Forever Changed

By David Means

Suppose you were the owner and operator of the only grocery store in a town.  You were vaguely aware that Uncle Harry’s Bar and Grill sold candy, chips, and soda pop, but Uncle Harry’s did not really compete for your business.  For many years your store was the only food outlet in town.  Things sharply changed in 2020—townspeople could buy food from Amazon and Walmart, and they marketed your customers aggressively.

Our local churches are like this grocery store.  We were aware of Uncle Harry’s but we sold wholesome, nutritious foods as well as candy, chips, and soda pop. We were aware of the one room church down the road, but we rarely saw any cars parked in front.  Like the grocer, we were not too concerned about this other outlet.  We held a balanced Sunday worship service with a thoughtful message and enthusiastic music.  Afterwards our members fellowshipped around the coffee urn and tray of baked goods.  We provided mission services to our community.  Things sharply changed in 2020.  No longer were we holding worship services in our buildings, we were worshipping online.  No longer were we gathering together after worship to ask about our children and grandchildren.  Our congregants now worship online, and not just our services, but services from other far away churches with dramatic lighting effects, professional choirs, and well-trained preachers delivering the message.  

We all have dreams that we can return to our former ways of being the only church in town.  Just as Walmart and Amazon will continue to deliver groceries, online churches will continue.  Even our local church must continue to provide an online service for our members who live or travel out of town.  We cannot return to 2019!

This pandemic forces every local church to reshape its ministry.  What was only a vague threat from churches broadcasting their worship services on television is now a challenge from thousands of churches transmitting their services through the Internet.  When I was a child my family could choose ABC or NBC to watch television, and today I can watch hundreds of channels on cable TV (most of which are not worth the money).  Last year I could watch a few broadcast worship services on cable television, if I chose.  Now I can worship with a variety of churches, if I choose.

My concern is that when society reaches a low Covid-19 infection rate, we church leaders will all want to go back to our former way of Sunday worship, Sunday fellowship, and mission outreach.  But, will our fellow congregants want the same?  They may have become accustomed to online worship with a different church.  

We wrote a re-imaging life together plan for our church.  We focused mostly on phase 2 and 3.  This was a transitory plan because we figured we would be in phase 4 in a few months and a return to the way that we were before the pandemic began.  Now it appears we will need a vaccine to overcome the Covid-19 virus.  And this is still many months away.  We did not consider (and could not foresee) how the pandemic would force technological changes on ourselves that would forever change us.  

Now is the time to focus on post-pandemic life.  We need to strategize those things we believe will sustain our local church.  While every church is different, it will be some combination of high quality worship, fellowship opportunities, growth and fellowship opportunities for our children, and mission and service outreach into our communities.  Each church will have to strive for something it is well known for in its community—this church operates the homeless shelter, for example.  

Let me repeat, now is the time to focus on post-pandemic life.  Our previous strategic plans are obsolete because we have new threats, but we also have new opportunities.


David Means is a life long Methodist. He is a certified lay servant. He is currently the lay leader of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Juneau, Alaska and serves on the Alaska Conference’s leadership team.

Annual Conference Report — Alaska Conference 2020

AC Report from the Alaska Conference

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

6 PM

On Tuesday evening, September 15, 2020, the Alaska Conference gathered together, at a challenging time, to conduct the business of their Annual Conference Session in a brand new way — online. 

Sixty voting delegates — 30 laity and 30 clergy — logged in to this virtual meeting with several major crises serving as a backdrop to their time together. There were also 9 non-voting members who attended the conference through the Zoom Webinar platform facilitated by GNTV, a Media Ministry out of Macon, Georgia. YouTube analytics show that 45 viewing units also followed the proceedings.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky

The COVID-19 pandemic meant that the conference could not meet in-person out of an abundance of care and caution. The work of dismantling systemic racism with important discussions of race and justice have been taking place in our churches as they have been at the fore of national news. While our churches are not gathering in their building, discussions of “Reimagining Life Together” have enabled churches to ask important questions of what it means to be the Church at this time. And, most recently, forest fires ravaging sister conferences in the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area were on the hearts and minds of all attendees with the strong connections that bind the three conferences.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, presiding from her office in Seattle, Washington, welcomed attendees and led into a worship which celebrated the collective work across the Episcopal Area over the last three years. The emphasis over this quadrennium has been “Do This And You Shall Live” from Luke 3 and 10. With this, the 49th Session of the Alaska Conference was called to order. 

Because the conference was held online, business was limited only to those items deemed “essential” for the work of the Alaska Conference. Only a few items on the agenda needed votes.  

The following items were approved by an overwhelming majority:

  • A Rules Change for the Alaska Conference to allow for an online annual conference and voting online.
  • A 2021 Budget of nearly $800,000.
  • A 2021 Equitable Compensation base salary of $45,300 was approved
  • Two pension petitions: Approving the Ministerial Pension Rate/Local Pastors Pension Rate and accepting the annuity responsibility for the Conference’s lone retiring local pastor, Janice Carlton.
  • The Nominations Report which extended the quadrennium of service for many until 2021 when the Conference hopes to meet in person.

This year the Alaska Conference has  one clergy approved for Full Membership & Elders Orders (Emily Carrol – PNW), one clergy approved for Retirement as a Local Pastor (Janice Carlton), and four clergy approved for transfer into Greater Northwest Area Conferences (Jim Doepken — OR-ID, Bob Jones — PNW, April Hall — PNW, and Dan Wilcox — PNW).

Alaska Conference Superintendent Carlo Rapanut

Superintendent Carlo Rapanut brought to the conference a motion for the closure of First Samoan UMC of Anchorage, Alaska. He began: “A local church is a living, breathing incarnation of Jesus in the world. And like any living organism, it has its life cycle of birth, growth, maturity, and faithful completion of its mission and ministry.” First Samoan UMC was chartered in 2004 after nine years as a Fellowship. During its time in ministry this church served the larger Samoan population of Anchorage, both in its own church building and while meeting in the facilities of First UMC in downtown Anchorage. This summer the congregation discerned that they no longer can serve the purpose for which their church was organized and incorporated. With celebration of their 25 years of faithful ministry, the church closure motion was approved.

JoAnne Hayden, head of the Alaska Conference Delegation to General Conference 2021 gave a report of how the Alaska delegation is working with individuals from across the ideological and theological divides of the denomination to work for the future of United Methodism. The delegation created a four-part strategy which is being addressed in a “Restructure, Renew, and Reform” workgroup with 35 participants from all five US Jurisdictions and the Philippines. “The strategy from that group includes the following items: Early adoption of The Protocol, Regionalization of the conference connectional structure of the post-separation United Methodist Church, Regionalization of the Episcopacy, and harmonization worldwide of the episcopacy by changing to limited tenure for all bishops.”

The Episcopal address from Bishop Elaine Stanovsky was also different this year. Originally, Alaska planned to join with Oregon-Idaho and the Pacific Northwest Conferences in Washington this summer. But that did not happen. Therefore, as she thought about what the essential work of our conferences should be over the next year, she presented an Episcopal address sent out in three letters to the Episcopal Area with three emphases for our work together. Part One of Bishop Stanovsky’s address was called “Do No Harm: Fighting COVID-19.” Here she encouraged churches to use this time of unoccupied building and online discipleship to “deepen relationships of spiritual depth and care.” Part Two called on churches to do the hard work of anti-racism and was called “Do Good: Dismantling Racism”.  She wrote:  “In faithfulness to Jesus’ model of inclusive love and justice, as bishop of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church I am committed to leading United Methodists in the Alaska Conference, Oregon-Idaho Conference and Pacific Northwest Conference to make dismantling systemic racism within the church and throughout society a long-term missional priority.” Part Three, “Stay in Love with God: Reimagining Life Together,” was presented at the Alaska Annual Conference session. Here Bishop Stanovsky listed some of the great ways our three conferences have coordinated (disaster response, district superintendents, communicators, the Innovation Vitality Team) and asked whether it might be time to consider to merge into one conference.

She closed her last letter this way:

So, my friends, my siblings, and cousins, my neighbors and you who may be strangers – I invite you to be the hopeful, faithful, loving, courageous, audacious, humble people that God, in holy scripture, invites us to be. We can stop the spread of a deadly virus. We can root out racism and create beloved community. We can and we will recover from flood, earthquake, storm, and wildfire. We can be a “big tent” church, where people can journey with each other, in the presence of Jesus, toward a future where everyone has a place, and the parts all fit together. We might even be able to save the planet and all the teaming creatures that call it home.

When faced with a very difficult assignment that the disciples did not feel capable of, Jesus said to them, “truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

The Annual Conference closed with a memorial for those lost in each of our churches and a worship service which proclaimed “And Are We Yet Alive.”

The number of professing church members within the Alaska Conference as of the end of 2019 was 2967, down 186. Worship attendance decreased by 76 to 1644. Sunday church school average weekly attendance stood at 633 with an increase of 9. The number of people participating in Christian formation groups totaled 1362, a decrease of 100. Last year there were 68 professions of faith, an increase of 19.  The number of community ministries for outreach, justice, and mercy in the Alaska Conference stands at 127, an increase of 27 from last year.

–Jim Doepken, Director of Communications for the Alaska Conference

A Call to Celebrate Alaska Conference Sunday by Responding to Wildfires

Friends,

In last year’s Annual Conference session, we designated the second Sunday of September as Alaska Conference Sunday where we can highlight and celebrate our ministries and take a special offering to support these missions and ministries. That is this coming Sunday, September 13.

However, with the focus of our work shifted to respond to the twin pandemics of COVID 19 and Racism, we confess that we have not made any preparations on how to celebrate this special Sunday. In many ways, we also felt it inappropriate and insensitive to celebrate and ask for a special offering for our ministries while the whole world continues to struggle with COVID 19; while our Black and other siblings of color continue to be victims of systemic racism and now also while wildfires rage in communities of our siblings in the other three states in the Greater Northwest Area. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky wrote about the latter in her letter sent earlier today: https://greaternw.org/responding-to-wildfires-across-the-greater-northwest-area/

We echo Bishop Elaine’s call for prayer. We also echo her call to action through our gifts of financial resources. We invite you to celebrate Alaska Conference Sunday on any Sunday this month by taking a special offering and/or donating from your mission, discretionary or personal funds to support the disaster response work in the Oregon Idaho and the Pacific Northwest Conferences. Here’s how:

You can also give to the OR-ID Conference’s Disaster Fund (Fund #260) through your local church or by sending a check made out to the Oregon-Idaho Conference Treasurer with Conference Advance #260 on the memo line to:

Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Center
c/o Conference Treasurer
1505 SW 18th Avenue
Portland, Oregon, 97201-2524

You can also give PNW Conference’s Disaster Fund (Advance #352) through your local church or by sending a check made out to the PNW Conference Treasurer with Conference Advance #352 on the memo line to:

Pacific Northwest Conference Office
c/o Conference Treasurer
P.O. Box 13650
Des Moines, WA 98198



What greater way to celebrate the Alaska Conference Sunday than in an act of spiritual and financial solidarity with our siblings in Oregon, Washington and Idaho!

Sincerely,

Jo Anne Hayden Conference Lay Leader
Rev. Lisa Talbott Leadership Team Chair
Rev. Carlo A. Rapanut Conference Superintendent

The Blog Series Ends. The Ministry Continues.

We have had a wonderful year, highlighting many of the ministries and churches of the Alaska Conference. Through this series we have heard what the Tsunami Sirens sound like in Homer, what damage an earthquake did in Chugiak, and how a small church in the tiny town of Hope has become a respite for so many. And there are so many other stories; some you can find here and some are yet to be told.

You can check back to this blog to read up on, and learn about what ministry looks like in one of the “Missionary Conferences” of The United Methodist Church.

Thank you to all of the contributors.

Thank you to our friends in the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church who used these posts to help with their “Alaska Conference Sunday” offering.

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“Doors Opening to God’s Love in Action”–Eagle River Methodist Camp South East

Submitted by Bunti Reed, Board Member and Program Chair Eagle River Methodist Camp SE.

Kids + Adults + Eagle River Methodist Camp SE = God’s love in Action.              

Eagle River Camp Sign

Children and youth today live hectic lives. So many things–school, sports, television, smartphones, video games, and organized activities can crowd out the time for kids to be kids. Conversely, some children have to take a caretaker role in their families, or live in families affected by poverty and its myriad of ills- being a kid can be tough under those circumstances. 

In today’s world, where can kids hike in the woods; get muddy, swing on a rope swing, spend quality time with caring adults, hike down a deer trail, play outdoor games, or sit around a campfire, sing, talk about life, and learn about Jesus Christ? Here in Juneau, we have such a place.

Eagle River Methodist Camp SE has been an active part of our community for 60+ years. A place for learning, communing with nature and growing in faith, and fun. A rare jewel in today’s world. We share our camp facility with the community, a truly welcoming retreat.

Our outdoors, hands-on programs, and loving lessons encourage friendship, fun, challenge, positive faith, and a healthy lifestyle. We help develop the spirit, mind and body of our campers in supporting faith, caring, stewardship, and showing God’s love to others. Camp is a learning place for social skills, outdoor skills, spiritual development, and team participation. It is a place where being a Christian is also fun. For our program committee, the camp planning starts the year before, and much work goes into completing a quality program. All of our staff are volunteers-the counselors, cooks, medical staff, guests who come to educate, our camp dean, and everyone else that it takes to produce a camp that reaches the goals we have set for our camp experience. At each camp, the counselors, cooks, and camp staff are up at daylight and are the last ones to bed at night. It is exhausting but exhilarating. Each year we sponsor several youth camps.

Our annual faith-based “Discovery Camp” provides youth nearly a week of active interaction with counselors, spiritual teachers, and cabin mates without the distractions of the modern world. Under God’s roof, they learn new ideas, start on a journey of discovery, learn relationship skills, spiritual truths, make friends, and gain insights that will affect them all their lives. There are no paid employees, no “second shift.” At Discovery Camp, all are welcome, regardless of faith. (There is a cost to attend, but no one is ever turned away for inability to pay) 

Camp Champ is a secular camp that provides the summer camp experience to children who would not otherwise get to go. Kids attending might be homeless, have an incarcerated parent, be living in a shelter, experience poverty, disability, parental addiction, or other challenges. The Juneau School District, regional churches, and social service agencies partner with us to make it happen. 2020 will be our 15th “Camp Champ.” This free camp is by referral only. 

The camp serves Juneau, Southeast Alaska, and even beyond.  The public school and women’s shelter most commonly furnish the names of children at risk for our referral-only Camp Champ.  The school uses the camp for student “camp days”, to teach about our environment. We host annual Thanksgiving Day dinner sponsored by a United Church (Methodist/Presbyterian) congregation which is open to all.  Juneau recognizes our broad open door policy to the entire community and responds with help in various ways: Spring clean-up day which we call “Camp Get Ready” to the annual Fall Chop-A-Thon.  Logs are cut and split along with stacking them in the woodshed for year-around use in the big lodge fireplace. People come with chainsaws, log splitters, and willing hands. They leave with tired backs and gladdened hearts through enjoyable working fellowship. A man with a dump truck offers to haul rock for our pot-holed driveway, another brings his tractor to spread it.  We could not exist without the community.  In turn the Camp enriches the entire community. We seek to be a Christ-centered camp. We stand for inclusion. 

There are many opportunities to help. Time, money, supplies, and prayers all help us create this valuable ministry? Share your gifts and talents, your time and experience. You will help a child or teen see that God’s hands are yours, theirs, mine, and ours. 

Visit us on the web at www.methodistcamp.org 

“The Sanctuary Doors” — Birchwood Camp

Singing Sanctuary Photo

Submitted by Relena Lyddon Myers, Director of Birchwood Camp.

Birchwood Camp’s mission is to build community on common ground. We strive to offer hospitality to all, and we open our doors to groups both religious and secular. Guests are invited to retreat to a place of tranquility, a place apart from the everyday world to experience renewal and inspiration. A year-round camp and retreat center in Chugiak, nestled between the Chugach Mountains and Cook Inlet just 30 minutes north of Anchorage. The camp, which has been in operation since 1961. Guests and campers enjoy scenic views, beautiful Psalm lake, idyllic log cabins, multi-purpose meeting spaces, hiking trails & outdoor spaces, opportunities for outdoor recreation, education, & team building, and much more on the 160 acre property. The serene setting invites guests to take a break, to let go of the stress and chaos of everyday life and retreat to a place of peace, tranquility, personal growth, and learning. We offer rental and program opportunities for community groups, schools, churches, businesses, and private events. We have facilities available for rental for groups up to 100 people and we are open year-round. We also offer team building opportunities on our low-ropes challenge course.

There is a tradition at camp to sing “Sanctuary” after each worship service, after campfire (remember it doesn’t get dark even at night in the summer!), really whenever & wherever we, #birchwoodfamily, are together.

“Lord prepare me. To be a sanctuary. Pure and Holy. Tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”

Beautifully, at this holy place…camp… which is a sanctuary itself for so many. They are learning to be that sanctuary for others. Signing to the mountains (the Chugach mountains) that represent the rest of the world, where they are going… to live out love.