“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.

“Come to the Table and Eat” –Soldotna UMC

Written by Rev. Karen Martin-Tichenor of Soldotna UMC.

Subsistence: “the action or fact of maintaining or supporting oneself at a minimum level.” Webster Dictionary. It is a word used a great deal here in Alaska and during the summer becomes a part of our culture here in Soldotna as the residents of Alaska as well as guests descend upon the Kenai River to fish and dip net for sockeye salmon, originally to subsist through the next year on fish caught.

The welcoming doors of Soldotna UMC.

Food insecurity is a reality in many places around the globe and here on the Kenai it is no different. Food of all kinds are a basic need to our life and well being, whether physical or spiritual. Here at Soldotna UMC we have done our best to address these concerns in the community. The table of Christ has no limits. Christ, God, tell us that there is more than enough for God’s children at God’s table. So let’s share Christ’s abundance. Let’s help everyone know the welcome of the life giving Spirit of Christ for our daily existence.

Kenai Alternative High School

We have youth on this peninsula who are without a stable or safe home. They migrate around the area to sleep and because they are at risk, some have found themselves attending the Kenai Alternative High School. It is at this school that they are greeted each morning with smiles by faithful volunteers and a full breakfast throughout the school year to help them be able to focus in class and learn. Their day starts with a loving invitation to come to the table and eat. Twice a week we get to be those volunteers helping feed the hungry hearts and minds of our youth.

Distance is an issue across the Kenai making it difficult for those without a vehicle or the means to keep it gassed up to get to food sources. So nearly 7 years ago we opened a food pantry for those in the area and greet each one with a smile and food to let them know the satisfaction of a meal at home. Most all of the UM churches on the Kenai Peninsula have such pantries to help with such basic need. We also operate a community garden, helping supply the Food Pantry as well as teaching community members to garden and raise some food of their own.

A Wednesday night dinner that started as an ending to an after school program has evolved to extend hospitality beyond our congregation to include our homeless and low income families in the area that they can know food, fellowship, warmth and safety at least that one time a week, embracing them in the Spirit of Christ.

Christ’s table does not have limits. It is an organic being as is his church. In the face of our current economy we must rely ever more deeply on the grace of God, the movement of the Holy Spirit, and the importance of an open door to keep the table full. The invitation stands, ‘Come and eat. This is my body given for you.’

Two Doors for Two Cultures — Korean UMC

앵커리지 한인연합감리교회

Anchorage Korean United Methodist Church
Written by Rev. Won Jea Keum and translated by Google Translator and Rev. Won Jea Keum

앵커리지에는 5,000여명 정도의 한인이 살고 있습니다. 그리고 20여개의 한인교회가 존재합니다. 한인교회의 특징은 한국어로 예배를 드린다는 것입니다. 오랜 시간 미국에서 이민생활을 했지만 대부분 한인 이민자들은 한국의 문화와 정신을 그대로 가지고 있습니다. 특별히 한국에서 기독교인이었던 분들은 한국의 기독교가 가지고 있는 보수적인 신앙을 그대로 가지고 있습니다. 때문에 진보적인 신앙관에 대해 거부하는 입장이 매우 강하게 나타나고 있습니다. 보통 한국의 감리교 목회자들은 신학교에서 매우 진보적인 신학을 배우고 나오지만, 목회 현장에서는 매우 보수적인 상황에서 목회를 해야 합니다. 그래서 이 두 신학의 간극에서 고민을 하며 목회를 합니다. 이것은 한인 이민 목회도 마찬가지입니다.

About 5,000 Koreans live in Anchorage. There are more than 20 Korean churches. The characteristic of Korean American churches is that they worship in Korean. They have immigrated to the United States for a long time, but most of Korean immigrants have the culture and spirit of Korea. Especially those who were Christian in Korea have the conservative faith of Korean Christianity. Because of this, the position of denying progressive beliefs is very strong. Korean Methodist pastors usually learn a very progressive theology from the seminary, but in the pastoral ministry they should be stand on a very conservative ministry. So I am working my ministry with the gap between these two theological views. I think about a historical context for the Korean immigration church members.

나는 들어오든지, 나가든지 두 개의 문을 통과해야 하는 사진을 선택했다. 하나는 한국 문화를 의미하는 문이고, 다른 하나는 미국 문화를 의미하는 문이다.
I chose a picture that had to pass through two doors, either in or out. One is a door meaning Korean culture, and the other is a door meaning American culture.

한국의 근대사를 보면 각 정치적 입장의 견해에 대해 서로 이해하려는 입장보다 이러한 입장 차이가 아군과 적군으로 나뉘어 서로 싸우고 죽였던 역사를 근간으로 하고 있음을 알 수 있습니다. 가장 최근의 예가 공산주의와 민주주의와의 싸움이었던 6.25 한국전쟁입니다. 한국인들은 공산주의가 무엇인지, 민주주의가 무엇인지 그 철학적 배경을 알지도 못하면서 분열이 되었고, 서로 적이 되어 싸웠고, 피를 흘렸습니다. 그리고 분단이 되었습니다.

In the modern history of Korea, They did fought each other in spite of unknowing about both of ideologies. Just they did fought and next, they divided both. for example, Korea War(June 25, 1950), which was a struggle against communism and democracy. Koreans became divided, fought and shed blood without knowing the philosophical background of what communism was and what democracy was. And it became divided until now.

이러한 전쟁을 통해 아픔을 겪었던 이들은 공산주의에 대한 적개심이 있습니다. 뿐만 아니라 최근 젊은이들이 맑스 이론을 배우고 이야기 할 때 이에 대한 반감을 가지는 전쟁을 경험한 세대들이 여전히 존재하고 있습니다. 이러한 역사적 상처와 아픔을 가진 세대들이 한인 이민교회의 주류를 이루고 있습니다.

Those who suffered through these wars are hostile to communism. so they have a bad feel when they talk with young people on side of Marx ‘s theory. These historical wounds and suffering generations are the mainstream of Korean immigrant churches.

이들에게 예수 그리스도의 복음이 이러한 이념과 갈등을 뛰어넘어 치유와 회복과 초월의 세계를 열어 줌을 깨닫고 체험하게 하는 일이 중요합니다.

It is important for them to realize that the gospel of Jesus Christ opens the world view for Jesus’ healing, Jesus’ recovery and Jesus’ transcendence beyond these ideologies and conflicts.

한국은 전통적으로 서당에서 천자문과 맹자, 공자의 경을 읽고, 암송하고, 그 의미를 배웠습니다. 경전을 반복하여 읽고, 책이 헤어질 정도로 읽으면서 과거를 치루고 관직에 올랐습니다. 그 만큼 경전을 소중하게 생각하는 민족이라는 뜻입니다. 때문에 성경본문을 가장 중심에 두고 설교를 합니다. 존 웨슬리 목사가 한 책의 사람이 되라고 했습니다. 그 말대로 목회자부터 성경을 소중하게 여기고, 그 성경을 회중들에게 해석할 때 그 성경 안 그리고 그 너머에 있는 주님과의 연결고리가 생깁니다.

Korea has traditionally deeply read, recited, and learned the meaning of the Thousand Character Classic(千字文), classic text of Mencius and Confucius in the Seodang. Seodang is similar as a school. Our ancestors read until the texts was worn out and they became official. It means korean people who value the texts before long time ago. I preach the Bible text at the center with this traditional background. John Wesley said to be a person in one book(homo unius libri). As he say, when Pastor has a respect for the Bible and give a hermeneutic view to the congregation, they would be have a connection from them to God beyond the Bible.

한인 회중들은 이러한 전통 속에 영적으로 성장하고, 자신의 모든 이슈를 이해하고, 해석합니다. 여기서 목회자의 역할이란 성경과 회중들의 가교역할을 하는 것이며, 성경을 통해 해석된 나의 상황과 교회와 내가 살고 있는 지역을 위해 기도하며, 섬기는 것입니다.

The Korean congregation grows spiritually in these traditions, understands and a hermeneutic view all of their issues. The role of the pastor is to serve as a bridge between the Bible and the congregation, to pray and serve for our context that is interpreted through the Bible in the church and the area in which I live.

우리의 미션은 예수 그리스도의 복음과 이로부터 나오는 성서적 영성을 통해 내가 변화되고, 교회가 늘 생동감이 넘치며, 교단과 연합하여 하나님의 은혜가 강물처럼 세계로 흘러가는 것입니다.

Our mission is to change of me and congregation through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the biblical spirituality. And We want that God’s grace may flow into the world as like a river. I want to be with UMC at this point.

오늘날 세계 UMC와 미국의 UMC안에 이슈들에 대해 알고 있습니다. 우리는 계속 이 모든 문제들을 넘어 설 수 있게 해주시는 예수 그리스도의 은혜를 통해 성령의 인도함을 잘 받을 수 있기를 기도할 것입니다.

I understand of the issues in UMC through Korean UMC News. We will continue to pray for overcoming of all issues through the grace of Jesus Christ. And We will be find the way through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“Helping Hands in a Tiny Church” — Moose Pass UMC

By Pastor Jim Doepken of Moose Pass UMC.

Front Door of Moose Pass UMC

There aren’t many more “Alaskan” sounding town names than “Moose Pass, Alaska.” The story is that this picture-perfect town 30 miles north of Seward got its name when a moose got in the way of a mail carrier’s dog team way back in the early 1900s. For years this tiny town along Trail Lake was a whistle-stop for the Alaska Railroad and every day during the summer you can still see and hear the trains as they pass on through at least twice a day.

While the trains no longer stop here, a little less than 200 people still call this place home. You can see their cabins all along a 20 mile stretch of the Seward Highway. In the summer, US Forest Service Employees work in the surrounding Chugach National Forest and guide services take outdoor enthusiasts on the Kenai River. There they search of the famous Kenai King Salmon or to go “combat fishing” for Red Salmon, elbow to elbow with other anglers.

But, in the winter, it’s a sleepy town where many of the locals play pickup games of hockey on Tern Lake or take their snowmachines (what Alaskans call snowmobiles) out on Trail Lake or into the mountains. The few businesses open in the winter are B&Bs catering to winter sports. Being such a small town, the local school often struggles to keep above the minimum number of students to remain open.

Upper Trail Lake from the back yard of Moose Pass UMC.

By all accounts, Moose Pass United Methodist Church is a tiny church. It may be a church in an amazingly beautiful setting, right on the shore of Upper Trail Lake, but it’s still tiny. The building itself is tiny and can hold about 40 when Easter or Christmas rolls around. But most Sundays there are less than ten people in worship. In fact, many Sundays there are less than five.

Being a tiny church in a tiny town does come with its problems. It is true that committees look pretty similar year after year. When there is something big to be done — a new water pump, decorating for Advent, helping a family in the community — the same people are often the ones who immediately jump in to help. And, on some of those thinner attendance days, the singing can be a little thin as well.

However, there are some plusses with a tiny church. There is a level of intimacy and comfort with each other that just can’t be duplicated in a larger congregation. Oftentimes worship is more like a small-group meeting and the sermon more like a dialogue than you can find in bigger environments. While some visitors might like the anonymity of slipping into the back of a crowded sanctuary, there’s no place to hide in our space, and everyone is welcomed as if they’ve been around forever. And when these congregants congregate, the depth of their relationship with each other and with the place they live is special. They know their neighbors and what they are going through. They rally around local concerns and projects. And they are willing to fight for the well-being of those who live nearby or who are just with us for a season.

In a tiny church people have to help out in ways they might never have anticipated before. Every hand is a helping hand when the pool of available helpers is so small and sometimes you’ll find surprising gifts along the way.

Most weeks this plays out both visibly and audibly in the music at our church. A couple of years ago our pianist moved out of the community. But we have a couple who figured they could step up and play on a regular basis. This is a couple who have raised some kids, weathered some storms in their lives, and have a lot of stories to tell.

And what’s so awesome about this husband and wife team is that they play together at the piano. She plays all of the right hand keys. And he plays the notes for the left hand. So, when it’s time for a hymn or for “The Doxology” they head on up to the front and sit down next to each other and play…together…each providing a helping hand to make the music happen in this small Alaskan church. Oftentimes one of their grandchildren comes along and “helps,” adding the occasional stray note to the tune.

It is exceptionally sweet and truly is a great blessing to the people gathered around. It is a holy thing.

Then there is what often happens at the close of the songs. We use the “new” 1989 United Methodist Hymnal for much of the music. There are no “Amens” in the hymnal anymore. But, if the hymn is in an easy enough key, the husband will look over the piano at the preacher, smile a mischievous smile, and will play out a loud “Amen” for the congregation to belt out. And, in that “Amen” there is great joy. There’s joy from the pianists and there’s joy from the congregants who love each other deeply and share their Alaskan lives with each other.

Some big churches may be gifted with praise bands and hundred-member choirs. The tiny church in Moose Pass is gifted by two helping hands (among others) who offer their gift of music to the church.

“Who Is My Neighbor?” — Christ First UMC

Written by Rev. Daniel Wilcox of Christ First UMC.

“Who is my neighbor?”

When Jesus is asked this question, he replies in a way that challenges the cultural, ethnic, and religious sensibilities of his listeners.  We call the story “The Good Samaritan,” emphasizing the role of the one who helped the man who had been beaten and abused. Jesus ended the story as he asked, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor?”  The response? “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus’ final response is, “Go and do likewise.”

Welcome to Christ First UMC in Wasilla, Alaska

This parable, told in Luke 10, should challenge every congregation to ask who in the neighborhood needs mercy.  This can be difficult in normal time, but after an earthquake, it becomes pretty clear: who are those in our neighborhood who are hurting?  Who has experienced loss of their home? Who is feeling frightened during aftershocks? What are people struggling with as they work to clean up, repair, assess and rebuild?  

After the Cook Inlet Earthquake of November 30, 2018, Christ First UMC in Wasilla started receiving calls:  I need help with a place to stay. I don’t have any firewood, and my oil stove is damaged.  Can I get help with food?

Many of our neighbors further out Knik-Goose Bay Road (KGB), and up through Settlers Bay, Big Lake, and even into Houston found themselves in remote places with little visibility and less services.  While Anchorage, Chugiak, and even Wasilla were seen on the news and on the internet. Some of our more rural locations did not get as much attention.

We have a Pastor’s Discretionary Fund to help people in times of emergency.  We help with rent, gas, food, or whatever people happen to need. With the increased calls after the earthquake, this fund was quickly getting depleted.  We had the need, but not the resources to fill the need.

And then at the beginning of February, we got a phone call.  The earthquake was just declared a federal disaster by FEMA, and they were looking for locations to set up Disaster Recovery Centers.  Soon a couple of dozen FEMA employees descended on Christ First UMC to inspect it for safety, for space availability, to check cell reception, and the other qualifications of our space.  While our financial resources helped a few of our neighbors, our greatest resource ended up being our building and our location.

The Disaster Recovery Center inside Christ First UMC. (Picture by of The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman newspaper)

Within a few days, FEMA had moved in – setting up the Disaster Recovery Center for Matanuska-Sustina Valley.  They occupied our entire Fellowship Hall, and the largest classroom. We had to make some adjustments. While our normally ministry schedule did not change, we had to shift locations a few times.  When the center was open on Sundays for the first few weeks, we enjoyed our regular greeters, plus the FEMA security guard, who welcomed everyone with a smile and helped several people on the ice.

But these minor adjustments were worth it!  As the months have gone on, FEMA has had over seven hundred clients come through this center.  These individuals, couples, or families have come to the church because they understood it as a location to get help.  Neighbors from near the church, and throughout the Mat-Su Borough have been by to register for grants, loans, and other assistance offered by FEMA.  

In the midst of hosting this service to the community, people have stopped and chatted.  One woman mentioned how much she appreciated being able to access the services without having to drive too far.  Another thanked the congregation for being willing to be there for our community. Others have expresses similar sentiment.

This has allowed the congregation to see our neighbors in a new way.  Not just the folks driving by, but the friends right here with us. Shaken, but not going anywhere.  Desiring mercy and looking for hope. As the focus of the earthquake recovery shifts from FEMA’s work to the long-term recovery and rebuild, the congregation will begin to ask the question again, “Who is My Neighbor?”

“Welcome to St John” — St John UMC

Written by Rev. Andy Bartel of St John UMC.

Welcome to St John. We’re so glad you’re here!” These are the words you will hear when you walk through one of the many front doors to the building that is home to the largest United Methodist Congregation in Alaska. This congregation began over 60 years ago because God had told a layman, Bob Smay, that he was supposed to plant a church. “You’re crazy!” they told him. “Nobody will ever come to a church way out there!

Out on the lawn at St John UMC

But with the help and support of the Rev. David Fison and others, they began inviting folks to worship on the hillside in the quonset hut with their little fellowship known as the “Church of the Beloved Disciple.” Bob invited a man by the name of John Cox to join their fellowship. John was resistant at first, wondering if his family would really be welcome in this new church. It was the 1960’s, and John had adopted a number of children, Alaska Native and African American. Being a mixed-race family, they were shunned from every other church they attempted to associate with in Anchorage. Bob assured him, “There will always be room for your family in this church, and for ANY family that might look differently.” (Incidentally, the church’s name change many years later to St John was in honor of John Cox.)

From our very beginnings, St John has been a welcoming and inclusive fellowship. We are white and we are black. We are Japanese and we are Filipino. We are Chinese and we are Taiwanese. We are Yupik, Inuit, Athabascan, Tsimshian, and so much more. We reflect the diversity that is the image of God.

For over a decade, St John has reached out to the LGBTQ+ community of Anchorage. We have over three dozen people who openly identify as LGBTQ+ among our fellowship and leadership and annually host the city-wide PRIDE worship.

We actively partner with our neighborhood elementary school providing adult mentors for at-risk children through KIDS HOPE, USA, as well as providing gloves, hats, coats, and food for families in need through the school.

We are engaged in mission and relationship building beyond our community. For years, St John has sent teams to South Africa, Cameroon, and Guatemala, building clean water wells, distributing washable feminine hygiene kits through the DAYS FOR GIRLS program, and building life-long sustaining relationships.

St John has put an emphasis on children’s and youth discipleship and have invested in a paid children’s director and youth director for decades. As a result, there are generally 60-70 youth present for youth group each Wednesday night, with and equal number of younger children participating in the various children’s programs. We’ve learned our children and youth are some of our best evangelists!

New Horizons Preschool is one of our longest running ministries, with hundreds of children making their first academic steps with us, and learning about God’s love for them. Many families have found their way to membership at St John through enrollment at New Horizons.

After the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in late 2018, Karluk Manor, a housing-first model for helping homeless persons who struggle with chronic alcoholism became uninhabitable. St John hosted the 50 residents for the first few days, with many community members pitching in to help feed, entertain, and let our guests know how welcome and loved they are. As you can see, St John doesn’t exist for the sake of ourselves. We believe that we only exist to be a blessing to God, by being a blessing to our neighborhood, our community, our conference, and our world, which John Wesley taught us, is our parish. “Welcome to St John. We’re so glad you’re here!”

Betty Sanchez Sopcak (l), her husband Daniel (bottom), and her uncle James Sugar (r) take shelter with other residents of Karluk Manor at St. John United Methodist Church after the Nov. 30 earthquake. Photo by Anne Hillman, courtesy of Alaska Public Media.