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

Alaska Conference Online Worship Services During the Coronavirus Emergency (Sun. March 15)

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area has directed all of her churches (including Alaska) to suspend in-person worship gatherings for two weeks. Therefore many Alaska United Methodist Churches are moving to online worship for the time being.

These services are for Sunday, March 15th.

Our Superintendent, Rev. Carlo Rapanut will lead an Alaska Conference online worship service on the Alaska Conference Facebook Page at 11 AM. This is available for all of our churches to use and many will be logging in there to join as as Conference.

Several other churches are utilizing other means to be in ministry in their specific community or are using the online services they are used to using. Below is a list of the available online worship services the Alaska Conference knows is happening this week. Feel free to join any of our church services as they happen live or watch them later.

  • Alaska Conference — Online Worship at 11 am via Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/alaskaumc/. Carlo will be online beginning at 10:45 am. For those wanting to join by phone via Zoom (audio only), call (669)9006833 and enter the Meeting ID 203 886 969 when prompted.
  • St John UMC — Livestream at 9:15am traditional and 11:30am contemporary. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC157rFbLUFLjOH9XvQTjCIQ. Pastor Emily is preaching and Pastor Andy will be the worship leader.
  • Seward and Moose Pass UMCs — Online Worship at 10:30 AM via Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/SewardMoosePassUmc/ (This is a joint service with St. Peter Episcopal and Resurrection Lutheran)
  • Homer UMC — Worship on Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/HomerUnitedMethodistChurchAlaska/) tomorrow at 11 am. Pastor Lisa will be on when she gets it figured out. She will use Carlo’s video for Sunday evening.
  • Palmer UMC — Worshipping at 9:30 via ZOOM https://greaternw.zoom.us/j/103179309. For those choosing to join using the ZOOM app, not a computer, Meeting ID is 103 179 309.
  • First UMC (Anchorage) — Worship at 10 AM via Zoom — https://zoom.us/j/663705619 Meeting ID: 663 705 619
  • Girdwood Chapel UMC — Worship at 10:30am via Zoom. Join us via this link https://greaternw.zoom.us/j/814064446, or through Zoom Meeting ID 814 064 446, or by calling +1 253-215-8782 and entering the Meeting ID. We will transition our worship service at 11am to join the Alaska conference worship.
  • UMC of Chugiak — Prerecorded worship service will be uploaded to our Facebook page, YouTube Channel, and website this evening.  The intent is to flow from our service offering into the Alaska Conference livestream at 11:00 am.

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