“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.


“Doors to a New Hope” — New Hope Methodist/Presbyterian Church

Submitted by Pastor Curt Matz, Pastor of New Hope Methodist Presbyterian Church.

The doors of New Hope Methodist Presbyterian Church in beautiful North Pole, Alaska.

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.       

Wintertime at New Hope Methodist Presbyterian Church.


“Doors Open in Agape Love”–First UMC, Anchorage

Submitted by Rev. Steve Fisher of First United Methodist Church, Anchorage.

Snow or shine, the doors of First UMC are open, and the beautiful people of God are welcomed into a sanctuary of sacred space and agape love.

2019 marks the 75th Anniversary of the evangelistic zeal of Methodists in Anchorage Alaska.  In the later years of WW II, the city began rapidly growing as a central hub in the Territory of Alaska.  Of the civilians who traveled north to what is commonly called “The Last Frontier,” it became apparent there were several Methodists looking to establish a Christian community.  On October 22, 1944, the first worship service was held with 33 people in attendance. A church school ministry began just a few weeks later.

Inside First UMC

Over the years this community of believers known today as, the First United Methodist Church, Anchorage, experienced major growing opportunities as a culturally and theologically diverse community of believers, by sharing the love of God in Jesus, the Christ.  The people of First UMC have witnessed and supported the planting of no less than 3 Methodist Churches in the Anchorage area. Today this Body of Christ, continues to mirror the melting pot diversity of Anchorage and maintains a vital role in supporting the needs of various people in a variety of ways.  

The United Methodist Women remain a most vital ministry of spiritual development and generous outreach.  The forward thinkers, of a few year ago and today, continue to touch the lives of people throughout Alaska with donations from the economic gains of the established First UMC Foundation.  Together as the Body of Christ, the generous ministries of First UMC support civic and ecclesiastical groups such as: AK Child & Family, The Magic Yarn Project, Bikers Against Child Abuse, Kids Corps Head Start, rural & remote congregations, development of church camps, and the outreach ministry goals of the local church.  

This congregation of Native Alaskans, European Americans, Filipino Americans, African Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, Hispanic Americans, Samoan Americans, Japanese Americans and South Sudanese, reach out in ministry to:

  • Homeless families, as a host of the Emergency Cold Weather Shelter
  • The neighboring community, A Place @ the Table (free community meal) 
  • Brother Francis Homeless Shelter, with 380 handcrafted sandwiches each month
  • Clare House Women’s Shelter, with completed meals each month
Some of the many faces of First UMC.

For the past several years, First UMC has extended the ministries of its facilities to community groups such as:

  • First Samoan UMC
  • Alcoholics Anonymous 
  • 3 ALANON groups
  • Co-Op Home School Group
  • Alaska Prospectors
  • Alaska Bar Exam
  • 2 Recreational Soccer groups
  • Other community wide events

It is not as if the people of First UMC live without challenges and brokenness.  Our experience through earthquakes serves as a testimony to God’s grace and healing.  The church building has withstood two major earthquakes. In March 1964, Anchorage was shaken by “The Great Alaska Earthquake” where the ground separated as roadways and building gave way.  Through this earthquake First Methodist’s newly build sanctuary building stood strong and the people of Anchorage rallied to recover and rebuild an even stronger community. In November 2018 another major earthquake rattled the Anchorage community.  While the destruction was not as severe, many structures were compromised, some roadways collapsed and many things were broken and seemed lost. Yet, through faith, First UMC placed broken pieces on the altar as we were reminded; when we bring our brokenness before God, we are healed by the saving grace of Christ Jesus our Lord.  In Anchorage, God continues to make “Something Beautiful” of our lives.

Come and visit Alaska!  During the summer months of tourism; nestled in downtown Anchorage, First UMC is graced with the presence of many visitors from around the United States and the World.  While most of these visitors return home for the winter months, First UMC continues to open their doors throughout the cold winter months. Snow or shine, the doors are open, and the beautiful people of God are welcomed into a sanctuary of sacred space and agape love.

Our “sanctuary of sacred space and agape love.”
A view from above.

“A Door for Community” — Douglas Community UMC

Submitted by the Outreach Committee of Douglas Community UMC.

Even the front door to Douglas Community UMC says, “How to build community.”

Douglas Community United Methodist Church  is situated on Douglas Island, across the channel from Downtown Juneau.  In addition to worship and study, the congregation  is focused in four areas of outreach in our community:

  1. Feed the Hungry/Feeding Juneau’s Future
  2. Glory Hall Meals
  3. Food Pantry
  4. Building Community in Douglas.

Feeding Juneau’s Future is the larger group which partners with other churches in the community as well as community organizations.  The goal of Feeding Juneau’s Future is to end food insecurity among school aged children in the Juneau Borough.  Money from the Juneau Community Foundation Grant as well as the Gaguine Foundation help fund the Backpacks program. program. We also receive grant funding from the state for the Summer Lunch Program.  Feeding Juneau’s Future is centered out of our building and DCUMC is the recipient of the grant monies to make the following programs happen.

  1. Backpacks program in area elementary and middle schools providing food to go home on weekends for children identified as needing this service. This is funded through the Community Foundation grant.
  2. Food pantries in the high schools.
  3. Summer Lunch programs at low income housing projects.

In this work, DCUMC (Feed the Hungry) provides backpacks for students at Gastineau School, as well as providing the summer lunch program at Cedar Park Housing.

The Glory Hall Meal is provided for those who are homeless in Juneau one Tuesday a month by members of our church.  The food is prepared in our commercial kitchen, transported to the Glory Hall, and served to the people by volunteers from our community.

The Food Pantry at DCUMC is open every Wednesday and Friday from 2-4 PM.  Donations come from financial support from the church as well as from members of our church community and of our wider community donating food.   There are currently 15-20 people who use the pantry weekly.

Building Community in Douglas is an effort to partner with people in our community to support each other in building a stronger and more caring community in Douglas.  In the past year, these are partnerships we are building:

  1. DCUMC and the Douglas Fire Department.  The Fire Department has donated food to our food pantry and made a substantial donation after the Fourth of July.
  2. DCUMC and the Fourth of July Committee in Douglas.  We partner with them every year to host the Douglas Christmas Tree Lighting gathering on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  In addition to refreshments, this year the church is lining up musicians for a small concert in the sanctuary afterwards.  We will also be offering to assist with the Douglas Ghost Walk, a Halloween gathering for the children of Douglas sponsored by the Fourth of July Committee.

As we move into the next year, we hope to be able to be responsive to emerging needs in our midst.

“Small Church, Big Heart” — Sitka UMC

Submitted by Rev. Bennie Grace P. Nabua of Sitka UMC.

The front doors of Sitka UMC.

Small Church, Big Heart

The United Methodist Church is blessed to be able to minister and serve in this beautiful island of Sitka in South East Alaska.  This is a town with a population of about 9,000 people, a 14 mile road system, and a rich history of Russian influence. It is home to Tlingit and Haida Alaska Native groups, was the site of the Alaska Purchase, and was formerly the capital of Alaska.

Life in this “rock” as locals say,  is serene and simple but  it is not without challenges as Sitka is only accessible by plane or boat.  High cost of living, difficult access to low cost housing, growing senior population, and substance abuse are also realities that Sitkans face in varying degrees. But being the Alaskans that we are, resilience and community help people cope and thrive. The strong and close-knit community fosters a  “we make it happen” spirit that is evident in arts, education, sports, recreation and even mission.

Manna Lunch

The breath-taking beauty of the mountains and the islands cannot hide the other side of  the city that shows a growing number of people who live in the margins. The Salvation Army has their Monday to Friday lunches that we support in cash and in kind. Saturday lunch is initiated by St Gregory’s Roman Catholic Church and Sundays is Manna Lunch where five churches take turns in providing hot soup and brown bag lunches.

We serve on first Sundays of the month and the hustle and bustle begins when volunteers come to prepare sandwiches followed by our Sunday school kids packing them. After service at 12:30, volunteers serve at the site and converse with our unsheltered friends.  

Children and youth ministry are of central importance in this congregation.

Children and Youth Ministry

Our young families in the congregation tell of how child-friendly the church is and take note of the love our Sunday school teachers have for kids. Aside from Sunday School, our Vacation Bible School, Advent and Lenten workshops continue to draw kids in the community.  

We are excited  to have opened The Journey, our Middle School Class and continue on with our BeTween, our pre-teen ministry to provide a safe space for them to explore their growing faith and ready them to face the challenges of teen life. 

Sacred Spaces

We have our Choir and Bells ministry that meets on Wednesday nights and  two offerings for adults on Thursdays that provide opportunities to carve out sacred spaces in their busy schedules. In the morning, we have an ecumenical group that attends the Contemplative Reading of Scriptures (now in Luke) and, in the evening, a Bible Study (now in the Gospel of Mark).  We also have our Choir and Bells ministry that meet on Wednesday nights. 

Dream and Work

We dream  and work big for our youth ministry and we pray that God will continue to raise adult leaders who will invest in walking along side our young in life and faith.  We dream and work  to be more rooted in the Word and invested in lives of those who are in the margins.  We dream and work  to be in connection with God and others to grow our community of faith called to worship and serve this community we love.

The sanctuary where we dream together and work together.

“Neighbors Out the Front Door” — Aldersgate UMC

Submitted by Rev. Karen Dammann, Aldersgate UMC

The doors of Aldersgate UMC in Juneau, Alaska.

Aldersgate United Methodist Church was founded just 33 years ago in 1986. The congregation was intentionally planted in the midst of a low income housing area, to better serve those who live on the margins in the Mendenhall Valley. This setting sees a very high level of transition in and out of the neighborhood, with a high number of people moving in and out on a monthly basis. The congregation is a wonderful point of stability here, but it has not always been easy being off of “the beaten” path in such a rapidly changing environment. The immediate neighborhood has not been able to support the congregation financially over the years, and the next circle of housing is difficult to connect with due the configuration of streets in the area. We have had to employ some creativity in reaching out beyond the immediate setting to engage those who want to participate in our ministries and who can offer financial stability.

A new development of condos is going in across the street. The trees have been cleared and ground has been broken, and we anticipate steady construction through the winter. This will bring home owners to our immediate setting and we are excited about the stability that this will offer. We are looking forward to welcoming our new neighbors and offering them our hospitality.

New neighbors will be moving in across the street from Aldersgate UMC.

Our latest project was an attempt to respond to the serious lack of affordable child care in Juneau. Under the leadership of a member of Aldersgate who is passionate about serving the needs of children and families, we have become a Childcare Center licensed by the State of Alaska. We partner with the State and with the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska to provide childcare for over 30 children from very low income families.

We have intentionally sought to be a safe place for the LGBTQ community in Juneau. We host family nights, potlucks, game nights, dances, open mics, and other celebrations, including a Celebration of the Saints of the LGBTQ community, who have lost their lives in the fight for equality.

Stability is our greatest challenge as our members and constituents are constantly moving into and out of Juneau. It impacts our ministry at every level, from volunteers who manage our ministries to our finances. Last year all but one of our newly received members moved to the lower 48. Never-the-less, we continue in the work we are called to in our Mission Field of the Mendenhall Valley and Juneau.

Thank you for your prayers and your support!