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Walking in love on the Robert’s Mission

Walking in love on the Robert’s Mission

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information aiding in determining the cause of a fire in March at the Shoshone Episcopal Mission in Wyoming. Also known as the Robert’s Mission, it was established in the late 1800s as a Christian school by Reverend John Roberts, a Welsh missionary, with funds raised by Episcopal Bishop Ethelbert Talbot. The mission was assigned historical status in 1973 by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Dry historical facts don’t do the place justice, though. The mission has a deep personal significance to me and to my roots in the Episcopal church.

We, as Episcopalians, have the responsibility and the privilege to be the outstretched hand, the shoulder, and the champion of those who feel “less than” or unworthy.

As a young woman in the late 1920s, my Grandma Iva worked on the mission. She would ride her horse miles and miles from Willow Creek and stay for days at a time to teach cooking skills to the young Native American students. If you have never been on the high plains of Wyoming, picture nothing but sagebrush and antelope for miles in every direction – now imagine being out there, alone, and you get an idea of her dedication.

I was baptized at Robert’s Mission after the “white” church in my hometown refused to baptize me because my parents were not married when I was born. My parents, a white girl from Lander and a mixed native boy from the reservation, were married on the Mission. We were not seen as “other”, as we frequently felt in town, but were welcomed as a family worthy of dignity, respect, and God’s love.

As I got older and could understand why I had been turned away from the town church, I remember being confused about how my mere existence could be such an affront to the priest and would trouble him so much that he would deny my baptism. It would be a lie to say it didn’t affect my self-esteem. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to objectively recognize that there wasn’t anything wrong with me – that I was simply a casualty in the societal norms of the time.

I sometimes think about the parallels of my experience of being denied and those in the LGBT community who are rejected by family, friends, and society for simply BEING. As a mother, my heart aches for young people who have convinced themselves they don’t matter, children who are desperate for inclusion and compassion.

We, as Episcopalians, have the responsibility and the privilege to be the outstretched hand, the shoulder, and the champion of those who feel “less than” or unworthy. The church has come such a long way but have we all fully embraced the changes and what those changes mean?  Are we all committed to walking in God’s love?

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The Rev. Kay Flores

Tammie, I am sorry this happened to you, and glad you found grace at St. David’s (also known as the Shoshone Episcopal Mission).

Just to clarify, the church and parish hall were not damaged by the fire. The building that burned was historic but no longer usable. There is indeed a reward for information about what started the fire.

I work with several churches in central Wyoming. The Rev. Canon Joel Dingman and I happened to be at a vestry meeting at St. David’s a few days ago. At that meeting, the vestry decided to bury the ruins of the building for safety and aesthetic reasons. The vestry doesn’t currently plan to rebuild the building. The vestry plans to continue to seek input from the community as they discern next steps.

The only fundraising I heard of at the meeting is to raise money to serve lunch to about 1,500 people at the Shoshonean-Numic Reunion to be held at the Fort Washakie this summer.

The church’s mailing address is St. David’s Episcopal Church, PO Box 144, Fort Washakie, Wyoming 82514.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Ann Fontaine

The building shown is Redeemer originally located at Wind River (a few miles away). St David’s was moved from the highway to the mission and is the church used for worship now. Holy Saints John was John Roberts’ original mission church – it is tiny. St David’s was the church for the white soldiers at the Fort. The school building was used as a meeting place for Diocesan events -ECW,committees, etc. It was designated a historic site. When I was working there we looked into restoring it – it has become unstable by then and could not be used safely. It seems that the Historic people would not let them move the furnace out of the basement. The site was subject to periodic flooding due to irrigation that had been put in after the building was built. The building did not have a foundation and was built from unfired bricks. The historic commission said they could put in a sump pump to keep water out of the basement but the pump pulled the sandy soil out from under the walls and made cracks which rainwater opened further as well as freezing and thawing. It as a total loss at that point – as we could only salvage it by putting in concrete pylons under the corners and trying to pull the building back together. We applied for a grant from the Diocese to tear down the building and use the bricks to make a picnic grounds or labyrinth. But no $$ was forthcoming. So sadly the building sat with a fence around it – broken into occasionally for less than savory activities which is probably what happened to cause a fire. One of the older women who had attended Roberts’ school and belonged to the congregation told me that when Roberts become blind – he could tell who was in the room by their footsteps. She said he was never wrong. They called him Elder Brother as a mark of respect. He had seen the terrible outcome of the government schools (half the children died) and tried to model his school in a better way – building a wooden tepee as a play house – allowing the girls to speak Shoshone when they were not in class and bringing the families to share stories and art with the girls. A film on the Wind River boarding school “From Trout Creek to Gravy High” is worth watching to know more. The Episcopal Church did better with schools there than the government. Not great but for the times -better.

JC Fisher

Does Robert’s Mission need financial help in rebuilding? I would like to know details, if we can help.

Thank you, Tammie, for bringing both its story, and yours.

Cara Modisett

Thank you for the piece of history, personal history and reflection! Glad to have you on the Episcopal Cafe team!

Jean Olsen

I am proud to say that I am an Episcopalian when I hear a story about TEC showing by its actions the all-inclusive love of God. I am deeply saddened when I hear of any incident, past or present, when TEC is shown to be indifferent or less than fully loving. We are human, and we make mistakes. God forgives. We should have the courage to admit our faults and amend our ways. In that way we stand as an example to others, especially those who profess to be Christians but do not act accordingly, of God’s love and promises to us.

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