Written by Pastor Bailey Brawner of Kenai United Methodist Church.
Before we were Kenai United Methodist Church, we were simply the community church. And actually, we still are…
- Right across the street from Wells Fargo
- Next to the alternative school.
- That church with the red cross out front.
Located on the main road, this ‘door’ of the Alaska Conference is visible and known by the whole community. People know what we look like, even if they don’t know our polity or our worship style.
Right before Christmas, I was invited to be on the local radio station with other pastors in the area to talk about our Christmas Eve services. When I told the interviewer the church I was representing, immediately he knew, because we were ‘the church with the bells’. These infamous bells he referenced have been a part of our church forever. They ring all day and can be heard by people passing by, at nearby businesses, and even in the parsonage! The bells will chime and play a few popular hymns. When I learned the rich history of the bells, I knew it was about more than just the bells. Our identity is one which has stood the test of time, and an identity which prioritizes our neighbors, and the needs of our friends.
Ever since we began as a community, we were for the community. Our history reflects that and so does our current ethos as a church. If we talk about Kenai UMC as a door, ours is a revolving door, rich in the many ways we serve and offer presence to the folks of Kenai.
People will remember their kids or grandkids or even they themselves attending the church for preschool, playing in the same outdoor area as the kids attending the daycare do today. We worship on Sunday morning and church continues later in the week as support groups use the library to hold meetings in communion with one another. Our space is used to assemble hygiene kits, knit winter hats, crochet prayer shawls, and coordinate hospital and prison volunteers.
Perhaps the time our door revolves most is on Monday afternoons, as we run our food pantry. Each week, fifteen or so of our Sunday morning worshippers and other friends team up to serve the community, offering hospitality through food and fellowship. We don’t just offer ourselves as a storage space for food boxes or an outlet to hand them out. Our identity is more relational than that. We feed people through food boxes, yes. And we also feed people through hot soup, loud laughs, hearty conversation, and full relationships.
We embody church as something bigger than a place we attend on Sunday mornings. Our church is more expansive than a place with Wesleyan theology or communion once a month. We experience God, the story of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit working around the clock whether our hymnals and bibles are open, or not. The gospel lives and breathes because of the community and we believe in being a church that honors that commitment.
No matter what part of the week our door is used, for so many in our community, our church has become a part of their routine. Whether they come weekly to attend AA, or monthly to receive food, or daily as they walk by at noon on their lunch break to hear the bells, Kenai United Methodist Church is a church for our community, a community we are proud to belong to and to serve.