Submitted by Pastor Curt Matz, Pastor of New Hope Methodist Presbyterian Church.
The ministry that is now known as New Hope Methodist Presbyterian Church began about 46 years ago when representatives of both the Methodist and Presbyterian denominations in Fairbanks decided to explore the possibility of establishing a main line Protestant ministry in the growing community of North Pole Alaska located about twelve miles east of the city of Fairbanks. Many of the existing area congregations at that time – and still today – were small nondenominational groups that interpreted the Bible and worshipped in a manner that did not appeal to those from a mainline protestant background. When one group of these representatives learned that the other group was engaged in a similar endeavor they met together and decided it was better to engage in this project jointly rather than seeking to establish two competing ministries. Soon a group of people began meeting for worship and shortly thereafter a congregation was formed. The first building consisted of two Atco trailers purchased from the Alyeska pipline company after the construction of the Alaska pipeline was completed. A mathematical error on the billing statement – honored by the company – allowed the infant congregation to purchase them for several thousand dollars less than anticipated. Although only a handful of the founding members still remain, their legacy lives on. New Hope is one of three Methodist Presbyterian union congregations in Alaska with the other two being located in Anchorage and Juneau. Our pastor and congregation regularly participate in activities sponsored by both of the local Methodist and Presbyterian jurisdictions (Alaska Methodist Conference and Yukon Presbytery). Because of the name, many people who visit North Pole think that they are at the north pole. They are disappointed to learn that the north pole itself is actually several hundred miles north east of our physical location.
While New Hope is identified with the Methodist and Presbyterian denominations, the majority of those involved in the congregation’s ministries are not originally from either of those two denominations. A wide variety of other denominations including Baptist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Christian Reformed, Russian Orthodox and many others are represented. Some have had no previous religious affiliation. We have one member originally from the Netherlands and another from Kazakhstan. We simply call ourselves “New Hopians” and emphasize the unity we share in Christ. We seek to serve Christ together and express Christ’s love both within the congregation and community rather than focusing on the denominational differences that often separate Christians from one another. Since we are located near Ft. Wainwright army base and Eielsen air force base, participants in our ministries regularly include active and retired military personnel. Many of the children who attend the preschool for 3, 4, and 5 year olds operated by the congregation come from military families. Recently a Presbyterian seminary student who now works as a chaplain’s assistant with the Alaska air guard and her family moved to the area and have begun actively participating in the congregation. Her husband is involved in preparation for the deployment of a couple of squadrons of F-35 fighter jets that is scheduled to begin sometime next year and extend over the next several years.
Besides the pre-school, our congregation has a group of quilters who create many beautiful craft items that are sold in the area to support various local ministry projects. We help support the local North Pole food shelf with financial contributions and donations of food items including potatoes grown in a church garden plot and in the pastor’s personal garden. In the summer, several gardeners bring excess produce and share it with other congregational members and visitors. Those who receive these vegetables make monetary donations that are later used to support some hunger project. We distribute about thirty food baskets to area families each Easter and Thanksgiving. One family regularly shares fish and caribou and moose meat with those in need. We work together with the local Lutheran congregation to assist in a ministry to homeless families sponsored by a Fairbanks based organization called LOVE INC (which stands for “in the name of Christ”). A cub scout troop and an Al-Anon group meet regularly in our building. Interestingly enough, the Al-Anon group was started by someone who began regularly attending New Hope some months ago and was looking for such a group. When she learned there were none in the local area, she expressed an interest in starting one and was immediately offered use of the building for that purpose. We also collect school supplies to be distributed by the local school district to needy students and provide items for weekend lunches for school students who would otherwise go hungry.
One unique ministry involves a partnership with the Kaktovik Presbyterian church. Kaktovik is a community of about three hundred – mostly Inupiat people – located on an island north of the north coast of Alaska. They have had no resident pastor for many years and only sporadic worship services and Christian educational opportunities. About four years ago, our pastor’s wife was asked by the Yukon Presbytery to go there a few times a year to conduct worship services and explore other ministry needs and opportunities. She now goes there once a month for a few days at a time. The first time she went she was present on the day in January that the sun appeared again on the horizon for a few minutes after not being visible for several weeks due to the seasonal changes. Over the years, she has baptized several children and conducted several funerals as well as establishing relationships with a number of village residents. Christmas and Easter services are especially appreciated. Her unique background of being raised on a reservation in northern Minnesota has aided in this process. A few months ago a local resident began conducting a weekly Sunday School for children with materials and supplies provided by New Hope. When she goes to Kaktovik in November, they will hold worship in the church building for the first time in several years – something that has not been possible previously because the building was in need of a number of repairs like new windows and a new heating system. For the first time ever, the building now has running water and flush toilets. Kaktovik is also unique in that polar bears gather in that area in the early fall while waiting for the ocean to freeze so they can go out on the ice to hunt seals. She has seen several polar bears while there. This past fall, the bears began arriving about six weeks earlier than in previous years.
Our ministry – like most ministries in Alaska – faces continual challenges. Drug and alcohol abuse are very common as well as other types of family problems. Many people come and are here in the area for only a short time because they are in the military or engaged in short term jobs. Some cannot handle the long periods of daylight in the spring and summer – here the sun actually sets in the north in late spring and early summer – and the darkness and cold of winter. Most live far away from their extended family members. It becomes easy to feel isolated and alone. In this context, the local congregation becomes a family that welcomes new people, says farewell to those leaving, and seeks to encourage and support one another in all circumstances. We believe that our God is faithful and will supply the financial and other resources we need to carry out ministry. We believe that in an area with a small number of Christian people partnerships and relationships with other Christians are essential. Above all, we believe that the love of Christ will bring lasting hope, help, peace and comfort to all in need of such love. We seek to live and proclaim that love in all we do.