22 December 2012

With the Saints through Advent (23): 22 December, Henry Budd

The Revd Henry Budd ... the first person of First Nations ancestry to be ordained in the Anglican tradition in North America

Patrick Comerford

There are no saints’ days in the calendar of Common Worship of the Church of England or The Book of Common Prayer (2004) of the Church of Ireland for these last days before Christmas. Perhaps the compilers thought these days are best left uncluttered as we prepare for Christmas.

However, the Calendar of the Episcopal Church (TEC) commemorates two interesting missionaries today [22 December], the Revd Henry Budd (1812-1875), a Cree Anglican missionary in Canada, and Charlotte Digges (Lottie) Moon (1840), a pioneering Baptist woman missionary in China.

The choice of 22 December for these two commemorations is more puzzling because Henry Budd died on 2 April 1875, and is remembered on that day in the Anglican Church of Canada, while Lottie Moon died on on Christmas Eve 1912.

The Revd Henry Budd was the first person of First Nations ancestry to be ordained in the Anglican tradition in North America. He is remembered for his service among the Cree in Western Canada.

Henry Budd was an orphan and the date of his birth is unknown, although he was probably born around 1812. He was born to a father from the Swampy Cree and a Metis mother, and was named Sa-ka-chu-wes’cum, which in the Cree language means “Going up the hill.”

After his father’s death, he was put in the care of an English missionary, the Revd John West, chaplain of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Rupert’s Land, the vast expanse of land that encircled Hudson Bay before it was divided into Canadian provinces.

John West had arrived in the Red River Settlement in 1820 as the first Anglican priest in the territory. At an early stage, he took an active interest in the selection and training of M├ętis and First Nations boys and young men at the posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company, bringing George Harbridge, a schoolmaster, with him to Rupert’s Land.

Together, West and Harbridge took charge of the young orphan boy’s education. West baptised him on 21 July 1822 and gave him the English name Henry Budd. West’s register includes this entry: “Henry Budd an Indian boy about ten years of age taught in the Missionary School and now capable of reading the New Testament and repeating the Church of England Catechism correctly.”

Henry entered West’s mission school and West brought him up to act like an Englishman. After leaving school in 1827, he worked as a clerk for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In 1836, he married Betsy Work, the daughter of a company worker. When his contract with the company came to an end, Henry and Betsy returned to the Red River region of Manitoba, and bought farmland near Saint Andrews. In 1837 he was appointed to teach at Saint John’s Anglican parish school. They remained in the area for the next 13 years while he taught in the school and served as a catechist.

Henry was an able teacher, and in 1840 two missionary priests, the Revd John Smithurst and the Revd William Cockran, asked him to go to the Cumberland House District to begin a new school and mission for the Cree.

After a short time there, Henry began his evangelistic work in The Pas, a settlement half-way between two trading posts on the lower Saskatchewan, where he found a number of the Cree people already living and ready to receive him and his teaching.

After two years of hard work, there were many candidates for baptism, and in the summer of 1842, Smithurst arrived in The Pas and baptised 88 people, including 39 adults, 27 infants, and 22 schoolchildren.

Henry Budd continued in sole charge of the work at The Pas until the arrival in 1844 of the Revd James Hunter. He interpreted for Hunter, taught him the Cree language, continued his work of teaching and itinerating, and superintended or took part in the various activities required to build up a missionary station in the wilderness.

He was so effective in teaching Christianity and managing his isolated mission that CMS recommended his ordination to the priesthood. He was trained for ordained ministry largely by personal mentoring and tutoring from other clergy, and was ordained deacon in Old Saint Andrew’s Church on 22 December 1850 by Bishop David Anderson, the first bishop of Rupert’s Land, when he visited The Pas, and was ordained priest soon after.

The ordination of Henry Budd was the first of a person of First Nations ancestry in the Anglican tradition in North America. There is no record of any such ordination in any of the older Dioceses of Eastern Canada prior to 1851, or in the Episcopal Church in the US. The ordination of Enamaghbouk (John Johnson), an Ottawa by birth but adopted by the Chippewas, by Bishop Jackson Kemper did not happen until 3 July 1859.

When James Hunter left The Pas, Henry took charge of the mission, and he remained there until 1857, when he was asked to begin a new mission at Fort a la Corne among the First Nations people of the Plains.

Henry Budd ministered at the Nepowewin Mission until 1867, when he was recalled to The Pas. There he served as priest and teacher until his death on 2 April 1875.

Even though he supported his own wife and children, his mother, and his brother’s family, CMS listed him as “a native missionary” and shamefully paid him only half the stipend that CMS paid a European missionary.

Henry possessed a striking presence and was a superb speaker both in English and in his native Cree. He is remembered as an eloquent speaker and writer in both Cree and English. He endeared himself to the people he served by exhibiting clearly in the living of his life the Christian principles he preached and the values he taught.

His lasting contributions include his translations of the Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer into the Cree language.

Henry Budd died on 2 April 1875, just a few days after he had conducted Easter services. He is buried in The Pas, Manitoba.
He is commemorated in the calendar of the Anglican Church of Canada on 2 April, but in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church (TEC) on 22 December, the anniversary of his ordination. In a remote and unintentional way, I suppose the two commemorations make the connection between Christmas faith and Easter faith, which I was discussing yesterday in the story of Saint Thomas the Apostle.


Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 11: 1-6, 14, 17; Psalm 29; I Thessalonians 5: 13-18; John 14: 15-2.


Creator of light, we thank you for your priest Henry Budd, who carried the great treasure of Scripture to his people the Cree nation, earning their trust and love. Grant that his example may call us to reverence, orderliness and love, that we may give you glory in word and action; through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tomorrow (23 December): Archbishop Frederick Temple.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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