The story is important and gives insight into Episcopal church work on the Northern Plains.
But I recommend that you read the comments at TitusONENine, which include clergy in North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada. You'll find windows through which to gaze on our unique mission field...
North Dakota: "I am one of the Canon Missioners for North Dakota. For me that means that I am serving 6 of the 21 congregations as Priest In Charge. They are located as far north as the Canadian border and as far south as the South Dakota border. I reside in Bismarck. Five of them are Native American Congregations on Reservations and one is an city congregation in Minot. I supervise and support the ministries of about eleven locally trained Deacons and Priests who serve in those congregations. We are making use of a partnership with the ELCA way up north and have joined their cluster/ecumenical ministry.
If we did not make use of Canons that allow for local training for non-stipendiary clergy many congregations in North Dakota would have closed. In some of our settings it isn’t that we are keeping our doors open when there are other congregations around that our members could have joined. This truly is a way to be missional within our tradition and maintain a congregation with consistent sacramental worship. It requires thousands of dollars to be used for travel. More than $40,000 a year is in the Bishop’s and Canon Missioner’s Travel Allowance. With $4.00 per gallon gas on its way that will need to increase or fewer miles will have to be driven. We try very hard to make our Canon Missioner assignments work to their best serving across cultures and across the miles.
Only three of our congregations can afford full-time clergy with their own resources. Native Ministry is largely dependent upon a base budget grant from the Episcopal Church. If we lost that revenue the Bishop would need to move to Standing Rock to keep Native work active in the diocese and then to be 1/3 time Bishop for North Dakota.
One of our greatest stretches in North Dakota is that a large population of Sudanese Episcopalians arrived here some years ago and have a congregation in Fargo-Moorhead. Even with all of our other economic challenges we try to raise funding for them to have at least a part-time priest in charge as well. They have three deacons, one priest and a congregation that is over 200."
Canada: Travel costs are -enormous-. Now while I’m in Canada, I’m working in a semi-remote area and to get down to my Bishop’s office for a meeting, it’s a 40 minute ferry ride, and around 5-6 hour drive. So that means staying overnight somewhere. One of my parishes is a 2-2.5 hour boat ride if I hitch a ride with the RCMP, a 6 hour fishing boat ride, or 30 minute plane ride. The first two are free, but only occasional. Flights are $300 round trip. While the flights are covered, it’s still a paperwork nightmare, and dependant on the weather. I’m trying to finance my own boat, but the costs are fightningly huge.
But on the whole, I’d say this was the best calling God ever called me to. The people, both First Nations and non are great. The First Nations communities have opened their arms and their homes to myself and my family, including apprenticing my son by one of the Master Carvers out here.
I’d love to stay out here for the rest of my ministry if I can. Lots of work to do, but it beats living in a city any day of the year. People look at me like I’m nuts, but I’d rather be out here doing God’s work than jockeying for a position amongst the other younger clergy.
South Dakota: think isolation is very much an issue as well. That’s an excellent point. I am probably a good 45-50 minute drive from the nearest Episcopal Church other than the one I serve. Luckily, I’m right on an interstate, so its not a major deal for me if I need to touch base with other clergy or the Bishop for whatever reason. But there are parished that are a good 2+ hours from anywhere. Clergy that serve those parishes are on the front lines. There aren’t clinical counselors or psychiatrists to refer parishioners to. There isn’t any sort of collegial ministerial associations in most towns. It can be depressing for priests because there is no ready support structure for them..
Case in point, I serve in a town of roughly 22,000 people. We have one of the major universities in the State, so that might go up to as high as 25,000+ people in town during the semester, give or take. We are the 4th biggest city population-wise in the entire state of South Dakota, bigger even than the state capital