Mark Carroll knows the Yukon has gold. But he left – sooner than he xpected. While studying at seminary in Langley,
A land that captivates and captures
B.C., Carroll heard church leaders’ vision
for growth in Pacific Canada. He “knew he
wanted to be on the front lines.”
Carroll packed his bags and headed
North, to the most western and smallest
of Canada’s territories. In September 2013
he became senior pastor at Whitehorse
Baptist Church – his first pastorate. Just
over a year later, he resigned. “This is, in
a lot of ways, the front line of gospel
ministry,” he says. “I get excited when I
think about what sort of Kingdom gains
you can get here.” It was too harsh, too
much, too little, not the right place for a
guy who had his heart in the right place.
Wilderness City is not for everyone. It is
The isolation is intense. Drivers travel for
hours on two-lane highways. Intermittent
rest stops – with outhouses, possibly with
toilet paper – can be the only reminders
of fellow travellers. Mountains frame the
land, blinding with snow in winter, and
the valleys are dotted with purple fireweed
in summer. Countless rivers and lakes
weave along, many of them still not
named – at least in English. Bears wander
through untamed bush. The cold can kill.
Winter stretches on.
The communities are sparsely scattered
across the landscape. Approximately
37,000 people live in the Yukon, roughly
28,000 in Whitehorse. Many communities have less than 500 residents. In
wintertime, some settlements are reached
only by travelling over roads made of ice.
The Yukon, for all its harshness, holds a
rare mystique. Most seekers never struck
the gold that first put the Yukon on the
map, but the allure remains. The History
Channel’s Yukon Gold reality show enters
its third season this year.
Ministers in the Yukon can be forgiven
for feeling like those old gold seekers. The
rewards seem small and barely visible. But
when they come, it is all worth it.
Greg Anderson is pastor at Riverdale
Things are very different here
Baptist Church in Whitehorse and current
president of the Canadian Baptists of
Western Canada. He arrived for his first job
in the ’70s. He was an accountant, but felt
called to ministry while attending River-
dale. In the church’s long 50-year history,
Anderson is one of only three pastors to
remain longer than three years. “Every-
body from Southern Canada wants to come
to the North for a few months,” he says. A
lonely profession can become even lone-
lier in the city far, far away.
Jeremy Norton is an Ontario native who
moved from Calgary last fall to become
associate pastor at Whitehorse Baptist
Church. He intends to stay. He married
an Alaskan and he’s wanted to pastor in
Whitehorse for years.
“I’m looking at a long game here,” he
says. But he still had to learn some things.
“If you’re travelling from a big city to the
Yukon, you’re going to think that you’re a
big fish in a small pond,” says Norton.
“But you’re more like a blue fish in a sea
of red fish. You’re totally different.”
People burst with pride at the phrase
“Made in the Yukon” – whether describing
crafts or a strategy to expand 9-1-1 service
across the territory. There is a territorial
pride here that, combined with a skepti-
cism of those who parachute in, can make
starting new things more challenging.
“The worst way to pitch something to
a Yukoner is to use something that you’ve
used before,” says Norton.
Norton’s congregation is growing
(they’ve purchased land for a new build-
ing), but growth numbers here are modest
and hard won. Note: a high-rise building
in Whitehorse is six storeys tall. Some
Yukoners consider a 300-person congre-
gation a “megachurch,” says Norton.
Even when Norton introduced the idea
of small groups, standard fare in other parts
of Canada, he put a Northern twist to his
presentation. “I would pitch [groups] saying, ‘You put a log on the fire, put the kettle
on, a nice stew on the go, and just invite
some folks over and talk about the Word and
Living and working in Canada’s North is the stuff of
dreams and legends. The reality is harsh. And beautiful.
BY MEAGAN GILLMORE
GOLD IN THE YUKON