Thanks to Bridget Power for this special guest post on her short documentary film, Agayutem Yui (People of God), exploring the leadership and spirituality of lay, Yup’ik, Catholic women.
I made Agayutem Yui (People of God) in an attempt to explore how lay, Yup’ik, Catholic women like Susan Murphy, Yuagiisaq Lena Long, and Masmaruss’ak Lilly Afcan (all featured in the film) make sense of their roles in the Catholic church.
For years, I’ve been interested in thinking about opportunities for women in church leadership. I was educated by the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ) and then later attended an Anglican high school, where I regularly had the opportunity to watch women lead worship services. In college, I took classes like “The Church in the 21st Century” and “Smart, Catholic, and Female,” where I explored contemporary Roman Catholic culture and doctrine. During the year that I spent as a Jesuit Volunteer (2013 – 2014) in Bethel, Alaska, I got to know Susan Murphy, the volunteer parish administrator at the local Catholic church. Susan organized weddings and funerals, chaired the regional school board, and was a respected elder in the community. When a group of volunteers wanted to start an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness that winter, Susan said, “How can we not help?” Susan was vital to our parish and the wider community. I hope that her spirit of generosity is something that comes through in the film!
There are few priests in Southwestern Alaska (a reality that exists in other parts of the country and world, too). If a priest or deacon is not available on Sundays, lay people will offer reflections on the Gospel and serve as Eucharistic Ministers. These lay ministers – many of them women – are often the spiritual and religious leaders of their faith communities. I wanted to learn more about how these lay, Yup’ik, Catholic women leaders understood their roles in the church. These women have responded to local needs and raise questions about culture, leadership, ordination, and the future of the Catholic church. I hope that viewers of the film will have a different understanding of contemporary Catholicism after watching this film. I certainly do after making this film, which proved to be an opportunity to explore my own vocation as a lay, Catholic woman who wants to use digital storytelling for social change.
Bridget Power started making documentaries with friends as an undergraduate student at Georgetown University. She lived in Bethel, Alaska for a year as a Jesuit Volunteer, where she was introduced to Yup’ik culture and spirituality. Bridget is currently a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, where she continues to make films. Please contact her at [email protected]