William West Kirkby

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William West Kirkby

William Kirby

Saint of the Month

A Saint is referred to in the Bible as someone who believes and follows Jesus. Historically a Saint is a special person of note who has served God in a very significant way. The Churches honour the person and his/her dedication to God. Anglicans do not make Saints like the Roman Catholic Church does. We do however wish to honour and remember those who have served God in the past. In this column you will learn about the Saints of long past as well as Saints of the Yukon. Alongside a short biography there will be prayers and readings if your Church would wish to learn of this Saint of God and a suggested date to do this. It is also hoped that these reading would encourage small groups of people to gather to learn and discuss our rich heritage and history in the Church and in the Yukon.

Saint of the Month - June

William West Kirkby (1828-1907)

The first Anglican missionary to reach the Yukon Territory was the Reverend William West Kirkby. In June 1859, he arrived at Fort Simpson (Northwest Territories) with the intent to establish a church and mission. Although he had been deprived the privilege of attending school as a child, he later educated himself and eventually attained the position of schoolmaster in his native Lincolnshire.

Kirkby was accepted and trained by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and sent to Red River (Winnipeg) to teach school. He made such a good impression that within two years he was ordained and sent to minister at Fort Simpson. He devoted his energy to learning the Slavi language spoken by the native people of that area, but his active and inquiring mind soon led him to explore the surrounding territory.

In the summer of 1861, Kirkby set out to reach Fort Yukon. Accompanied by two native guides, he canoed down the Mackenzie and up the Peel Rivers to Fort McPherson. He reported meeting with a large number of Gwitch'in who received him kindly and provided him with an escort for the next stage of his journey. He then travelled west via the Porcupine River to Fort Yukon, the remote Hudson's Bay Company post situated near the confluence of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers in what is now Alaska. At the end of the summer, Kirkby returned to Fort Simpson fired up with the determination to open that vast area before any other religious denomination could begin work there. He enthusiastically wrote in the CMS magazine -"Gladly would I, if it were not for my family, live permanently among them [Gwitch'in]."

Married with a family, Kirkby felt he could not take on the enormous task of establishing the Fort Yukon mission. He appealed to the CMS to find someone more suitable. In October 1862 the CMS found their permanent missionary for that area; The man who would become a legend to this day - Robert McDonald.

Kirkby's trek through Northwestern Canada was hailed by the Church Missionary Society as one of the great missionary journeys of that era

If you wish to remember her life in church as a servant and saint of God the following is appropriate.

To all to whom I sent you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Jeremiah 1.7b

Almighty and everlasting God,
we thank you for your servant William West Kirkby,
whom you called to preach the gospel
to the people of the Yukon.
Raise up in this and every land,
heralds and evangelists of your kingdom,
that your Church may make known the immeasurable riches
of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

Prayer over the Gifts
God of our salvation,
your love for all the world is endless.
May all we offer you this day
renew our dedication to your mission;
in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.

Prayer after Communion
may we who share in these holy mysteries
receive health of body and mind,
and a continual will to witness to your gospel.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saint of Month - Index