Missional Muddle – Br. James Koester

Matthew 28: 16-20

At a time when there is so much tragedy around the Church’s witness to the native and First Nations peoples of North America, one wonders about the appropriateness of remembering a nineteenth-century man who spent much of his life as a missionary in Canada’s north. It’s hard to disentangle the very real harm that settler or western religion, culture, and institutions have done in our attempt to follow Christ’s command to go therefore and make disciples of all nations…[1]from the desire to make known the God who is love.[2]

An Englishman by birth, Edmund James Peck spent thirty years in the Canadian Arctic, often separated from his own wife and family for years at a time. We don’t know what Peck’s racial biases were. Like all of us though, at least all of us of European descent, he must have had some. Yet his work on behalf of the Inuit of northern Canada was prodigious. He took a syllabic writing method developed for the Cree of northern Manitoba and adapted it to Inuktitut. By the 1920’s Peck’s syllabic writing method was so widespread that most of Canada’s Inuit people could read and write, and pencils and pocket notebooks so popular, they were in great demand. In 1897 the four gospels were printed as were extracts of the psalms and the Prayer Book.[3]

Unusual for a missionary Peck was also an ethnographer, carefully documenting the lives of the Inuit, including belief system, legends, and rituals. His observations were finally published in 2006 as part of the Anglican Church of Canada’s commitment to the truth and reconciliation process.[4]

From this it would seem that we can say a number of things about Peck, which are consonant with our own Rule. While like us, it was his mission is to bring men, women, and children into closer union with God in Christ, by the power of the Spirit that he breathes into us,[5] he it seems he did so recognizing that Christ is already present in the life of everyone as the light of the world.[6] Unlike so many others, he appears also to be conscious that not only had he come to teach, he came to listen and learn, perhaps knowing that he was not there to call down the divine presence to come to the place where [he had] seen a need, for the Christ who fills all things is already in that place. It is [Christ’s] Spirit who [called Peck] to join him there by offering [Peck’s] love in inter­cessory prayer and action, to be used by God for healing and transformation.[7]

We know from the history of Christian mission, that flag and cross are often confused, and the damage done as a result of a missional muddle can be enormous. It is incumbent upon us, whose life is a life of mission, to be clear that our task is mostly to stay out of the way and allow the Spirit to do its work. It would seem that Edmund James Peck whom we remember today, was one such missionary.

[1] Matthew 28:19

[2] 1 John 4:8

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Peck downloaded 10 Sept 2021

[4] Ibid., downloaded 10 Sept 2021

[5]SSJE, Rule, Mission and Service, chapter 31, page 62

[6] Ibid., page 62

[7] Ibid., The Mystery of Intercession, chapter 24, page 49

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  1. Wendy Manley on November 26, 2022 at 03:21

    Brother James,
    Your message about Edmund Peck touches me deeply. You’ve said so much in an economy of words. I’m grateful for your mission and ministry as well as that of Edmund. CHRIST is all in all.

  2. Margo on November 25, 2022 at 11:48

    Dear James, Thank you for the story which I had not previously heard. I will have to look him up. It is not just the Canadian Inuit who were confused by flag and cross but us right now here in the USA. Ruthless competition, dominance and greed are not by my reading gospel values but we daily and unquestioningly support them.

  3. Judy on November 25, 2022 at 08:47

    I did not know of this man, so thank you for bringing him to our attention. A remarkable story. Now I am eager to learm mire about his work and devotion.

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