Winter Rendezvous highlights Alaska’s unique ministries

On Thursday, February 20th, Clergy and Laypersons from the Alaska United Methodist Conference gathered for their “Winter Rendezvous” meetings. It is a regular, yearly event to meet with one another and do the work of the conference. This year, however, there was the added responsibility of working towards Saturday’s vote to petition the respective bodies to transition from a missionary conference to a missionary district within the Pacific Northwest Conference.

Before Conference attendees got to that vote, there was much time spent dreaming and visioning the future of ministry in the Conference.

Led by the worship team of Lisa Talbott, Erin Day, Karen Dammann, Murray Crookes, and David Hall, members of the Conference followed the story of Ruth from the Bible as they shared about the movement from “Famine to Fullness.” They shared their history and celebrated it. They confessed those things which they need to let go in order to move forward. They shared about their communities and who it is that God is calling them to embrace right outside their local church doors.

Throughout the time together, there was a symbolic pruning of a tree with a gradual blossoming into new ministries. This spiritual exercise enabled the participants to envision the fruits of their labors in ministry as the people of the Alaska Conference.

One of the highlights of that time was imagining how Alaskan United Methodists might best organize themselves for ministry whether or not they are part of another conference. There was a freedom to think outside of all the boxes we have put ourselves in over the years. What ministries are important to hold onto? What staff or teams or committees would be needed to support such ministries?

There was a lot of energy in the room as attendees pictured ministry highly focused on the work of local churches, where churches felt supported and encouraged by the larger connection.

After two days of this creative work Saturday’s Special Called Session of the Alaska Conference did then pass two petitions to General Conference and the Western Jurisdictional Conference which has been announced to the larger church.

The importance of this time together was not lost on participants. Carolyn Gordon, Lay Leader from First United Methodist Church in Anchorage was impressed by how smoothly the session went and appreciated how the time together closed with “spiritual worship and fellowship as good shepherds of our Lord and Savior, Jesus would have us do.”

Press Release — Alaska Conference Special Session affirms request to become a district, seeks inclusion within PNW Conference

By Rev. Jim Doepken

February 24, 2020

During a Special Called Session of the Alaska Conference of The United Methodist Church this weekend, members voted to dissolve their missionary conference status and become a ‘mission district’ within the boundaries of the Pacific Northwest Conference.

The decision, which still needs approval at the General Conference 2020 as well as the Western Jurisdiction Conference in July, was made after two days of holy conferencing, dreaming and worship for clergy and laity leadership.

The recommendation to do this came from the Alaska Conference Future Visions Task Force and Leadership Team.

According to Leadership Team chairperson, Rev. Andy Bartel, the decision to move forward in this direction was multi-faceted.

Bartel reminded attendees of the General Board of Global Ministries’ intention to cease missionary conference designation within the United States, noting that “2020 is the final year that Alaska will receive funds.”

Additionally, by acting now Alaskan United Methodists would seek to retain some agency in a time of denominational duress. Defining the nature and structure of the new ‘mission district’ will require conversations with leaders in both the Pacific Northwest Conference and Alaska.

The Session acted upon two recommendations from the Leadership Team while also receiving a question of law pertaining to the General Conference petition.

First was a petition to the 2020 General Conference to discontinue the missionary conference status of the Alaska United Methodist Conference. The petition also asked the General Conference to honor “the authority and responsibility of the Western Jurisdiction to determine the number, names and boundaries of the annual conferences in the jurisdiction.” In United Methodist polity, it is left to jurisdictions in the U.S. to define boundaries of annual conferences.

After some discussion, this petition passed with 49 for, 1 against, with 2 abstentions.

Following adoption of the first petition, lay member Lonnie Brooks asked Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky a question of law consisting of two parts. The first part was whether or not the action of the conference was legal, and the second part was whether or not the Disciplinary exception to the normal due date for petitions (¶507.6) applies to a special session of an annual conference such as was held in Alaska.

The bishop’s preliminary ruling was that the action is legal and that the exception clause applies to any session of an annual conference held within the specified time period, without regard to whether it is a special session or a regular session, giving the General Conference’s Committee on Reference no discretion as to whether or not such a petition will be received. The bishop’s decision, when finalized, will be forwarded for review by the Judicial Council when it meets just prior to General Conference.

Brooks said that it was his intent to clarify the terms upon which Alaska’s petition will be received and processed by General Conference 2020. It has bearing upon how legislation is received from any Special Called Session across the denomination.

The Special Session moved on to consider the second petition requesting that the Western Jurisdictional Conference include the State of Alaska within the boundaries of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference. In its rationale, the petition cited natural and cultural links between Alaska and Washington that have continued throughout the history of both conferences. Currently, they share several staff positions and episcopal supervision, crossover between ministry boards, and engage in cross-conference training.

As the petition was discussed, it was also highlighted that the 19 non-stop flights a day between Anchorage and Seattle was significantly greater than between other cities across the jurisdiction.

This petition passed with 48 for, 3 against, with 1 abstention.

“Every generation of Methodists in Alaska who came before us had to make bold and significant decisions during their time, many of which we still reap the fruits of to this day,” reflected Alaska Conference Superintendent Carlo Rapanut. “Our actions today are not just for our own present need but are our generation’s gift to those who come after us.” Rapanut added that he hoped that these bold steps would ensure a “vital, life-giving” future for the United Methodist Christian witness in Alaska.

“I pray that the General Conference and Western Jurisdictional Conference affirm our desire to leave this lasting legacy of faithfulness.”

More resources and information related to these actions can be found on the Alaska Conference Website

An Open Letter In Support of Becoming a Mission District

12 February 2020

An open letter to our fellow Alaskan United Methodists:

Greetings in the name of our risen Savior and Lord Jesus Christ,

In just a few short days, we will be gathering together for a specially called session of the Alaska Conference of the United Methodist Church to consider one item of business, shall we petition the General Conference to change our status from a Missionary Conference to a Mission District?

Our response to that question is YES.  Four years ago, Thomas Kemper, the General Secretary for the Board of Global Ministries made it clear that his intent was to cease having missionary annual conferences within the bounds of the United States. The year 2020 will be our final year in receiving funds from that General Board.  Moving forward, we are not large enough to become a stand-alone conference. We believe that a Mission District will provide us with a path forward that allows us to continue to organize for ministry in flexible and sustainable ways for years to come.

Some might say we should remain a conference because of our geographic distance from other conferences. Hawaii is a district of the California-Pacific Conference and it has worked well. Some might say we would lose our unique ability to raise funds from outside for our truly missional contexts like Unalaska, or Nome, or Willow, or Ketchikan. We believe this change will better position us to advocate for funding of these truly unique and mission congregations.

While it is difficult to imagine all the ramifications of such a change, we believe that this move is in the best interests of all Alaskan United Methodists for a sustainable way forward in mission and ministry.

We know that this is a time of great uncertainty in the United Methodist Church, but we also know that God has gone before us, and God also hems us in. We are not alone as we bravely make these next steps forward as together we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. May God’s grace be with us always.

Your fellow disciples,

the Rev. Andrew J. Bartel, Lead Pastor St John UMC Anchorage

the Rev. Emily Carroll, Pastor of Discipleship & Justice St John Anchorage

Lonnie Brooks, Lay Member to Annual Conference St John UMC Anchorage

Von Cawvey, Lay Member to Annual Conference St John UMC Anchorage

Tina Racy, Alternate Lay Member to Annual Conference St John UMC Anchorage

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.

IMG_0140 smaller

“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 

“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.