Enmegahbowh, Priest and Missionary, 1902

June 12 (Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2000)

John Johnson Enmegahbowh, an Odawa (Ottawa) Indian from Canada, was raised in the Midewawin traditional healing way of his grandfather and the Christian religion of his mother. He came into the United States as a Methodist minister in 1832. At one point, Enmegahbowh attempted to abandon missionary work and return to Canada, but the boat was turned back by storms on Lake Superior, providing him a vision: “Here Mr. Jonah came before me and said, ‘Ah, my friend Enmegahbowh, I know you. You are a fugitive. You have sinned and disobeyed God. Instead of going to the city of Nineveh, where God sent you to spread his word to the people, you started to do, and then turned aside. You are now on your way to the city of Tarish…'”

Enmegahbowh invited James Lloyd Breck to Gull Lake, where together they founded St. Columbia’s Mission in 1852. The mission was later moved to White Earth, where Enmegahbowh served until his death in 1902. Unwelcome for a time among some Ojibway groups because he warned the community at Fort Ripley about the 1862 uprising, Enmegahbowh was consistent as a man of peace, inspiring the Waubanaquot (Chief White Cloud) mission, which obtained a lasting peace between the Ojibway and Dakota peoples.

Enmegahbowh (“The One Who Stands Before his People”) is the first recognized Native American priest in the Episcopal Church. He was ordained deacon by Bishop Kemper in 1859 and priest by Bishop Whipple in the cathedral at Faribault in 1867. Enmegahbowh helped train many others to serve as deacons throughout northern Minnesota. The powerful tradition of Ojibway hymn signing is a living testimony of their ministry. His understanding of Native tradition enabled him to enculturate Christianity in the language and traditions of the Ojibway. He tirelessly traveled throughout Minnesota and beyond, actively participating in the development of mission strategy and policy for the Episcopal Church.

Almighty God, you led your pilgrim of old with fire and cloud; Grant that the ministers of your Church, following the example of blessed Enmegahbowh, may stand before your holy people, leading them with fiery zeal and gently humility. This we ask through Jesus, the Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen