Robert Wolfall, Presbyter, and the First Anglican Eucharist in North America, 1578

Robert Wolfall, a priest of the Church of England and “a learned man”, was appointed by Elizabeth the First as “Minister and Preacher” to Martin Frobisher’s third expedition to Arctic waters in search of a Northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean and the lands in Far East.  On September 3, 1578, Wolfall presided at the first recorded celebration of the Holy Eucharist in North America, in Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island, in what is now Canada.  The service was noted in a contemporary history:

“Maister Wolfall on Winter’s Fornace, preached a godly sermon, which being ended, he celebrated also a Communion vpon the land, at the partaking whereof was the Captain of the Anne Francis, and many other Gentlemen, and Souldiers, Mariners, and Miners with him. The celebration of the diuine mystery was the first signe, seale, and confirmation of Christ’s name, death, and passion euer knowen in these quarters. The said M. Wolfall made sermons, and celebrated the Communion at sundry other times in seuerall and sundry ships, because the whole company could neuer meet together at any one place.”

A few weeks later, Frobisher abandoned the plan to establish a permanent settlement on Baffin Island and returned to England.  It would be almost a century before an Anglican priest celebrated the Holy Eucharist on Canadian shores, but in 1607 Robert Hunt, priest to the Jamestown settlement in Virginia, would again celebrate the Holy Eucharist on the North American continent.

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you called your servant Robert Wolfall to proclaim your glory by a life of prayer and the zeal of a true pastor:   keep constant in faith the leaders of your Church and so bless your people through their ministry that the Church may grow into the full stature of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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The Collect is adapted from Common Worship (Church of England).

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