New Doors in an Old Space: Every Nation UMC

Written by Pastor Murray Crookes of Every Nation UMC.

Going through the front doors of Every Nation UMC.

Every Nation UMC is the new church start that is being planted in Anchorage, nestled in between Muldoon and Nunaka Valley neighborhoods on the East side of town. It’s a beautiful area, across the street from Chester Valley Elementary School in a building that is most commonly associated with the UMC Alaska Conference office, Conference Archives, and formerly East Anchorage UMC. A few historical connections exist with the building and new ones are being forged. For example, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts meet regularly, with Scout leaders who themselves were scouts there as children. Another intergenerational use of the building is as a voting center, when all kinds of wonderful people come around, with their bicycles, pets and children to cast votes. The volunteers that facilitate the voting include one family in their third generation. When meeting with neighbors in the streets, it is clear that much love is shared with the families and the historical memory of the United Methodist Church. Chester Valley Elementary using the parking lot as a safe location for the students in case of fires, earthquakes or other emergency is just one example of that historic trust. 

And yet something new is being born. New organizations have started meeting at the building including a new Girl Scout troop and Free Mom Hugs, which is the local chapter of a movement of parents that support LGBTQ+ children. Every Tuesday since September 18th, people are being fed literally and spiritually at the community meal known as The New Journey. This ministry starts at 6:00 P.M, includes a free meal, and is open to all people, regardless of political or religious affiliation and ability or socioeconomic status. In fact, some of the people who attend include diverse ecumenical pastors and church leaders. As the need develops, there is hope that this feeding ministry will develop ministry partners and expand to other churches, neighborhoods and even into the streets. The most shocking thing so far about this ministry with regular attendance between 12 and 20 people is that, even though the food is quite good, what is attracting new people is primarily the Bible study, which can get very exciting. We sing hymns in multiple languages, depending on who is present and as more musicians attend, opportunity is being created for lively worship and praise.

Since Palm Sunday, weekly traditional worship services have begun meeting at 9:00 A.M. The first two services, including Easter, were shared with Ola Toe Fuataina UM Samoan Fellowship and were truly magnificent. Since then, Sunday services have had fewer regular attendees, but as the ministry is still in its infancy, there is much hope that the intimate services will grow into the dream of multi-ethnic worship that is driven by the diverse families that find hope at Every Nation UMC. A few families are starting to attend regularly, including some folks that have been encountered walking the streets or playing at the Chester Valley Elementary playground. Regularly singing hymns in diverse languages in both services will soon lead to the creation of a song book that anyone could use to sing along with unique expressions of praise not found together anywhere else. In such a diverse neighborhood, there is hope that new expressions of faith can be discovered with worship that is grounded in spirit and in truth, free from colonial expectations of language, culture, or cadence. The freedom to worship this way was the primary motivation to share this information near July 4th, when the United States declared its intention to rid itself from colonial rule. At Every Nation UMC, engagement with such complex themes are encouraged, discussed and practiced in and outside of the building, becoming a part of our identity as a faith community. 

This week, Every Nation UMC will begin its second year of official church planting. As more connections are made in and outside of the immediate community, the vision of what can be will certainly reveal the beauty and hope of God’s kingdom that we are building together.

Finding Community Through the Back Door: Nome Community UMC

Written by Pastor Charles Brower of Community UMC of Nome, Alaska

The “front door” of Community UMC is where the playground is.

Every day, most everyone is actively engaged in all kinds of crowds: work crowds, school crowd, the crowds associated with our children’s activities,  and there is the church crowd. It can be easy to confuse our associations within these crowds with the experience of authentic community. Crowds are drawn together by activities, rather than to seek accountability and deeper meaning in our lives. Every crowd is defined by activities that draw us together.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10: 24-25 New International Version)

Nome’s Community United Methodist Church is not one’s usual United Methodist Church. To start, most congregants enter our church using the back door, then proceed through our fellowship hall to enter the sanctuary. On a good Sunday some two-dozen loving, hardy folks gather as a caring community to worship our creator, our loving God, and encourage one another to love and support one another.

We are THE COMMUNITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH  for Nome. Our mission happens mostly outside our walls. In our town of some three thousand seven hundred hardy souls, our church stands tall in the care and love we show to Nome and the sixteen other communities in the Norton Sound Region.  Our United Methodist Women operate the only Thrift Store in our region – providing clothing and sundry other items. The newborn babies of our region are welcomed into our community with a layette consisting of clothes, diapers, a blanket, and a toy. Some of our folks are seen daily picking litter off the streets and roads around Nome. We share worship experiences within the Quyana Care Center, an assisted living facility serving the Norton Sound Region.

The “back door” is where people come in and then go out to the world in service.

The Nome Community Center (motto: Serving elders, families, and youth since 1910), a non-profit organization, housed and loosely associated with our church, provide other community services: boys and girls club; XYZ elder meals, transportation, and healthy programs; food bank, homeless shelter during the cold months; youth court; short term training programs in growing healthy families; and a temporary home for children separated from family.

What is the church supposed to look like? It is small groups of people seeking to put the needs of others ahead of their own. They are servants and ministers to one another watching out for one another, caring for one another and encouraging one another. In Nome’s Community United Methodist Church you get to know everyone. You can connect with people to help build one another up and join in an uncommon community for the sake of connecting diverse people to a lifestyle devoted to following our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and loving all our neighbors!

Opening a Door to Christ Through Samoan Culture — First Samoan UMC

Written by Pastor Selusi Tuiolemotu of First Samoan UMC.

The front doors of First United Methodist Church in Anchorage, the home of First Samoan UMC.

First Samoan UMC was established 24 years ago led by Pastor Maga and it was the biggest Samoan congregation in Anchorage at the time. After the passing of Maga in 2013 there was a decline in membership. FSUMC did not give up, they courageously continued to worship, fellowship and do everything other churches would normally do except communion. As a result of their commitment in fasting and praying for a Samoan speaking Pastor, I was appointed July 1st of 2018 with 63 active members at the time. Today, I am humbled to share that we have 80 active church members and I give all the Praise and Glory to our Mighty God! Here at FSUMC we are blessed to share the facility with our brothers and sisters at FUMC. We have joint communion services quarterly and try to participate in their events as much as possible as we are a multi-parish church. Last year we built a float together as we participated in the 4th of July parade and this year we are working together again to take part in our community as we get ready for 4th of July for another float.

Out of 23 Samoan Churches in Alaska, there are only two Samoan UMC churches in Anchorage. We are honored to say that First Samoan UMC is one out of the two. Because there are just two Samoan United Methodist Churches, we have a special bond with our brothers and sisters from Ola Toe Fuataina UMC. We have had numerous get-togethers on special occasions like Easter Sunday etc. We try to fellowship when both churches are available not only to teach our Children the Samoan Culture and traditions, but to push, motivate and encourage our children in the Samoan way of worship through sharing the love of Christ with tangible gift of food, hospitality and worship services.

Our ministries with women, youth, and men.

We conduct our worship in Samoan, and we are strong in our traditions and culture, we also try to teach our Samoan language, culture and traditions to our children as much as possible. We have continued on with our group ministries: Women’s Ministry (which in Samoan language we call “Mafutaga a Tinā”), Men’s ministry (“Mafutaga a Tamā”), and then we have our Youth/Young Adults ministry (which we call in Samoan “Autalavou”.)

One of the Ministries that we have is our Choir which always has a great impact in our Sunday worship. FSUMC members have a passion for music and is for Jesus.  We have 3 pianists who take turns playing every Sunday with choir practice Fridays and Saturdays at 6pm followed by Youth Practice, bible studies, Samoan culture session

Here at FSUMC we have accomplished a lot throughout the year and I thank our Heavenly Father for his guidance and for the dedication of our church family and for those who are bold and courageous to step up to the plate to take on leadership. The past couple of months has been busy for the youth. They have been culturally performing for fundraisers, church functions, Christian holidays and many other occasions throughout the year. They also had the opportunity to combine with our brothers and sisters from Ola Toe Fuataina UMC youth as they shared their talents of songs and dances and a message of unity as they took part in the closing worship for annual conference. It was a great experience for our fellow Youth/Young Adults Ministry and they loved it.

Fourth of July along with our brothers and sisters of First UMC, Anchorage.

Here at first Samoan UMC we understand the underlying issues that our church as a whole currently faces today. With all that is going on we can only be hopeful, prayerful and place it in hands of our Heavenly Father. As a small church we need to focus on the goal of our faith which is the reason why we fellowship as Christians and, through that, make disciples for Jesus Christ. FSUMC will continue to have open minds, open hearts and open doors for anyone who is trying to seek God. We welcome you as you are with open arms. In Jesus name, Amen.

Easter Sunday

An Electronic Door to all Churches: Local Church Leadership Development

Written by Jo Anne Hayden, Alaska Conference Lay Leader

Instead of face-to-face, we’re using more computers for electronic communication.

One of the many challenges of ministry in the Alaska Conference is the isolation and physical distance between many of our churches.  As such, networking and collaboration has been limited to the churches near each other (which for many of our churches are none).

During this past year the conference initiated an effort to change that reality for many of our churches by creating a platform, albeit virtual, for creating connection among our local church leaders.  

Initiated through a joint effort of Superintendent Carlo Rapanut and Conference Lay Leader Jo Anne Hayden, six different groups:  Lay Leader; Lay Member to Annual Conference; Council Chair; Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Chair; Finance Chair; and Trustee Chair were started with plans to begin some more groups this fall.  These local church leaders from throughout the conference were invited to participate in a Zoom conference call conversation with leaders serving in the same role as them within their own churches.  Though participants were encouraged to participate via their computer if possible so that they could see other participants, if that wasn’t a workable option, they could also participate by phone.

The initial conversation with each group of local church leaders included an explanation that through work of a Leadership Development Task Force, a sub-group of our Conference Leadership Team, the idea of trying this kind of connection as a way to help strengthen our local church leaders was envisioned – a network of connection for local church leaders who all share a common leadership role within their own church.  Creating this form of relationship reinforced that they weren’t alone in that leadership role; supportive resources for their role were available/lifted up and shared; opportunities for sharing best practices/successes existed; and opportunities to identify challenges allowed the group to help brainstorm possible options for addressing the challenges.

Each group was introduced to a group facilitator during the initial conversation.  The groups, with the assistance of their facilitator, then established their means of connection (email, Zoom, etc.) as well as their frequency.  This created at a minimum periodic connection with each other, often addressing different topics related to their role while always allowing time to address any questions from participants, sharing successes, lifting helpful resources, as well as sharing ideas for helpful kinds of training that could be planned through the conference within the near future.  

Example of what our “Electronic Front Door” looks like in practice.

Feedback from the groups reminds us that the experience within the groups helps all within the groups.  It has created an opportunity to lift up some basic local church leadership attributes, such as:

  • Being an example of a Christian leader through word and action
  • Recognizing the importance of your voice 
  • Being a supporter of your church
  • Encouraging partnering
  • Communicating positively
  • Building relationships
  • Promoting engagement
  • Supporting processes that create healthy environments for all

In addition, whether a person is new in a role with something new to them to address, or whether a revision is being implemented to improve upon an existing process, the insight and experience of the group can save a lot of time and effort.  Those who are participating in these groups are finding them very worthwhile and beneficial. It is our hope that this continues and grows as even more choose to participate by using this electronic door to networking and collaborating with fellow local church leaders throughout our conference.    

“Welcome. Love. Serve.” — Anchor Park UMC

How the community makes its way into Anchor Park UMC–through the front doors.

Anchor Park UMC was birthed in 1954 in response to the growing population of Anchorage in the 1950s; established to be a neighborhood church, placed in a growing subdivision that is now a long-established neighborhood. The church grew over the years, it grew through disciples deeply loving as God has loved them, responding to the needs of this community as they arise.

In 1978, the Tongan Fellowship was established. The Tongan Fellowship has greatly influenced life at Anchor Park UMC for the past 40 years, sharing their culture and wisdom. They’ve shared their gifts of music and leadership at Anchor Park UMC for years.

Anchor Park UMC has served as a church home for many people. When you come into the sanctuary on Sunday morning and look around you will see a diverse body of people, many ages, races, and cultures. We are a community of people that embody a welcoming, loving, and serving spirit – the core pillars of our mission statement here at Anchor Park UMC.

Anchor Park UMC is a lot like other churches, we worship on Sunday morning, we serve at Bean’s Café and Clare House, two non-profits responding to homelessness in Anchorage, once a month. We collect food for FISH, Backpack Buddies, and the Willow Community Food Pantry. We host a men’s AA group and REAL About Addiction’s support group and monthly meetings. And we have the state’s only special needs boy scout troop.

The thing that is different about Anchor Park UMC is the family culture. Anchor Park UMC serves as a family for many people. Military folks, transplants for other jobs, and those that stayed long after their initial reason for moving here. The people at Anchor Park UMC care for each other, they welcome in those who walk through the doors and invite them to be part of this church family and to share a meal with each other.

Over the past 65 years, the ministry and congregation of Anchor Park UMC has ebbed and flowed, responding to the needs of the neighborhood it is nested in and the passions of its members. This past year we became the main supplier for our neighborhood elementary school’s Backpack Buddies’ program, providing 200 meals each weekend, ensuring that our kids do not go hungry and are able to return to school ready and able to learn.

A whirlwind tour through our Spring Sale.

During the past month we have responded to our hungry children by feeding them; the opioid crisis through packing NarCan Kits for the city and supporting REAL About Addiction – a group that exists to help those struggling with addiction enter into recovery and provides ongoing support for their journey. We hosted our *almost* annual spring sale, where folks are able to donate the things they no longer need or use knowing the profits from the sale go towards mission work in the world. Our neighborhood looks forward to this sale each year, knowing they’ll be able to find quality things they need at a price they can actually afford; something that can be difficult in Alaska.

Anchor Park UMC, looking out onto their mission field.

Here at Anchor Park UMC we truly seek to be a community of people that welcome all, loves God and neighbor, and serves those in need. The needs are ever changing in Anchorage, from food deserts to an opioid epidemic to rising homelessness and violence. It is through coming together each Sunday to worship that we are emboldened to go out into the world sharing the love of Christ through tangible gifts of food and clothes, as well as emotional support, hospitality, and serving with partner ministries.

When Anchor Park UMC is notified of a need in our community or world, we arise to the occasion, no matter if it is a family in need of all new furniture due to a fire, someone needing a place to warm up in the winter and have a cup of soup or coffee, or a safe place to come and rest in the presence of God. Anchor Park UMC is here to welcome, love, and serve all of God’s children.

“Living into Our History” — St. Peter the Fisherman’s UMC in Ninilchik

St Peter the Fisherman UMC is an extension of the rich heritage and history that began this community almost 200 years ago. Russian fur traders colonized this fishing village in 1820, as it had become a favorite place for trappers to inhabit especially for retiring. Steeped in the history of early Russian America, it offers an old-world setting with its Russian Orthodox Church on the hill, quaint fishermen’s cottages and log homes. It was built around a tight community that recognized the need to be there for each other, as well as a quick understanding that new faces along with the versatile assets they brought with them were always welcome and needed for survival.

The front doors of St. Peter the Fisherman UMC.

The United Methodist Church in Ninilchik maintains that mentality. Their openness and acceptance of the need for all gifts and graces has made them a favorite return spot for vacationers as well as numerous congregants that snowbird out each winter to faithfully return to family and community in the spring.

Upholding the same mindset the community was founded on, St Peter the Fisherman has considered the needs for survival, both physically and spiritually, in the community and found ways to best serve and meet the needs through gifts that they have to offer.

One of the ministries that they have been offering for some time now is the housing of two AA meetings and one NA meeting each week. Addictions are robbing life and spirit from too many of the community people and offering support, prayers, and love is a gift dear for many. These programs are reported to be some of the strongest attended on the Kenai Peninsula.  

This sanctuary serves as sanctuary for many in the community, including those who don’t “belong” to any church.

For the past couple of years, a new need was recognized in the community as it was reported that as many as 50% of the elementary children were reporting lack of food in the homes. Teachers were reporting children too focused on hunger to be attentive to learning. St Peter the Fisherman began to house a project, supported by the community, of sending home food supplies each Friday. That way, when community children could not receive at least one school lunch per day at the school, they would have other options for food on the weekend. They are now providing weekly food through the summer months as well.

St Peter the Fisherman is often called on as the community’s church family for those who do not belong to a church. They are known to oversee weddings, funerals and simply to be there for visits to community shut ins and sick.

Just as the needs and concerns of the Russian Village, Ninilchik, grew and changed from 200 years ago, our community family continues to evolve today. St Peter the Fisherman also continues to grow and search for places where their gifts can fit the requirements of those in need. In this fluctuating fishing village of up to almost 900 people, the continued search for physical and relational needs to care for with the love of Christ is an honor.  

Telling “the story” through stained glass.