Pastor Bailey Brawner (Pastor) and Carolyn Lopez (Layperson) share two stories about North Star UMC in Nikiski
Pastor Bailey Brawner — “Welcomed Home”
Whether you’re hearing about Alaska for the first time, or you share a deep passion for it, or you’re somewhere in between, I want you to know this is a special place. We are a community of people who have vastly different stories, and come from all over, and yet, we bond over this place, the fact that each of us find ourselves here today.
I grew up in Anchorage, a cradle United Methodist whose experience of the world and church was birthed at the same time. I was baptized inside one of our many doors, the same place that would raise me and help me understand my call to ordained ministry. Alaska is home for me.
I remember our Annual Conference session this past year, coming back fresh out of seminary, now to serve as a pastor. As I looked around, I saw people who had impacted me, taught me, and formed me. They sent me off to grow more, much like the reality of the itinerancy of Alaskans. I looked around and saw the faces of those who had sent me, my pastors, my mentors, my camp leaders, and those I looked up to. The hands and feet of those who loved me enough to impart their wisdom, stories, and care upon me are the ones I am humbled to come home to.
This past July, myself and two other Alaskans were ‘welcomed home’ by our Alaska Conference. We were commissioned to serve in this unique setting, called to be a part of one or more of the many doors we have here. What a humbling moment. As I serve today, the hands and feet of those who I’ve been impacted by stay with me. Both literally and figuratively, I can sense a presence, that we as Alaskan United Methodists are not only tough and knowledgeable about what to do when moose come near you, but we also know what it means to be family, and to stay beside those we love, walking with one another as we all are led closer to God.
Carolyn Lopez — “Hands and Feet of Christ”
My first experience with this church was through the food pantry. One very difficult winter, finances were at their lowest. We had 3 little girls at home and were quite distraught about how we were going to give them Christmas. I guess I must have been heard by someone listening to God’s command to feed God’s people. Four days before Christmas, I received a phone call asking if I would please come pick up a box of Christmas cheer from North Star United Methodist Church. What a blessing, Christmas dinner with enough for leftovers, a huge bag of clothes, toys, and girly stuff (shampoo, lotion, deodorant). Again, what a blessing! To this day, 10 years later, I do not know who turned our name in for such a blessing.
The Nikiski Food Pantry has been part of the outreach program for this church for many years. This year, in partnership with Nikiski Neighbors, it provided over 75 food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The people that make up this church do indeed feed people. They reflect God’s love and put all they have into helping other in this community.
Their hands and feet are in ministry with others in other areas. It was members of North Star UMC in partnership with Lighthouse Community Church, that first brought the Elementary School Breakfast program to our local Elementary school. A group of congregants made up thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, poured hundreds of cups of juice and milk over the course of a couple of years. The children had no idea the work it took to provide this, but what they did now is that breakfast was provided free of charge by elders in our community whose love was seen with every good morning greeting and felt with full tummies. I know, because I saw hands and feet regularly there, feeding children. The children I worked with ate breakfast, and that meal changed how the day progressed. I saw fewer behavior issues, less tiredness, more positive interactions with others, and more school work being done. The school district used this data to gain funding for the breakfast program that currently runs in the schools. Systematic changes were made because of loving hands that made sandwiches and poured juice.
It took years for me to hear my calling to become part of North Star United Methodist Church. Sometimes it takes a lot of water to make seeds grow. As part of this church body, I have learned, heard and felt the love of Christ on many occasions. Led by example, I too have used my hands and feet to share God’s love with community. My favorite ministry is our backpack ministry; giving children all the necessary school supplies to begin the school year with, diminishing the social injustice and bullying that happens when kids go without.
I have learned that when we collectively put all our talents together, as the body of Christ, our feet and hands really move fast.