. 69-122

-, The Real People and the Children of Thunder: The Yup'ik

Eskimo Encounter with Moravian Missionaries John and Edith Kilbuck, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991 Laugrand, Frédéric, Mourir et renaître. La réception du christianisme par les Inuit de l'Arctique canadien, Québec: PUL, 2002 Laugrand, Frédéric, J. Oosten & M. Kakkik, "Keeping the Faith." Memory and History in Nunavut, Volume 3, Iqaluit: Nunatta-Campus, Arctic College/Nortext, 2003 Pierce, Richard (editors), The Russian Orthodox Religious Mission in America, 1794-1837, with Materials Concerning the Life and Works of the Monk German, and Ethnographic Notes by the Hieromonk Gedeon, translated by Colin Bearne, Kingston: The Limestone Press, 1978


In pre-Christian times in Iceland, as in Scandinavia, a single ruling base presided over both secular and religious matters. Therefore, it makes sense that the chieftains were probably responsible for the general conversion to Christianity and the establishment of the Christian Church in Iceland and Scandinavia. The chieftain leaders were in closest contact with neighboring countries, where the influence of Christianity was steadily increasing. The people were willing to accept the direction of the chieftains in religious matters.

Until recently, it was generally accepted that the conversion to Christianity in the Nordic countries was a rapid and simple process. However, there is now a general consensus that the conversion process was gradual and marked by struggle.

From the time of the introduction of Christianity in Iceland and the Scandinavian Arctic, it is possible to follow a twofold process in the Nordic countries. The Nordic people strengthened their unity inwardly. The power of the monarchy increased, and scholars began working within the newly established Church-affiliated institutions. Society in general began adopting the values of Christian ethics. Following these developments, society grew increasingly stable. The second process was marked by extensive contact with the wider world. Therefore, the conversion to Christianity set off an important transformation in the foreign relations and domestic politics of the Nordic countries.

The structure of the Church in the Nordic countries was influenced by the model of the international Church, but it was also adapted to the social structure and systems of government in each country. The Danish Church was, however, soon linked to the Church on the continent. In Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, religious practice was based on domestic Church law as set forth by secular authorities. These laws were valid for certain regions and stated predominantly which religious obligations applied to the public, and what the rights and duties of the clergy were. This was important because everywhere in the Nordic countries the chieftains had great influence in the Church. The chieftains built the first churches and provided them with land and other possessions to secure their financial base. The chieftains also hired priests for service and guaranteed their income. Initially, the chieftains were also supposed to be the owners of the churches; they and their descendants had control over them even if they became parish churches. That is why the Church did indeed strengthen the position of the chieftains. Because of this, the Icelandic Church in its first period is given the name Chieftain Church. The same is basically true for the Christian Church in other Nordic countries, but there the monarchy had relatively more influence than the chieftain class.

A watershed in the development of the Nordic Church came with the establishment of Nordic archbishoprics (1104 in Denmark, 1153 in Norway, and 1164 in Sweden). The establishment of archbishoprics was not only crucial in terms of Church history, it was also a significant political event. Therefore, it was natural that the Nordic kings were among the instigators of the archbishoprics and supported them with land and capital. The most important effect of the establishment of the Nordic archbishoprics was that it secured the independence of the Church from the archbishop in Hamburg-Bremen, but did not lead to more independence from local secular authorities.

The most important moves to increase the internally based strength of the Nordic Church and give it more power in its dealings with the state came with the church political reform movement of Pope Gregory VII (Gregorianism). Its followers intended to make the church strong throughout Europe, and make it more free and independent from secular powers in society. This kind of church was totally different from the localized church system formed in the Nordic countries following conversion, and which operated on the basis of domestic Church law.

In Denmark, the struggle for independence of the Church took place during the time of archbishop Eskil in Lund (1137-1177). He was a competent Church administrator and had close contact with one of the most influential theologians and Church leaders of Europe, Bernard of Clairvaux.

When the archbishopric in Trondheim, Norway, was established, the envoy of the pope presented the demands of the Church for independence, the first time this had happened in Norway. The result was that the kings waived their claims to control over the property they and their ancestors had donated to the Church, and promised to respect the election of bishops in accordance with universal canon law.

In Sweden, the demands for independence of the Church were first voiced at the Church council in Linkoping. However, the Church was still in its infancy in Sweden, and its success in achieving its goals was more limited than in Norway.

During the period of conversion, Nordic culture reached from the southern parts of Sweden and Norway across Denmark to a large part of Britain and to the new Nordic settlements in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. The indigenous Saami people did, however, differ from the Nordic people both in terms of culture and religion. This difference had led to little conflict until the advent of Christianity. However, Christianity alone cannot bear all the responsibility for the tension. The Swedes and the Norwegians wanted to establish control over the Saami and incorporate their land. To do so, they needed to assimilate Saami culture into the culture of the majority. This was most effectively done by Christian missionaries.

Today, the majority of the inhabitants of the Nordic countries belong to the evangelical-Lutheran churches,


which have been termed national churches. All of them were linked closely to the state until the Swedish Church was separated from the state in the year 2000. Democratic development, an increasing interest in other religious groups, and a growing number of immigrants that adhere to different faith systems have sparked debate about the national church system, and whether it can coexist with a true freedom of religion.

Hjalti Hugason

Translated by Thorsteinn Thorhallsson See also Missionary Activity

Further Reading

Bjerre Finnestad, Ragnhild, "The Study of the Christianization of the Nordic Countries. Some Reflections." In Old Norse and Finnish Religions and Cultic Place-Names. Based on Papers Read at the Symposium on Encounters Between Religions in Old Nordic Times and on Cultic Place-Names held at Abo, Finland, on the 19th-21st of August 1987, edited by Tore Ahlbäck, Abo: The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, 1990, pp. 256-272 Foote, Peter, "On the Conversion of the Icelanders." In Aurvandilstä. Norse Studies, edited by Michael Barnes, Hans Bekker-Nielsen & Gerd Wolfgang Weber, Odense: Odense University Press, 1984, pp. 56-64 Jon Hnefill Aöalsteinsson, Under the Cloak. The Acceptance of Christianity in Iceland with Particular Reference to the Religious Attitudes Prevailing at the Time [Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia ethnologica Upsaliensia (4th edition), Anna Birgitta Rooth], Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1978 Refskou, Niels, "Missionary Aims." In The Christianization of Scandinavia. Report of a Symposium held at Kungälv, Sweden, August 4-9, 1985, edited by B. Sawyer, P. Sawyer & I. Wood, Alingsäs: Viktoria Bokförlag, 1987, pp. 22-23 Sawyer, Birgit & Peter Sawyer, Medieval Scandinavia. From Conversion to Reformation, circa 800-1500 (The Nordic Series, 17b), London, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993

Sawyer, Peter, "The Process of Scandinavian Christianization in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries." In The Christianization of Scandinavia. Report of a Symposium held at Kungälv, Sweden, August 4-9, 1985, edited by B. Sawyer, P. Sawyer & I. Wood, Alingsäs: Viktoria Bokförlag, pp. 68-87 Strömbäck, Dag, The Conversion of Iceland. A Survey, London: University College, Viking Society for Northern Research, 1975

Vesteinsson, Orri, The Christianization of Iceland. Priests, Power, and Social Change 1000-1300, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000


The northern areas of the Russian state and the indigenous people who populated it were in a zone of monopoly influence by the Russian Orthodox Church. Up to the 18th century, the Russian government had restricted missionary activity. During the entire 17th century, christening the indigenous peoples by force was prohibited. Imprudent actions by missionaries could lead to disturbances in the regions that had recently joined and thus create a threat to the military, political, and fiscal interests of Russia. As a result, the Russian Orthodox Church limited propagation of Christianity to those aboriginals living close to Russian settlements. Special missionary expeditions were rare (e.g., a trip by Makariy, a monk of the Yakutsk Spassky monastery, to the Kolyma, Indigirka, and Alazeya rivers in 1668). As a rule, all aboriginals (interpreters, servants, hostages) coming into close contact with the Russians were baptized.

Mass baptism of the northern peoples began in 1706 on the initiative of Peter I. The Czar's radicalism and the more consolidated position of Russia in the northern region, together with reduced incomes from fur and society's increasing control over the church, permitted the restrictions on missionary activity to be lifted. Philophei Leshinsky, a Tobolsky archbishop, received decrees to organize and head several missionary expeditions in northwest Siberia (1707-1727). As a result, the majority of the Ob' Ugrians (the Khanty and Mansi) were baptized by the middle of the century. Endeavors to baptize the Nenets of the northern Priob'e failed, probably due to the greater independence of the Nenets from Russian colonial authorities and the patriarchal system of their society. Aboriginals of the Northeast also were left unbaptized, mainly because of distance from the church and secular administrative centers and, as a result, material and personnel difficulties of the Russian Orthodox Church.

From 1720 to 1760, Christianization of the northern peoples was carried out slowly, which was connected with the economy of the state exhausted by wars, social and economic experiments by Peter I, and political instability of the state. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a mass baptism of the aboriginals of Eastern Siberia took place, connected with the ascension of Catherine II. A Yakutsk ecclesiastical mission was created in Irkutsk eparchy (diocese) and a post of special "faith preacher" was introduced (1764). By 1820, there were almost no unbaptized aboriginals in Yakutia.

In the same years, the Russian Orthodox Church tried to spread its influence to the indigenous peoples of Chukotka and Russian America: in 1794, missionaries, headed by Iosaph, an archimandrite (abbot) of the Valaamsk monastery, and later Grigorii Sleptsov (1805), a priest of the Yakutsk Town Church, arrived at Kodiak Island. They set their particular hopes on a Christianization of the Chukchi, because this region was independent of Russia.

In the 19th century, a change of methods took place for the spread of the Orthodox religion. "Rules on management of aboriginals" (1822) gave the aboriginals freedom of faith. Baptism was encouraged, but it was not obligatory. As a result, missionaries began a detailed study of the traditions and cultures of the potential group of believers, created missionary schools for them, and translated divine service literature into their languages. The main events of this period were taking place in Chukotka and Alaska, and were connected with the names of A.I. Argentov, a priest who baptized several thousand of the Chukchi, Evens, and Yukagirs, and Innokentiy (Veniaminov), a Moscow and Kolomensky Metropolitan—the so-called Apostle of Alaska. The foundation of the Missionary Society in 1865 to assist Christianity spread among the pagans (since 1870 — Orthodox Missionary Society), through which they financed the missionary activity, promoted the success of the Orthodox preaching. As a result, by the late 19th century, the Russian Orthodox Church controlled the entire North with the exception of the most outlying districts.

A mass baptism of the northern peoples was the beginning of a new stage of their development. Besides the Russian citizenship, the aboriginals became members of the Orthodox Church, that is, they were included in confession in common with the Russian population, which led to strengthening of the Russian statehood in this region and intensification of interethnic contacts. Russian priests, residing among the newly baptized people, became guides of not only intellectual but also material Russian culture. The creation of missionary schools and the study of languages and traditions of the North played an important role in forming the first generations of national intelligentsia and modern national culture.

Mass baptism also meant the end of an autonomous, natural development of traditional beliefs of the northern peoples and the start of forming syncretic cults where honoring the Orthodox saints coexisted with animism, totemism, and "production" magic. Former mythological ideas were transformed and new motives (e.g., about the Upper divinity among the Ob' Ugrs) appeared under the influence of the Orthodox dogmatics. Newly baptized persons adopted the Orthodox rituals. Shamanism received a serious blow.

The organizing structure of the Russian Orthodox Church included the newly baptized northerners in the old eparchies, and then in the independent structures as new regions of the North joined. In 1620-1621, an archbishopric was established in Tobolsk. In 1727, the Irkutsk episcopacy was separated from Tobolsk's staff because Tobolsk was in no condition to solve the problems of the East Siberian churches effectively.

In the 19th century, the Kamchatsky eparchy was established as a result of successful actions of missionaries in Russian America (1840, Novoarchangelsk;

later Yakutsk, with Yakutia transfer from the Irkutsk eparchy in 1852). In 1869, an independent Yakutsk episcopacy was created.

The Russian Orthodox Church created special ecclesiastical missions (Obdorsk, Yakutsk, Chukotka) for preaching among the unbaptized aboriginals, acting autonomously and divided into missionary permanent establishments. Such church-administrative division existed up to the Revolution in the 20th century.

An anticlerical policy of the Bolshevik leadership of Russia led to a general closing of churches, repression of clergy, discrimination against believers, and stopping of the missionary activity on the North. A militant atheism, determining the policy of the Soviet state for decades, was replaced by friendly relations with the Russian Orthodox Church in connection with the process of democratization. The 1000th anniversary of Russia's baptism (1988), celebrated as a national holiday, marked a new stage of the Russian state as regards believers.

The modern period of development of the religious situation in the North is characterized by a reconstruction of structures, proceeding against the spread of the Protestants' (Baptists, Adventists, and so on) influence, connected with the activities of missionaries of foreign evangelist centers. This situation evokes dissatisfaction and anxiety from the direction of the Russian Orthodox Church, which considers the North as a traditional sphere of Orthodox influence. But an identification of the Orthodox with the Russians' ethnic beliefs in conditions of cultural and national awareness among the ethnoses of the North creates serious problems for the Russian Orthodox Church. Although evangelist preachers emphasize the national feature of their confessions, at the same time endeavors to revive traditional beliefs are undertaken. But the consequences of atheistic education during the Soviet era prevent these initiatives from attaining a mass character.

Alexander Nikolaev

See also Archbishop Innocent (Ivan Veniaminov); Missionary Activity

Further Reading

Shishigin, E.S., Rasprostranenie khristianstva v Yakutii

[Christianization spread in Yakutia], Yakutsk, 1991 Yakutsk eparch registers, 1899, No. 14, p. 208


The international seaport town of Churchill, Manitoba (population 1089), is located on the southwestern coast of Hudson Bay at the mouth of the Churchill River (58° N 94° W). Churchill is located in a unique

Landscape of Churchill with polar bear, Manitoba, Canada.

Copyright Norbert Rosing/National Geographic Image Collection

Landscape of Churchill with polar bear, Manitoba, Canada.

Copyright Norbert Rosing/National Geographic Image Collection ecoregion where the boreal forest evolves into the transitional forest (taiga) and Arctic tundra landscape. The region's most famous resident, the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), is forced to spend three to four months ashore each year when the sea ice on Hudson Bay melts.

The earliest inhabitants of Churchill, the Paleo-Eskimos (Pre-Dorset and Dorset cultures), arrived in the region as early as 1700 BC. The Hudson's Bay Company established a fur trading post in 1717 with the assistance of a Dene woman named Thanadelthur. The Company's post attracted other groups to the region, including the Caribou Inuit from the Kivalliq region to the north, the Chipewyan people, a Subarctic Dene culture from the west, and the Swampy Cree, a Hudson Bay Lowland culture from the south.

Exploration for the North West Passage brought Churchill's first white occupants from the ill-fated Danish expedition led by Jens Munck (1619-1620). British explorer Samuel Hearne chronicled his epic journey with Matonabbee (a Dene) from Churchill to the mouth of the Coppermine River in A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772.

In 1870, Western Canadians actively proposed constructing a railway to transport grain from the Prairie Provinces to the world markets via a Hudson Bay terminal. The project became a reality when the rail reached Churchill in 1929. In 1997, Omnitrax Inc., a private company, acquired the ownership of the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill. This deep-water port today facilitates large vessels shipping grain or other commodities. A resupply operation for Inuit communities in the western Hudson Bay region operates out of the port.

In 1942, American military forces arrived in Churchill and a joint Canadian/US military base, Fort Churchill (1946-1964), was constructed 8 km (5 miles) from the town. Originally conceptualized as part of the Crimson Staging Route to ferry wounded personnel from overseas during World War II, the Fort Churchill base became a northern research and cold weather-testing site until the late 1970s. In preparation for the 1957 International Geophysical Year, a rocket launching facility (Churchill Research Range) was constructed 16 km (10 miles) east of the base to study upper atmosphere phenomena. Today this facility is the location for the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (established in 1976).

The town of Churchill has evolved from a small frontier town in the 1930s to a modern community with a mixed aboriginal and nonaboriginal population. A project in the mid-1970s constructed massive public housing and a town center complex, built to facilitate the social, recreational, and medical needs of the region.

The leading private sector employers in Churchill deliver transportation services via air, rail, and sea (port). A new air terminal (1999) stands adjacent to a 2750 m (9000 ft) runway. For a small population, Churchill boasts an impressive array of services available to both the residents and a growing international tourism industry. The leading public sector employers in the town include the Churchill Regional Health Authority and the Town of Churchill.

The region's natural and cultural heritage can be appreciated by visits to the Cape Churchill Wildlife Management Area (Province of Manitoba), the Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site, Wapusk National Park (established in 1996), and the famed Eskimo Museum (established in 1944). Spectacular Precambrian rock formations, stunning aurora borealis displays, rare birds, beluga whales, and the polar bear await Churchill's visitors.

Lorraine E. Brandson

See also Hearne, Samuel

Further Reading

Beals, C.S. (editor), Science, History and Hudson Bay, 2 volumes, Ottawa: Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, 1968

Bickle, Ian, Turmoil and Triumph: The Controversial Railway to Hudson Bay, Edmonton, Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, c. 1995

Carroll, Patrick, Wapusk National Park: A Land Use History,

Winnipeg: Parks Canada Western Service Centre, 2000 Hearne, Samuel, A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, edited and introduction by Richard G. Glover, Toronto: Macmillan, 1958 MacIver, Angus & Bernice, Churchill on Hudson Bay,

Churchill: Churchill Ladies Club, c.1982 Payne, Michael, Prince of Wales Fort:A Social History, 1717-1782, Manuscript Report Series No. 371, Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1979 Riewe, Roderick, Luke Suluk & Lorraine Brandson, "Inuit land use and occupancy in northern Manitoba." The Northern Review, No. 3/4 summer/winter (1989): 85-95


The Chuvans are an indigenous people of the Russian Far North, living in Magadan Region and Chukotka Autonomous Region. Their self-designation is Etel' or etal; other names are Chavan, Chaun (names from the Chukchi language, which are used in place names like Bay of Chaun and Chaun River), the Russian derivate Chuvan, which is the official name in the Russian Federation, and Sholilayi (name from the Yukagir language), and the Russian derivate Shelagi, which is used in the place name Cape Shelagskii, a point on the north coast of Chukchi Autonomous Okrug.

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