“A Door for Community” — Douglas Community UMC

Submitted by the Outreach Committee of Douglas Community UMC.

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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.

“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!

“Many Doors” — Jewel Lake Parish

Submitted by Rev. Luke Jones, Jewel Lake Parish.

Jewel Lake Parish was birthed from the remnants of an earlier church plant. A union church of the Alaska United Methodist Conference and the Presbytery of Yukon, our name reflects a planned union of three congregations called the “Tri-Anchor Parish.” Although those plans were eventually discarded, they represent the vision of an earlier generation to become “One Church with Many Doors.”

Jewel Lake Parish’s Worship Center

This new incarnation of JLP began in February of 1971. That first month, we opened our doors to provide space for community programs. Beginning with a scout troop, we have continued to open our doors. Today groups as diverse as Twelve Step programs and the Society for Creative Anachronism make use of our facilities, along with a scout group, quilters, and a Korean Presbyterian congregation.

Keyless entry

With these many users comes an administrative headache: keeping track over time of which group representatives have keys to the building. This spring, a series of disturbances occurred on church premises when parents were picking up children from the preschool that uses some of our facilities during the week. Those incidents were more or less benign, but they prompted a security review of our premises in which several vulnerabilities were identified. After discussions with the preschool’s staff, we decided to put keyless (combination) locks on the exterior doors of our worship and education centers. A key advantage (no pun intended) of the new locks is reducing the administrative burden of giving groups access to our facilities. Each group can have a separate combination, and instead of trying to recover keys from groups, we can simply deactivate that combination.

While it’s been said that “Good fences make good neighbors,” locked doors can make it hard to be neighborly. They even make it hard even to receive deliveries! Once we had the new locks, we realized we would need (for the first time) a doorbell. We installed a video doorbell, which allows us to come to the door if someone from the church is on premises. But when no one is around, we are still able, sometimes, to help the visitor remotely!

Doors are attached, of course, to buildings. This year our doors have required a surprising amount of maintenance. When our education center was built, each classroom was equipped with its own door. Over the years, water and snow began to damage some of the entryways, and this year two doors needed to be repaired.

Repairing doors on the Education Center

Another door is attached to the shed built by a VIM team in the early 2000s. In the past year, for whatever reason, this shed became a magnet to thieves. Each time the shed was broken in to, we installed a stronger, more secure lock — which only led to more comprehensive vandalism as part of the next break-in. After our lawnmower disappeared, we realized we would no longer be able to store property in the shed. We are currently discussing whether there is any way we could secure the building so it could be used again, and if not, what we should do with it.

A final door provides access to our elevator. JLP’s worship center has a split-level design: the upstairs part is where our worship gatherings take place. Last year, we renovated the downstairs so we could have our Cafe fellowship there. In the 1960s this design wasn’t unusual, but in the intervening decades, our leaders realized it wasn’t very accessible either, and added a lift alongside the stairs. It’s slow, but serviceable, and allows us to accommodate people with mobility challenges. However, the electrical controls are delicate. Periodically, a malfunction takes the lift out of service until a new part can be installed. Service calls can run from $300 to over $1200, so a handful of such breakdowns can be a significant burden for a small church.

But doors don’t define buildings, and buildings don’t define churches. Two ministries illustrate how we have looked outward beyond our own doors to engage our community. One was the Vacation Bible School we offered this summer. It had been several years since the last time we were able to offer a VBS to the community. We weren’t sure we would be able to do so this year, and if so, if there would be any need in the community for it to address. We were surprised and delighted that the answer to both questions was “Yes!”

This year’s VBS was a surprising and welcome success.

The other ministry is a mobile food pantry operated by the Alaska Food Bank at another church in our neighborhood. For years, JLP had its own food pantry on our own premises behind our own doors. People came to it very rarely, and our few volunteers were burned out. Four years ago, however, we were asked to supply volunteers at the mobile food pantry. First one agreed to serve, then two, and today, six or eight JLP folks regularly participate. They join volunteers from other churches each Saturday, rain or shine, year round, to serve 140-50 of our neighbors.

JLP volunteers at the Mobile Food Pantry

“Doors For Two Seasons”: First UMC of Ketchikan

Front door of First UMC of Ketchikan

Submitted by Pastor Janice Carlton, First UMC of Ketchikan

The First United Methodist Church of Ketchikan, Alaska is located on Revillagigedo Island in a rainforest with a population of a little over 8,000. There has been a Methodist presence since 1901 when the town was a small mining and fishing village. It has the distinction of being the first completed church building in the first incorporated town in Alaska. Ketchikan is a town of two seasons. Even though there is only one main road 34 miles long, the differences between these seasons are extreme in population and activities. Between May and October the population walking its streets in a day can more than double its year round daily population. A tourist disembarking from one of the many cruise ships could easily encounter the missions of the church.

Since the church is located in the historic downtown section it is affected by both on and off-season activities. Three months of the year it hosts people from all over the world in its hostel. The hostel was begun in the 1960s to provide an affordable place to stay while touring the town. It is currently located in the second floor of the church. For $20 a night visitors arriving by plane and ferry can have a safe, clean place to sleep. The guests also have access to a full kitchen and showers. This year the hostel has also been home to several local people. While working seasonal jobs they have affordable housing and amenities. The hostel is staffed by volunteers assigned by the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). These volunteers are “faces” for the hostel and their willingness to serve and witness are gifts to all the lives they touch. During the remainder of the year the hostel beds are used by visiting middle and high school students. Traveling teams or groups can stay in the church when competing against or performing with the local school teams and music groups.  

Looking out the front door to the Hostel

The hostel is not the only “safe sanctuary” offered by this church. First City Homeless Shelter and, more recently, the fall and winter Ketchikan Warming Center are located in the basement/fellowship hall of the church. The planning for this shelter began in 1987 during the appointment of Reverend Bob Bowers and came to fruition during the appointments of Evelyn and Teri Erberly. Year-round from 8 AM to 4 PM the basement is open to the homeless and anyone needing a warm, dry place to “hang out.” A light breakfast is available with hot coffee throughout the day and showers and clean clothes are available. Guests utilizing this facility may also receive tutoring on computer skills and job searching. 

In the fall and winter the homeless shelter hours extend to include the Ketchikan Warming Center. In addition to the day shelter, a Warming Shelter is open from 8 PM to 6 AM. During these hours, once again, a warm, dry place is available including an evening meal. 

One of the first things a tourist will notice as they wander uphill on Grant Street from the docks is the Easter totem attached to the corner of the church. Ketchikan is a town with many totems. This storytelling tradition was used by indigenous peoples to preserve history and stories big and small. 

Totem and First City Homeless door.

Reverend David Fison (appointed to Ketchikan from 1961-1966)  embraced this tradition and carved two Christian totems. One explained the Christmas story and the other Easter. In true missionary tradition he spread the “Good News” by incorporating “language” familiar to his listeners. 

These two seasons could be named the Tourist Season and the Season of Daily Living in a Small Community. 

The First United Methodist Church is a church for both.. The question is often asked, “If the doors of your church were closed would the community notice?” The answer to that question for this church is YES. 

Community is a corner stone for this UMC church. It has a passion for locally-based community mission. The church participates in community worship opportunities such as the Sunrise Service and Blessing of the Fleet. It follows Jesus’ request to “Feed my Sheep” by providing meals for 40 to 70 men, women, and children in the communities’ Soup Kitchen and Lord’s Table. The joy of small town living is celebrated in the church parking lot during the “Blueberry Festival” (this year was the 44th). During this festival the church has a food stand which includes selling blueberry pies with several “secret ingredients.” The First United Methodist Church is also a partner with “Love in Action.” Through this  organization people are shown the love of Christ receiving help with food and utilities during the rough seasons of their life. For the last year this church and Ketchikan Presbyterian church have shared a pastor and several worship opportunities including a choir. 

The First United Methodist Church hears and lives John 21:16-17. 

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, LORD,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, LORD, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “LORD, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Thank you to Evelyn Valentine (her written history of the church was essential), Roland and Alaire Stanton, and Kathy Early for their help.

“Born of Mission” — Fairbanks First UMC

Submitted by Rev. Bob Jones, Fairbanks First UMC

Welcome to Fairbanks First UMC

The missionary work of the superintendent and members of the Visitation-Evangelism team of the Alaska Missionary Conference over 67 years ago birthed the current incarnation of a United Methodist Church in Fairbanks, known as First United Methodist today.

The first worship service was held at Carpenter’s Hall on March 23, 1952. Reverend A. E. Purviance arrived shortly thereafter, in June of 1952. The first hymnals, Sunday School supplies, church envelopes, communion set and altar-ware were supplied through the generosity of churches in Ketchikan, Seward, Anchorage and Juneau. In September 1952, First Methodist Church, known as “America’s Northernmost Methodist Church”, was officially organized with 80 members, and just two years later reported a total of 320 members.

Being born of missions, First UMC of Fairbanks has never wandered far from its roots as a base of missions. From the early years to today, it has provided a family away from family and a home away from home for the many military families that find duty calling them to Alaska’s Interior. Records indicate that as far back as 1959, the Women’s Society of Christian Service at First Methodist was working with the USO in welcoming service members.

In 1964, the Fairbanks church responded generously to those places and people in Alaska that were reeling from the devastating Good Friday earthquake.

In 1967, First Methodist again found itself the recipient of conference support after a flood devastated the city and the church building. Over 25 laypersons and pastors from Anchorage, Nome and Chugiak journeyed to the “Northernmost Church” to help clean up and rebuild.

Just 10 years later, FUMC helped to birth a new congregation, underwriting the first year’s budget of a new church in North Pole, the New Hope United Methodist Church.

In addition, the education wing at FUMC, built in 1959, started providing more than Sunday School lessons when the classrooms became living space for various mission groups and scouting groups visiting Alaska’s Interior. To this day, the classrooms double as housing for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) during the summer, and as a safe space for homeless families during the school year.

Worship at Fairbanks First UMC.

The Bread Line, a local ministry that addresses the needs of the homeless throughout Fairbanks, started in the basement kitchen at FUMC but eventually outgrew that location. Now, they operate from a separate building and have expanded their ministry to include food service job training and community gardening.

FUMC remains a missionary base of operations. Today’s UMVIM teams work with the Fairbanks Rescue Mission each summer to construct a housing community for chronically homeless adults. Members from the current congregation have participated in missions as far away as Saipan, and as close as fixing meals in the church kitchen for homeless families spending the night.

Born of missions, Fairbanks First remains an active and vital outpost of United Methodist belief and service just south of the Arctic Circle.

“12 Doors and More” — Valley Interfaith Action (VIA)

Submitted by Kelly Marciales (Executive Director, Valley Interfaith Action)

Two of the doors for Valley Interfaith Action

Valley Interfaith Action (VIA) has 12 “doors” in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. We are Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic congregations who utilize a community organizing model to address the quality-of-life issues which affect residents in the Mat-Su. We were originally Valley Christian Conference, a collection of churches who birthed new nonprofit agencies to fill service gaps. Out of Valley Christian Conference sprung Valley Residential Services which provides low-income housing and Day Break which provides mental health services, among many other nonprofits over twenty years. In 2015, Valley Christian Conference relaunched under a new vision and mission of faith-based community organizing to develop and empower leaders to advocate on their own behalf. Since launching as VIA, the organization has developed six local organizing ministry teams from Palmer to Willow and held public meetings yielding notable improvements to the lives of Mat-Su residents. 

VIA is currently working with Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together (AFACT) to establish an organization on the Kenai Peninsula which would broaden our connection of congregations who are engaged in this transformational outreach work. VIA leaders are excited for this expansion.

Currently Christ First UMC in Wasilla is working with VIA’s organizer, Gretchen Clayton, to establish VIA’s seventh local organizing ministry team. Gretchen has worked alongside Rev. Daniel Wilcox to do dozens of one-to-one visits with families, hear their concerns and hopes for the community, and engage the faith-based community organizing model based on their desire to build stronger relationships between one another and the between the church and their neighbors.

Clockwise from top-left: 1) Staff and leaders at Friday Fling 2). Pastor Joe- D from Willow UMC leading a faith reflection at a public meeting at Trinity Litheran Church on the budget vetoes. 3.) Caesar Marciales, pastor of Mesa Sagrada ELCA, testifies at Palmer City Council to support an ordinance 4.) Lisa Smayda of St. Michael’s works with a resident of the Palmer Pioneer Home to write a letter to their legislator